Cast behind the dark shadow of the Donald Sterling case, may be the best first round of playoffs in NBA history. If it was not for the Donald Sterling headlines dominating the news recently, the real storyline would be about the most entertaining and drama-filled first round in NBA history. Without trying to be too hyperbolic, there was enough action and suspense in the first round of these playoffs that it may not matter what the second round looks like, although at this rate, it is hard to imagine that happening. It is just that the first round of the 2014 playoffs were that entertaining and that satisfying. Even for East Coasters, all of the games that ended at 1 AM were worth losing sleep over, even though work was miserable the next day.
Even before the first round of the playoffs began this year, there was a ton of drama heading into it. The Indiana Pacers were undergoing one of the most epic collapses in NBA history. Despite clinging to the number one seed, the Pacers were barely recognizable in the month of April. The Pacers looked more like a D-League team the way that they were playing and an undisciplined high school team that watched too much TMZ with all of their bickering and gossiping.
Another headline going into the first round were the emergence of the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors in the playoffs. The Wizards have not been in the playoffs ever since the Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton debacle over half a decade ago. That is how debilitating that whole ordeal was upon this franchise, but in the 2013-2014 season, they had the look and feel of an entirely new team in a new era.
Additionally, the Toronto Raptors were in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Since then, Raptors fans have come a long way. Toronto fans were always made fun of for their limited knowledge of the game. It was and still is a hockey city, but basketball fans have been slowly accumulating over the past decade and a half, and fans haven’t been this excited since Vince Carter was at Air Canada. In fact, you can make a case that the Raptors may have the best and loudest fans in all of the NBA. How many other cities have thousands of people watching the game outside in the rain? Not many.
So, we may not have known it heading into the first round of these playoffs, but here are 5 reasons why this year’s first round is the best in NBA history.
5. Five Game 7’s
Typically, the first round of the NBA playoffs is the most predictable out of any round in the playoffs. The number one seed is supposed to sweep the number 8 seed. The number three seed is supposed to beat the number 6 seed. But not this year. This year, five serieswent to game seven, the most in NBA history for the first round of the playoffs.
Both the San Antonio Spurs and the Indiana Pacers, who were number one seeds, were taken all the way to the 7th game. In fact, at one point in the series, it looked as though both teams would be upset by the number 8 seed Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks. The Oklahoma City Thunder had to win two games in a row to knock off the Memphis Grizzlies in seven. And if it was not for the suspension of Zach Randolph for game 7, who knows what would have happened in that game. The Brooklyn Nets won game 7 in the hostile environment of Toronto and it was the first time that a rookie head coach ever won a game 7 on the road. And the Los Angeles Clippers were somehow able to beat the Golden State Warriors in 7 games after all of the emotional trauma that they went through.
4. Eight Overtime Games
There were 8 overtime games in the first round of this year’s NBA playoffs. Four of these overtime games came from one series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies. To give you an idea of just how absurd 8 overtime games is; the record for overtime games in an entire NBA postseason is 10.
Game 1 – Portland 122, Houston 120 (OT)
Game 1 – Memphis 111, Oklahoma City 105 (OT)
Game 2 – Washington 101, Chicago 99 (OT)
Game 3 – Memphis 98, Oklahoma City 95 (OT)
Game 3 – Houston 121, Portland 116 (OT)
Game 4 – Oklahoma City 92, Memphis 89 (OT)
Game 4 – Portland 123, Houston 120 (OT)
Game 5 – Memphis 100, Oklahoma City 99 (OT)
With the NBA playing field continuing to level out as the playoffs advance, is there any reason to think that this record will not be shattered by the end of the playoffs? I think not. If the second round has series that go into 6 or 7 games, and likewise the NBA Finals, it is very possible that by the end of the post season, this year’s playoffs will have more than a dozen overtime games.
3. 13 Games Won By 3 Points Or Less
There is nothing worse in sports than watching a blowout game, unless of course your team is the one blowing the other team out. There were 50 games that were played during the first round of the playoffs and 13 of those games were decided by 3 points or less. For games that were decided by less than 5 points, that number jumps to almost 20 out of the 50 games.
This means that the fate of almost every game was not decided until the very end of the game. To put things in a different perspective, there was only a handful of games that were decided by double digits numbers, where the game was clearly over by halftime.
Yes, the games decided by 3 points or less were filled with back-to-back timeouts where the fourth quarter lasted close to 40 minutes of real time, but suspense is what makes sports so riveting to watch. The thrill of unpredictability is what adds spice to life.
2. Two Game-Winning Shots At the Buzzer
There were some shots during the first round of the playoffs that were close to being buzzer beaters, but there was still some time left on the clock, so it technically would not count as a buzzer. However, there were two buzzer beaters that quantify themselves in the purest sense.
Vince Carter – 1.7 seconds
The first was Vince Carter’s buzzer beater for the Dallas Mavericks in Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs. Vince was the third option behind Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis for the out-of-bounds play at half court, but because the Spurs took away the first two options, the pass went to Vince in the corner, where he took a contested three-pointer fading away with 1.7 seconds left for a swish at the buzzer.
For Raptors fans this was altogether familiar and unfamiliar. It was not too long ago, where Vince was placed in the same predicament, but the first time he took the shot as a Raptor, was not even close to going in. Since then, Vince says that he has been practicing that corner shot everyday of his life. It was not coincidence that head coach Rick Carlisle placed Vince in the corner and it was not coincidence that Vince hit that shot with such focus and ease.
Damian Lillard – .9 seconds
The second buzzer beater came from up and coming star Damian Lillard who hit a long three-pointer with .9 seconds left to close out the series in 6 games against the Houston Rockets. The Portland Trailblazers and the Houston Rockets may not have gone to 7 games, but it was filled with every bit of dramatic interest that all of the other series had. The calm and collected point guard for the Trailblazers has already proven to be very clutch during the regular season, so it was no surprise to see him demand the ball for a 25-foot 3-pointer that wrapped up the series in 6 games.
1. Best Teams Are Still Playing
At the end of the day, with the exception of the Brooklyn Nets and the Portland Trailblazers, the top seeds in the first round of the playoffs ended up surviving. And you can make a strong case that the Brooklyn Nets and the Portland Trailblazers were hardly underdogs against their particular match-ups during the first round.
Having the top seeds in the second round after a grueling first round series is the best thing that could have happened for fans and the NBA. No offense to the Atlanta Hawks or the Charlotte Bobcats, but nobody wants to see them in the second round. What we want to see is LeBron James, Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant. We want to see the best players, not necessarily the best teams, in the second round and that is basically how everything played out.
Even former Commissioner David Stern could not have planned the 2014 playoffs better than this.