Biggest First Round Playoff Surprises
The NBA playoffs are in full swing and while the opening round set of series have played out like most have expected, there has still been a few surprises throughout the league.
Let’s take a look at some of the first round’s biggest surprises as we head into the weekend slate of games.
The Emergence of Paul George
Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George won the league’s Most Improved Player award this season, but the third year forward doesn’t seem to be content. In fact, George seems to be focused on etching his name amongst the league’s best after putting up averages of 25 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists while leading Indiana to a 2-0 series lead over the Atlanta Hawks (For perspective, LeBron James is averaging 22.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists in the playoffs thus far).
At times during the Pacers’ playoff run last season George shied away from the spotlight, but now the emerging star is thriving on center stage – so far.
Unraveling of the Boston Celtics
While the championship window for the aging Boston Celtics has seemed to diminish every season since 2010, you could always expect the veteran group to be a tough matchup come playoff time. However, the Celtics have been a shell of their former playoff selves versus the New York Knicks in round one and find themselves down 2-0 as the series heads back to Boston for game three on Friday.
The Celtics are typically a fundamentally sound, extremely disciplined team and usually thrive in pressure situations. But, the Celtics have only managed an average of 74.5 points through the series’ first two games and have yet to break the 80 point mark. Keep in mind, the Celtics averaged 96.5 points per night during the regular season. Behind the Celtics’ offensive struggles has been their woeful second half performances, scoring just 25 points in game one and mustering only 23 points in game two.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers was hit with a fine by the league for criticizing game officials after Game 2, while forward Kevin Garnett has been in foul trouble the entire series. The Celtics appear to be in deep trouble and are clearly no longer the postseason threat of years past.
Unheralded Veteran Players Paying Huge Dividends
Veteran forwards Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin spent a large part of the season watching games from the comfort of their living room couch, patiently waiting for their next opportunity in the league. The Miami HEAT signed Andersen in late January and the New York Knicks would subsequently sign Martin in late February.
Both players have been key contributors and part of the reason why their respective teams hold commanding first round series leads up until this point.
Andersen is averaging 10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds on 87 percent shooting from the floor as Miami holds a 3-0 series lead versus Milwaukee. Andersen has scored in double-figures in all three of Miami’s first round games despite averaging just 14 minutes of floor time.
Martin has been a force on the interior for the Knicks versus the Boston Celtics. The veteran is leading the team in rebounds (10.0) and blocked shots (3.0) during the playoffs. Martin is also pumping in 6.5 points per contest on 50 percent shooting from the floor.
Both players entered the season with franchises across the league unwilling to invest in their veteran leadership, but right now they’re making the front offices in Miami and New York appear to be geniuses.
Golden State Wins at the Pepsi Center Without All-Star Forward David Lee
The Denver Nuggets rollicked to a 38-3 regular season record at home in 2013. Translation, Denver has protected home court like no other team in the league and was just about unbeatable at the comfy confines of the Pepsi Center.
So after the Nuggets pulled out game one of their series versus Golden State on Andre Miller’s buzzer beating layup, most expected the road for Denver to be a bit easier in game two after it became known Warriors All-Star forward David Lee would miss the rest of the playoffs with a torn hip flexor.
Not the case.
The Warriors showed character and responded to their adversity by pulling out a 131-117 road win over the Nuggets in game two. Stephen Curry was huge for Golden State posting 30 points and 13 assists. But it wasn’t just Curry’s dominance carrying the day. Three other Warriors posted over 20 points in game two with Jarrett Jack (26), Harrison Barnes (24) and Klay Thompson (21) each rising to the occasion.
The Warriors have put the pressure on Denver to play well on the road. While the Nuggets were dominant at home during the regular season, the club compiled a disappointing 19-22 record on the road during the campaign.
Kevin McHale’s Decision To Start Patrick Beverley Versus Oklahoma City
While Oklahoma City Thunder holds a commanding 2-0 series lead versus Houston, game two of the team’s playoff clash showed the Rockets were at least capable of slowing down the Thunder’s potent offensive attack – somewhat.
In the previous four matchups versus Oklahoma City this season Houston was unable to stop the Thunder from scoring at least 119 points. Feeling a lineup change was needed, Rockets head coach Kevin McHale opted to start 6’1 guard Patrick Beverley in game two instead of 6’10 forward Greg Smith.
Beverley responded to the challenge by flirting with a triple-double, posting 16 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists in 41 minutes of action. The Rockets, to their credit, held a late fourth quarter lead before the Thunder managed to pull away.
It will be interesting to see if Beverley can continue giving Oklahoma City trouble moving forward.
Disappearance of Tayshaun Prince
Let’s be clear, Memphis Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince earned his reputation by showing up in the playoffs. As a rookie, Prince was an end of the bench prospect for the Detroit Pistons but was thrust into action and produced big. In the years that followed Prince routinely raised his level of play during the playoffs ultimately winning a title and logging over 100 playoff game appearances.
But through Memphis’ first three games versus the Los Angeles Clippers, Prince has struggled to find a rhythm offensively and is averaging just 3.3 points and 3.7 rebounds on 22 percent shooting from the field. In fact, dating back to Prince’s last postseason appearance (2009 with Detroit) the veteran has combined to shoot just 11-for-45 from the floor (.244).
Andre Miller Becomes Denver’s Go To Option
The lack of a universally recognized go to option is one of the biggest reasons why some people strongly believe Denver can’t reach the Western Conference Finals this season. But everyone who follows Nuggets basketball knows head coach George Karl firmly believes a NBA team can win a title without a superstar level talent.
Defying conventional wisdom, Denver has thrived this season with different members of its unit stepping up on different nights. The latest is veteran guard Andre Miller, who is coming off a regular season where he averaged the least points (9.6) of his 14 year career.
Most thought the aging Miller might struggle a bit to keep up in a frenetic paced series versus Golden State, however the aging guard has not only kept up the pace, but is leading the Nuggets in scoring at a 23 point per game clip (on 68 percent shooting).