Three for 3: Playoffs in Crisis

By: The Same Page Team

With the third round of the playoffs raging, the Same Page knew it was time to bring together another Three for 3. This time out Reynolds, Grant and Osubronie answer some playoff related questions as the NBA moves towards the Finals. 

1) What was the most amazing thing you’ve seen in the Playoffs so far?

Osubronie: So, we’re into the Conference Finals. You may be focused on the top four teams duelling for a ring but I’m still hung up on one play that will go down in history. The Portland Trailblazers may have been pummelled by the Spurs, yet it was Damian Lillard that gave the fans of Rip City (and the world) the most exciting play of the playoffs.

Down by 2 with 0.9 seconds on the clock, at home, up 3-2 in the series. If they get a shot off and if it somehow goes in, they go to overtime. Seemed like the best case scenario. Then Lillard came off a screen, darted outside the arc and miraculously took a three-pointer that was nothing but net. Despite Chandler Parsons coming off a switch and getting a hand in his face, Lillard’s official ticket to super stardom would not be denied. The Houston Rockets, who were heavily favoured in the series, just watched as their season went up in a cloud of confetti for the opposing team.

If you weren’t convinced when I told you about Lillard as a rookieor an All-Star, watch that video again. He is on a level all to himself with no ceiling. Thanks to him, Portland got into the second round for the first time in 14 years and left all of us with one of the most amazing plays you will ever see.

Grant: The Indiana Pacers must be one of the most baffling 1-seeds to ever come out of either conference. A team with a vaunted defense, that relied on the idea of ‘team’, that took the two time champion Heat to the brink just a season ago, appeared poised to make the leap this season. With teams tanking and/or sucking and the Heat looking tired, the East was there for the taking.

Well, they took it, but they certainly did it in a roundabout fashion. After vaulting out to a 33-8 record in the seasons first half, the Pacers stumbled to a 56-26 finish. They appeared lost heading into the playoffs, playing under .500 basketball after March 1st.

At the centre of it all, was the man who had emerged as the heartbeat of these Pacers: Roy Hibbert. Hibbert’s vanishing act down the stretch in the regular season, and again in the first two rounds of the playoffs, was something I’ll never forget. A 7 foot 2 behemoth of man, feared the league over, has had games of 0,0, 2, 2, 3 and 4 rebounds at points in these playoffs. His 0 point, 0 rebound effort against Washington in Game 1 of that series was atrocious enough that teammate David West called him out on national television. To that point, Hibbert was averaging an unthinkable 5.3 points and 3.7 rebounds for the playoffs! That is not a typo.

Since then? Hibbert has been rejuvenated. He’s banged bodies, grabbed boards and prowled the paint. The Heat are his best match-up by far, funnily enough, as they don’t have a comparable body to put on him (sorry Greg Oden!). Mid-season Hibbert was getting defensive player of the year talk. Two weeks ago, Bill Simmons compared him, seriously, to all time draft bust Hasheem Thabeet. Now he’s right back in the thick of things and could potentially lead his team to a Finals appearance. Roy Hibbert’s pogo stick of a 2013-14 season is by far the most amazing thing I’ve seen.

Reynolds: Since I’ve said enough about the Toronto Raptors/Brooklyn Nets series, I’ll move far away to a battle in Texas and the bittersweet remembrance of an old friend.

For the first few games of the Dallas Mavericks/San Antonio Spurs first round series, Vince Carter was pretty quiet. Ten points in Game 1, 8 in Game 2. Then in Game 3, lightening flashed and the clock was set back 15 years and all of a sudden, there was Air Canada Carter, hero of a generation. With time dwindling (or standing still, apparently), Carter hit the game winning three pointer to win Game 3 for his Mavericks. The shot was taken from almost the exact same spot he’d missed from in 2001, when the Raptors seemed destined for the Conference Finals. Can you believe it?

In Game 5, as if to prove one final time that Carter was not to be trifled with, he poured in 28 points in 27 minutes. The Mavericks lost the game, and then, eventually, got annihilated in Game 7 of the series. The Spurs were not to be denied. But the box score is on record, the footage exists. There is 37 year old Vince Carter popping off the court to try and save the Mavericks’ season and remind us of all the miracles we’d seen before.

Dame Lillard, doing work.

Dame Lillard, doing work.

2) Which individual will be most affected by the outcome of the Conference Finals?

Osubronie: While the world waits to see where Lebron James will sign after this season is done, I’m focusing on another player that needs to make a name for himself during these playoffs. It’s not fair that we judge a player that has recently won two championship rings; however, all eyes will be on Chris Bosh.  He has the choice between playing with Lebron until his twilight days or getting a big pay day and starting all over. There are a few teams that could sign him (Lakers, Mavericks) but before any of this happens, he and the Heat will have to win the Conference Finals and he must show everyone just how valuable he is.

Despite averaging lows in points and rebounds reminiscent of his rookie season, Bosh is still a valuable member of a championship team and can be a great piece on a contender. If the Heat win the series, Bosh will be celebrated for his new found ability to shoot behind the arc. If they lose, he will be chastised for losing his motivation and giving up on a team nearing the end of a glorious run (sound familiar Toronto fans?)

Whatever team Bosh decides to play for next season, I only hope he brings his awkward post-game antics with him. It would be a travesty if we lost out on moments like this.

Grant: Kevin Durant is only 25 years old. He’s been in the league for seven seasons, won four scoring titles and took home his first MVP this year. Earlier this year, he broke one of Michael Jordan’s scoring records. He’s an assassin from near and far, his spidery limbs moving with a smoothness they seem like they shouldn’t possess. He’s a great teammate, a wonderful friend and a better son. He’s been Durantula, Iceberg Slim and the Slim Reaper. He’s Westbrook’s foil. He’s Seattle’s lament. He’s all of those things. And he’d still rather just be KD.

But he’s not yet a champion.

Durant is quickly taking his place in the upper echelon of forwards to ever play the game of basketball. The list, in some order, has to read like this: Larry Bird, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, LeBron James, John Havlicek, Dirk Nowitzki, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Rick Barry and Julius Erving. With Durant knocking loudly on the door.

That’s a hell of a top 10 to try and crack. Where might Durant fall when it’s all said and done? He’s already only two scoring titles short of the other ten men combined (no really; they have six total). He’s got his MVP, which only Baylor and Havlicek lack on the list (a crime by the way). But he doesn’t have a title. Hondo has a million. Larry has three. King James has two and counting. Disco Dirk, the Doctor, the Logo and Rick the Dick [Ed. Note: Not his real nickname] all have their one. It’s what separates the men from the boys. If Durant can take his team to the Finals, where anything can happen, history could change. If he can’t? History is littered with those who thought they’d get another chance. Baylor, Barkley and Malone can tell you that much.

Reynolds: Paul George is on the outside looking in. It didn’t feel that way in October, or December, or even in February. George was as in as a basketball player could get. A rangy stick of dynamite on offense, and an impossibly limbed wrecker on defense. He was the next NBA superstar. Until he wasn’t.

That sounds unnecessarily mean. George is still a tremendous talent. But watching these playoffs, the ones where his team, the Indiana Pacers, seemed to first destroy itself, then rebuild without him, has been a disconcerting experience. The Pacers are in the Conference Finals, tied 1-1 against the defending champion Miami Heat, but the story has seldom been about Paul George. Against Atlanta, it was the tale of Roy Hibbert; what was his problem? Where did his talent go? Can he recover? Against Washington, it was the fierce scripture of David West; the veteran who, it is foretold, will take his team by the scruff of the neck and force them to play better. Through it all have been the jokes about the curse of Andrew Bynum, the disaster of Evan Turner, and the meme-ability of Lance Stephenson. Somehow, on a team without a superstar, George, its most talented player, had disappeared. So this is it: beat the Heat, shut down Lebron, write the Finals chapter. Good luck, Paul.

That's not a trick of perspective, those are Durant's arms.

That’s not a trick of perspective, those are Durant’s arms.

3) What is the most compelling Finals matchup?

Osubronie: Ever since Ray Allen drained a three pointer to deny the San Antonio Spurs a championship in last year’s Finals, we have been on a collision course for the rematch. Coach Poppovich has rested his players all season and the likes of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker are still playing at an elite level. With San Antonio breezing though the regular season as the leagues best team and Miami the defending champions, this is undoubtedly the most intriguing Finals match-up of the 2013-14 season.

Coach Pop made a rare mistake in Game 6 of the Finals last year that is still being considered as one of the reasons the Spurs are not the defending champs. With 11 seconds left, he benched Tim Duncan (their best rebounder) which allowed Miami to recover their missed shot attempt which led to Ray Allen Jesus Shuttlesworth tying the game. Always a professional, I am willing to bet that Coach Pop will never make a mistake like that again. Despite the heart breaking loss, the Spurs came back this year more determined than ever. Even though they held their starters to a league low in minutes played, they still managed to convincingly dominate the league during the regular season and look primed to close out their original “Big 3” dynasty with another ring.

Although he did not win the MVP this season, Lebron James is still the best player in the league. Unstoppable on offense and a physical deterrent on defense, it will be up to him to win or lose this year’s Finals. He remembers how close he was to watching San Antonio celebrate on their home floor. While his team gets older and seems like they have lost the same drive they had last year, Lebron will have to continue to get his team offensively involved and mentally prepared. His legacy as a champion and his constant comparisons to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant will ride on his ability to once again, beat the Spurs.

It won’t be an easy road for either team to win it all, although Miami and San Antonio have proven themselves to be the strongest teams in the league. I’m predicting that this not only will be the Finals match-up, but it will be the most compelling match up we could ask for.

Grant: Spurred on for my love of basketball history, I have to go with Thunder vs Heat. I’m a Spurs agnostic; I appreciate what they do but as far as I’m concerned, they’ll do it forever and it has nothing to do with me. Kevin Durant and LeBron James are by far the best two players in the world. Nobody is on their planet. And they play the same position! The NBA has never been in this position in the modern era. Whether it be injuries, timing or bad luck, it hasn’t happened in over 50 years.

When Magic and Larry met in the Finals, it was glorious but they didn’t guard each other, not really. Michael never really had a peer – just ask Clyde Drexler. Hakeem obliterated anyone in his path (they’re still finding pieces of Ewing, Robinson and young Shaq in the rafters of The Summit). Duncan and KG never met in a Finals; neither did Walton and Kareem, until 1987, when they were both old as dust.

The point is, we’ve never seen the best two players in the universe, maybe two of the best to ever play the game, go head to head, in the Finals, in their primes. Not since Wilt and Russell. Throw everything else away. That’s what I want to see.

Reynolds: I personally think Indiana should have been put out of its misery against Atlanta. And then I was even routing for Washington. So no, the Pacers are not compelling. On the flip side, while it feels like the Oklahoma City Thunder have a narrative force building behind them (the Ibaka injury notwithstanding), I’m so, so, so tired of watching Coach Brooks trot out lineups that feature Kendrick Perkins (unwatchable), Caron Butler (questionable) and Derek Fisher (immortal, apparently). So they’re out.

Where does that leave us? As Dave said up there, we want Spurs/Heat. There really is no other answer. To watch the Finals last year was to watch the finest basketball had to offer. Brilliant offense, teeth grinding defense, supernova plays, coaching wizardry, the whole deal. Last year was triumph and heartbreak, and this year, the stakes are even higher. Lebron James attempts the three-peat, launching him into the rarefied air of Shaq, Jordan, and Russell. Tim Duncan and company (always “and company”; it’s the Spurs way) attempt to right the wrongs of the universe and go for one more title. I’d say history is going to be written, but the books have already self-combusted from excitement.

Whose sights are set higher?

Whose sights are set higher?

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