Crazy weekend in the NBA, and thanks to some family Easter lunches/dinners I unfortunately didn’t get to watch many games. Shame, because I would have given anything to watch Brandon Roy leading an incredible Blazers comeback against a typically choke-tastic Mavs team. I would have given anything to see the look on the faces of the Spurs when Zach Randolph hit an improbable three to give the Grizzlies a 2-1 series lead (yes, this Zach Randolph). I would have given anything to watch the final two minutes of Heat-Sixers today when Holiday and Williams sunk those two massive threes while the Miami Big Three went mysteriously missing in the clutch again. And I would have given anything to watch Chris Paul’s epic performance against the Lakers in what was … oh wait, I did watch that live. More on CP3 later.

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Day 8 Votes

3 votes – Brandon Roy. There’s a reason back in 2009 I said Brandon Roy was “so clutch he sets his body clock to go off one second before his alarm does every morning”. At the time there were few things in the NBA I enjoyed more than watching B-Roy go to work in the fourth quarter. So when I found out from a friend that he scored 18 in the fourth to lead the Blazers from a 23-point defecit, I almost fell off my chair. That is the Brandon Roy I feared we may never see again in this league. Watching him return from injury this season, in a word, can only be described as “sad”. Sad because here was a guy primed to be an MVP-caliber player, a player that Ron Artest once said was harder to guard than Kobe. A player with so much talent yet so many of the  intangible qualities of a leader that you felt like the world was his oyster. And then to see that ripped away from him with injury, to see the Blazers continue to march forward thanks to the rise of David Aldridge, yet watching Roy hobble around like a 36-year old veteran trying to prove to his coach that he’s still worth the minutes… it was sad.

So when I heard about this effort yesterday, I felt a sincere happiness that I don’t think I’ve felt since my Pistons were doing good things in the playoffs. This is all fluff and taking away from the game itself, but damn, when you factor in everything I just said along with the fact this was a must-win game for the Blazers, when they were down 23 points in the third… it’s got to be one of the most amazing playoff performances in recent history. I hope the Blazers go on to win this series so the significance of Roy’s game isn’t lost. He might never be the same player again, and we might always be left wondering how great Brandon Roy could have been. But at least now we have one, undisputed, heroic playoff performance that we can always remember him by. Thanks B-Roy. And thank Dallas for being the pathetic bunch of chokers you are.

2 votes – Zach Randolph. Like I said back on Day 2, giving Zach Randolph playoff votes when he’s playing against Tim Duncan feels like some sort of bizarro NBA world that exists in an alternative reality. Except this is reality and I’m giving him votes again. He didn’t dominate this game to the extent he did in Game 1, but he still lead his team in scoring and hit the game-winner when the Grizz needed it. Over three games in this series Randolph is leading the Grizz with points and steals, and is second in rebounds and assists. And to think that OJ Mayo can’t buy a bucket thus far (10-32 combined over the three games) and neither can Mike Conley (14-37) it’s remarkable that the Grizzlies have the 2-1 advantage. It’s really all down to Zach and Mark Gasol anchoring them in the middle, and I guess if you stand back and objectively look at this Spurs team right now, you’d have to say they’re weakest in the middle. This is why I gave them little to no chance of beating the Lakers in a potential WCF. The Grizzlies are just exploiting it earlier than we all thought. Tizzle and Ash’s prediction is looking more likely by the day.

1 vote – Serge Ibaka. I was waiting for the Thunder to prove they could win without Durant and Westbrook needing to dominate. I just didn’t expect it to happen on the road in Denver. Ibaka registed career-highs in points (22) and rebounds (16) to go with 4 blocks. He was just as prominent offensively as Durant and Westbrook which utterly surprises me. “He was the difference maker” Kendrick Perkins said. ”He knocked down his shot when he needed to, he attacked the glass, he blocked shots, he changed the game”. For that he gets a vote.

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Day 9 Votes

3 votes – Chris Paul. Reality check people. Do you realise we may be in the midst of the greatest individual playoff-series  performance in NBA history? Yeah I’m guilty of hyperbole and the Lakers will still probably win this series. But damn, there’s just no way to describe what Chris Paul is doing right now. There’s no precedent, that I’m aware of. I’ve seen some great players on lower-seeded teams have phenomenal series against their elite opponents. I saw it last year when D-Wade averaged 33-6-5 against the Celtics including a ridiculous 46-point one-man demolition job. But the Heat lost 4-1 in that series, pretty convincingly I might add. I saw it with Kobe twice against the Suns in ’06 and ’07, the former probably being the most memorable because the Lakers almost won it. And of course we saw it with MJ back in 1986, when he averaged 43.7 points in the series against a #1 ranked Boston team. But the Bulls were swept 3-0 in that series. So what CP3 is doing now I’m really struggling to compare to anything in history. Sure we’ve seen Lebron, Duncan and Dirk have some pretty special series over the past few years, but in those cases they were always the favorite, or at least playing on a title-contender. What CP3 is doing is something else.

The Lakers are the two-time reigning champs and the Hornets are missing their second best player. This series had absolutely zero stench of “upset”. It was supposed to be a formality – the Lakers strengths (size) playing right into the Hornets weakness (lack of size). Yet they have been competitive for 3 of 4 games, won 2 of them, and Chris Paul had to play at God-like levels to get them over the line. Today he was phenomenal. He was aggressive on offense and hit big shots when he needed to. Time and time again he abused Bynum in iso’s off a switch. He blew past Kobe. He blew past everyone. He had 13 rebounds – as many as Bynum and Gasol combined. He had 15 assists, none more incredible than the very last – a mid-air dish to Jack who made the game-winning basket.

That last assist epitomized everything about Chris Paul to me. He had been the hero of the game, and the game was on the line. He drove hard to the hoop and the Lakers defenders converged. I saw Paul jump, I saw the Lakers collapse on him, and I thought to myself “damn, he’s gonna get blocked or lose the ball”. There was no way he could get an effective shot off. And at the last second, out of nowhere, he found Jack. I don’t know how. Jack would have barely been in his peripheral vision until Paul almost landed. But as he had done all night, he read the situation perfectly and made the right play. Need I remind you that in that situation, Kobe Bryant would have absolutely shot the ball and tried to be the hero. Chris Paul? He doesn’t need to be the hero. For a guy as gifted as he is, he’ll still pass to a guy like Jarret Jack for a game-winning bucket. I’ve said the very same thing about others before (Lebron and Steve Nash most recently), but neither of them had the reigning champs on the ropes in a first-round playoff series before. There’s just no precedent for what CP3 is doing right now

2 votes – Kevin Garnett. You knew Paul Pierce and Ray Allen weren’t going to score 70 combined points on 14-19 three-point shooting again. And you knew Rondo wasn’t going to top a 20-assist triple-double. So how did the Celtics respond? In the way they know best. Playing tough, physical defense, anchored by their man in the middle. KG lead the Celtics in scoring with 26 (on 10-16 shooting), pulled down 11 boards and had 2 blocks, in a game that Amare Stoudemire will not want to remember any time soon (he shot 5-20). A clean-sweep of the Knicks in the series I was most looking forward to. It looked like it was going to be a classic after the first two hard-fought wins in Boston, but thanks to some bad luck (Billups and Amare injuries) and Celtics brilliance in Game 3, it ended up being a fizzer. The Knicks can hold their heads high though, because they did push this Celtics team for two games. Melo showed why the trade was worthwhile thanks to his blistering 42 points in Game 3 (which will sadly be forgotten now), and Amare too showed he’s capable of dominating in the post-season. There will be less question marks hanging above the Knicks heads next season, and I think the future is bright. It was great to MSG rocking again in late April.

1 vote – Jamal Crawford. In a series that I clearly have no grasp of, the Hawks take a 3-1 lead largely in part to the stunning bench play of this man. He nailed the coffin in Game 3, and his 25 points was the difference in Game 4 (to go with 6 assists and 3 rebounds). For a change it was Joe who hit the clutch shots (he scored the Hawks last 9 points), but JC provided points pretty consistently all night, and they were needed – Joe, Josh and Al Horford shot a pretty ordinary 16-40 combined. I now have to confront the likely reality that the Hawks could win this series, which I really didn’t envisage. I grossly overestimated this Magic team based on their decent playoff reputation the past few seasons. Outside of the Lakers and Celtics, the Magic have been the most successful playoff team over the past 3 years (fact), but you just wouldn’t know it watching them in this series. I’m so intrigued to see how they respond. Because if they fold, you can bet your sweet ass Dwight won’t be hanging around much  longer.

Retro Playoff Diary:

2009 Day 8 – Someone call the firetruck, for Kobe’s sake
2010 Day 8 – Thunder Struck

2009 Day 9 – F$%#!
2010 Day 9 – Making a mountain out of a George Hill

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