Physical but Dirty
We all know from the history of the NBA Playoffs that the level of play becomes more intense and the play gets more physical, but in this past week, physical has turned dirty. We’ve witnessed some blatant cheap shots, some more costly than others. Last week the Cleveland Cavaliers ended their series, sweeping the Boston Celtics but it came at a huge loss for the Cavs in Game 4. First we witnessed Kelly Olynyk put Kevin Love in an arm bar as they tussled for the ball and ultimately pulled his arm out of his socket. A few moments later, Kendrick Perkins took it upon himself to take out Jae Crowder on a screen which knocked Crowder to the ground. Many felt that Perkins should have been ejected for that and I know I expected it, especially in today’s league, but the referees blew that one and it only got more chippy from there. In a battle for a rebound, Crowder was pushing J.R. Smith in the back to gain advantage and Smith pulled out the UFC moves, and hit Crowder with a spinning punch that knocked him to the ground.
All of these incidents hurt both teams, especially the Cavaliers.
J.R. Smith was suspended for two games and Kevin Love was ruled out 4-6 months after receiving surgery on that damaged shoulder. For the Celtics, the repercussions weren’t as bad being that they’re out of the playoffs, however Olynyk was suspended for the first game of next season and Jae Crowder suffered a knee sprain on the fall after being hit by J.R. Smith. Crowder wasn’t too happy as we was seen yelling obscenities at the Cleveland bench on his way to the locker room.
I say this to say that what’s so special about playoff basketball is the physicality and the toughness that it brings, but at the same time, there’s a way to do it. All of these plays were physical but I felt they were dirty and in my opinion, very bush league. It’s okay to be physical and rough guys up but when guys are being injured and missing the playoffs, then that’s where the line has to be drawn.
Round 2 Match-ups to Watch
My two match ups to watch for the second round are Chicago vs. Cleveland and Golden State vs. Memphis.
Cavs-Bulls is going to be a series of pure grit and determination. We get to see Jimmy Butler’s true defensive abilities against the league’s best in LeBron James as they go at it on both ends of the court and we have a premier point guard battle between Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose. Also, as we know from the past, Joakim Noah and LeBron don’t get along, so expect things to get chippy. Even though Cleveland won the regular season series 3-1, in my gut I feel that the Chicago Bulls will come out on top. Butler has emerged, Rose is back from injury, and the acquisition of Pau Gasol gave them that other scoring option that they needed. I believe Kevin Love will be a huge loss for them. Love provided a lot of space on the floor and opened up the lane for LeBron and Irving. Yes, you could just replace him with another shooter, but then you lack the defensive prowess, height, and rebounding that Love also provides; so all in all it’s a huge loss for the Cavaliers.
Two opposite teams going at it with Golden State and Memphis will be very exciting. A team that has a run and gun, let it fly style offense against a team that’s all about taking it slow and beating you up inside. I’ve been a Warriors supporter all year, picking them to win the Finals and being on the Stephen Curry bandwagon since his Davidson days. However, I’m scared for Golden State in this series.
The combination of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph poses height problems for the Warriors and I believe if it becomes too much, we may see a lot of David Lee in this series, granted he’s healthy. I’ve been preaching that it’s imperative for Draymond Green to remain out of foul trouble for his team to be successful but this is the series where he may struggle with that. This is the main matchup advantage for Memphis so it will be interesting to see if they make a concerted effort to go at him. On the flip side, like they’ve done all year, Golden State can use Green as their advantage on the offensive end, stretching the floor and opening up the paint. So strategy will become a huge factor in this series. Mike Conley is also trying to make his way back from a face injury he suffered in the series against Portland. If he can’t return sooner than later, that could be very devastating for the Memphis Grizzlies. Even though I’m nervous for Golden State, I have them winning the series, but if Conley can’t suit up, the Grizzlies definitely have no chance.
My Letter to the Houston Rockets
I must say I owe an apology to the Houston Rockets. I was writing them off before the playoffs began and I didn’t really give them much of a shot, but I must say, “I’M SOLD.” Even though they took care of a Dallas team that I knew wasn’t going far in the playoffs, I was still impressed how the Rockets got it done. My main argument against them has been that they rely on James Harden to do too much, but the Rockets have been shutting me up. Dwight Howard stepped up big and has undoubtedly been the best big man of the playoffs.
(Where was that in LA?! SMH.)
Josh Smith, let me say that again, JOSH SMITH has been playing great for the Rockets. A guy that has struggled with his shot selection and decision making in previous years is making all the right plays. That chemistry between Smith and Howard is showing as they’ve connected on many plays in the previous series. Kevin Mchale has given Smith that confidence and it seems that he’s just going out there and playing freely. James Harden is just simply being James Harden. He can’t be stopped and he’s simply out there cooking any and everything in his path. Against a more defensive sound team, the problem of relying on Harden may reoccur, but if guys can continue rising to the occasion like they have, then there’s no reason why the Rockets can’t continue winning games. These guys are showing that determination to win and their MVP sees it in them.
“We have a lot of guys in this locker room that are hungry,” Harden said. “They want to win and want to do whatever it takes to win. When you get a group like that, you got a lot of guys who are willing to sacrifice.”
James Harden is their point guard and shooting guard but what has shocked me the most is his true leadership. The Rockets have full trust in him and they are rallying behind him in this push to the Finals.