Arguably the most exciting first round of the playoffs in NBA history is in the books. Our 5-on-5 writers look back on the opening round and ahead to the second round.
1. What was the best first-round series of the playoffs?
Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Clippers vs. Warriors. On the court we were treated to aerial acrobatics and incredible shooting displays. Off the court, there were all kinds of subplots involving secret recordings: Donald Sterling's bigoted remarks and Darren Erman's alleged taping of coaches' meetings. But more than anything, the hatred these teams have for one another was so apparent and so thick in the air, it culminated in the best Game 7 of the 2014 playoffs, complete with postgame altercation. I love it!
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: By sheer entertainment value it has to be Portland-Houston. It may not have gone seven games, but there was enough drama for 70. The Damian Lillard series clincher at the buzzer, the Troy Daniels breakout, the Dwight Howard post-up party, the Wes Matthews dominance over James Harden. Oh, and did I mention LaMarcus Aldridge dropped 89 points in two games? What a series.
Zach Harper, A Wolf Among Wolves: Blazers-Rockets. You saw some incredible individual performances with LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Dwight Howard. Every single game was close, and Game 6 was decided on Lillard's incredible 3-point shot. Tons of drama, scoring and fun basketball.
James Herbert, Hardwood Paroxysm: With apologies to the Grizzlies, the Thunder and their four consecutive overtimes, I'll go with Houston vs. Portland. Every series in the West felt like a conference finals matchup, but this one had the best moment and six straight games that went down to the wire. It had superstar performances, unlikely heroes -- Troy Daniels! -- and everything in between.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Rockets-Blazers. The overtimes. The storylines. The big shots. The offense. It didn't go seven, but all six games were absurdly close, decided in the final three minutes. A few more plays and it could've been a sweep for either side. And it had one of the best finishes in playoff history.
2. What was the best moment of the first round of the playoffs?
Elhassan: It's a tie for me: Raptors GM Masai Ujiri's, ahem, thoughts about the borough of Brooklyn and Bradley Beal's opinion of Chicago pizza. I'm such a big fan of people who understand the entertainment value of the playoffs (who can forget Shaq ad libbing "Vlade, nobody knows your name" to the polyphonic ringtone of the theme from "Cheers"), and both Ujiri and Beal perfectly captured that sentiment.
Haberstroh: The Lillard shot. Can it be anything else? Remember, this was Lillard's playoff debut and he managed to throw knockout punches in multiple games. I just love that you can actually hear Lillard ferociously clapping for the ball in the fan Vine. I've probably watched that 57 times already. Pure basketball, pure pandemonium.
Harper: Off the court, it was commissioner Adam Silver's decision on Clippers owner Donald Sterling. On the court, it was Damian Lillard's series-winning 3-pointer. The back-and-forth in that game was incredible and it looked like the Rockets would steal the game with Chandler Parson's putback. Lillard's shot and the eruption of the crowd clinched it.
Herbert: Damian Lillard's incredible game winner. The home team down by two with less than a second left, and a deep 3 wins the series? It just doesn't happen, and Portland's reaction was beautiful. The previous series-winning buzzer-beater was 17 years ago, yet as soon as the second-year point guard caught the ball, you somehow knew he'd make it.
Young: Damian Lillard's buzzer-beater. Buzzer-beaters are awesome. But a buzzer-beater to end a tremendous series hit by a rising star in the game? It's one of those postseason moments that's going in the portfolio, to be replayed in every montage for the next 50 years.
3. What was the most important takeaway of the first round?
Elhassan: The NBA has gotten a taste of the parity it sought during the CBA negotiations of 2011. The playoffs are so much more fun when the talent is more evenly distributed and the teams all have a fighting chance to win their series. There may only be a handful of true title contenders, but the first round was no cakewalk.
Haberstroh: The NBA is in a great place right now. The league absorbed a potentially devastating Donald Sterling controversy, and all NBA fans are talking about on Monday morning is how amazing this postseason has been. We've seen 323 minutes of clutch time (final five minutes of a game with the score margin within five), which is more than double what we saw in last postseason's first round. And it has only just begun.
Harper: The talent and coaching in the NBA is so good that you can't take anything for granted. Five series went the distance, we had a lot of games going to overtime and the competition was great every night. This league is just in a great place right now.
Herbert: Perhaps this league has more parity than we thought. Outside of decisive victories from Miami and Washington, all of these series were impossible to predict game-to-game, and the Wizards' swift disposal of the Bulls was something of a surprise in itself.
Young: The Heat appear to be back in control. While other top contenders struggled their way through their seven-game series, the Heat were quietly dispatching the Bobcats unceremoniously, and then taking a full week off to rest and heal.
4. What is the best matchup of the second round of the playoffs?
Elhassan: Clippers vs. Thunder. Blake Griffin comes home to Oklahoma ... Russell Westbrook comes home to Los Angeles ... the best passer in the game in Chris Paul ... the best scorer in the game in Kevin Durant ... both teams in the top 10 in offense and defense ... this series has all the makings of a clash of the titans!
Haberstroh: Thunder and Clippers. There's so much here. The point guard matchup between Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook is intriguing enough, but we also have the chippy history between Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin. And will Kendrick Perkins get revenge for Griffin putting him on a poster? Also, the over/under on technicals resulting from the Durant-Barnes matchup is set at 35.
Harper: Thunder-Clippers will probably be the most entertaining matchup. Four of the biggest stars in the game will be trying to outdo the other, you've got some really good role players ready to step up, and there's always the possibility of Blake Griffin and Kendrick Perkins meeting at the rim again.
Herbert: Thunder vs. Clippers. Each team has two superstars, each team has championship aspirations and there is no clear favorite. Pray for seven games and a handful of overtimes.
Young: Clippers-Thunder. Star power against star power. Athleticism, speed and length against athleticism, speed and length. Both teams can create matchup issues for the other, which means the series will come down to the best players making big-time plays.
5. What's one bold prediction about the second round of the playoffs?
Elhassan: The Blazers will upset the Spurs.
Haberstroh: The Pacers bandwagon will be filling up again. They crushed the Wizards in two of three regular-season games. It might not seem possible now, but I have a feeling we'll be talking about Indiana's revival in two weeks.
Harper: The Portland Trail Blazers will put the San Antonio Spurs up against the wall and force them to claw their way to a series victory. The Blazers match up very well against the Spurs; if they lead 3-2 after five games and force the Spurs to win two straight, that shouldn't shock anybody.
Herbert: The Nets' regular-season sweep of the Heat will prove to be meaningless. Much like the Bulls in years past, Brooklyn will find out that Miami is a different beast in the playoffs.
Young: It will be better than the first round. Considering how staggeringly amazing the first round was, this may be a bit too bold. But there are terrific matchups all over and the stakes are raised even higher. Could all four series go seven games? It definitely seems within reason.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Amin Elhassan and Tom Haberstroh write for ESPN Insider. Zach Harper, James Herbert and Royce Young are part of the TrueHoop Network.
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