How have the four semifinal playoff rounds been so far? Our 5-on-5 crew gives their evaluations.
1. The Warriors-Spurs series has been ____________________.
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com: Enlightening. Coaches have long sneered at risky things like 3s and rookies, but after David Lee's injury Warriors coach Mark Jackson embraced both to great effect, taking the team further than even close Warriors watchers thought possible. For the Spurs, Father Time is showing up not as some superstar out-Tim Duncaning Tim Duncan but instead as young shooters spread over big territory. It's tough for an aging defense to manage. That said, making free throws and layups at normal rates would have won San Antonio Game 4.
Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: An act of divine intervention if you're Mark Jackson, or a game of sometimes-inconvenient probabilities if you're Gregg Popovich. It's difficult to determine who has the edge in the series. The Warriors have played better basketball more often, but the Spurs still own home-court advantage and have a strong record of not beating themselves in big games.
Danny Chau, Hardwood Paroxysm: A thriller. The Warriors have found themselves in the two best series of the playoffs largely because of the incredible offensive runs they've put together game after game. But Sunday, they showed they're capable of holding ground with their defense as well. The Warriors aren't scared, and the Spurs aren't worried. Let's hope the series goes seven games.
Andrew Han, ClipperBlog: Cinematic. If not for fateful shots in Game 1 and 4, the series would be tied with the road team claiming victory in every meeting. And considering the veteran Spurs were supposed to handily dispatch the young upstarts, this story could be a David versus Goliath.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com; A remarkable matchup of the most experienced playoff team and the least experienced. So how come at times Harrison Barnes looks more poised than Manu Ginobili? It's also been extremely satisfying.
2. The Grizzlies-Thunder series has been ____________________.
Abbott: Trial by fire. The Thunder never prepared for life without Russell Westbrook, and it shows. My best guess is the remaining roster is good enough to advance, and the players know it. But what's the formula? Kevin Durant and Scott Brooks have the pained expressions of men trying to solve a Rubik's Cube against the clock. Will Memphis get two more wins before they figure it out?
Arnovitz: A battle between a team that knows exactly what it is and one trying to sculpt an identity on the fly. The Thunder have never had to ask themselves, "How do we structure 48 minutes of offense without Russell Westbrook?" The Grizzlies have a deep familiarity with their systems. The results aren't always there, but often enough.
Chau: Surprisingly close. It's a testament to how good Kevin Durant is, but he's showing the inevitable signs of fatigue and stress. The Thunder won't be able to overcome the Grizzlies' vaunted defense without consistent options on offense and tweaks to the rotation. It doesn't look like either is coming soon enough.
Han: A bear fight, but the Thunder were already mauled and maimed in the previous round. Memphis has largely neutralized Oklahoma City's explosive offense, containing it to no more than 93 points in any of the first three games. If that trend continues, expect the bears to defeat the forces of nature.
Windhorst: A head-slapper. The games have been so tight, but there have been so many poor choices and silly mistakes in the final minutes. It's also been griping to see Durant attempt to totally carry his team, a position he and his teammates clearly don't have enough experience with.
3. The Bulls-Heat series has been ____________________.
Abbott: Bumper cars with Lamborghinis. This could have been a classic, like the Bulls-Celtics series a few years ago. A truly special competitor in Joakim Noah, two of the very best coaches in the game, the MVP and a delightfully insane energy level.
But it's muddied up by a broad lack of respect for the working bodies involved. I wish the Bulls' roster wasn't once again shattered after crazy long minutes. I wish we didn't spend 20 minutes a night in this series watching slow-motion replays of intentional fouls while fighting about the definition of a flagrant. I wish the most creative finishes weren't erased by hard fouls. I wish people didn't beat up Derrick Rose in the media for caution.
Arnovitz: A slog. It doesn't matter who's healthy, who's not, who's playing, who's sitting: The intensity of a Bulls-Heat matchup never falls off. The Heat will win this series on superior talents, but it's not like they'll get a chance to exhibit it. Chicago will work as hard as it must for the pleasure of denying Miami that satisfaction.
Chau: Engaging, even if the series is no longer in doubt. The Bulls probably won't be walking away with the series, but they're trying their hardest to ensure Miami doesn't get to the conference finals without a few bumps and bruises. Injuries have left the Bulls clearly outclassed, but they still have the fighter's spirit, and it keeps the series worth watching.
Han: A gut check. People were expecting the East playoffs to be a red carpet to the Finals for Miami. But Chicago stunned the Heat in Game 1 and went down swinging in Game 3. Despite being undermanned and overworked, the Bulls aren't gifting the Heat any games, adding gumption and moxie to the East playoffs.
Windhorst: Too much about whistles. Too much of everything involving the officials, including the complaints about them. Play the game, play it rough and play it intensely, but enough of the jawing, cheap shots and baiting. It is unbecoming for all involved.
4. The Pacers-Knicks series has been ____________________.
Abbott: Hero ball's rebuke. To win this series, the Knicks merely need to play their best D and hit the open man fairly often. They are resisting both, which makes for a fun psychodrama ... unless you're a Knicks fan.
Arnovitz: An affirmation for the Pacers. When Roy Hibbert started to turn things around after the All-Star Game, Pacers coach Frank Vogel said the primary difference was his shots were finally falling. Hibbert was capable of being dominant then, just as he's dominant now. Overall, if the Pacers can make quick decisions with the ball, they can generate enough offense to match. Have good options out of traps and stay true to the defensive precepts, and success will follow.
Chau: Playoff basketball, for better or worse. In Game 2 we witnessed the playoff magic when the Knicks suddenly became indestructible in the fourth quarter. In Game 3 basketball was set back a decade to when shooting in the low-to-mid 30s was a regrettable norm. It's all fitting for two teams with such a storied playoff rivalry.
Han: A tug-of-war. Indiana's defense has been on a string, frustrating the Knicks' offense for much of the series. But then New York jerked the rope back with a fourth-quarter Game 2 offensive explosion. Can the Knicks' offense snap the cord back to even the series, or will the Pacers' defense draw victory near?
Windhorst: Unattractive. This is the bizarro Spurs-Warriors series, where you wish the games would just get over instead of wishing they'd never end. And will Jason Kidd ever make another shot? We're at seven games and counting. The Knicks' offensive mojo has gone fishing. But the Pacers are quietly building up confidence, having played very well in four of the past five games.
5. The NBA playoffs have been ____________________.
Abbott: About change. The way things have always been done -- hero ball, hard intentional playoff fouls, playing crazy long minutes, the phrase "good shots" excluding 3s, the Spurs' timeless dominance -- they're all showing cracks.
Arnovitz: Especially interesting in the West. We've never had a conference bracket where each of the four semifinalists could legitimately claim contender status. That each of the four is entirely different in character and composition makes it even more fascinating.
Chau: A proving ground for teams eyeing the throne. It's a wide-open race, and players like Stephen Curry and Marc Gasol have taken their play to new heights in order to firmly establish their teams' legitimacy. The Heat were more or less the entire story last year, but this year the focus has fragmented. We're better off because of that.
Han: Operatic. Upsets, key players with injuries and multiple series that can go either way, the playoffs have largely been about teams staving off the fat lady's song. Six of the eight first-round matchups went at least six games, and now, in the second act, no team has a commanding lead. Richard Wagner, eat your heart out.
Windhorst: Missing Derrick Rose. Rose playing could have completely changed the nature of the Heat-Bulls series.
ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Henry Abbott, Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst cover the NBA for ESPN.com. Danny Chau and Andrew Han contribute to the TrueHoop Network.
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