So the playoffs began on Saturday afternoon, and they could not have gotten off to a worse start.
A much anticipated day of postseason action turned absolutely tragic when two key players for the Bulls and the Knicks – Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert – each suffered devastating knee injuries – a torn ACL.
Chicago was well on its way to the first postseason win of the season.
Then, with less than two minutes remaining in the game, the reigning MVP jumped up into the air on a drive, then stopped and landed with no one near him. He jumped again and passed the ball realizing something had gone terribly wrong, and fell to the ground clutching his left knee, writhing in pain.
The twitter world went berserk when a premature report from NBC Miami came out saying Rose suffered a torn ACL and MCL before inexplicably retracting, leaving a small glimmer of hope that the news wouldn’t be as severe.
Things were going so well for the Bulls who, for the most part, easily took care of the Sixers behind Rose who was all over the court and was nearing a triple-double.
The team could take little joy in their victory that turned out to be their biggest loss of the season, and a huge hit for their hopes of reaching the NBA Finals.
From K.C. Johnson of Chicago Tribune: “The Bulls won Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals Saturday, downing the 76ers 103-91 before a raucous home crowd. But news of Rose’s injury-plagued season ending with the biggest and cruelest setback of all made the postgame locker room seem funereal. ”Saddest win ever,” Kyle Korver said. Rose, who missed 27 games with five separate injuries during the regular season, stuffed the box score with 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists before his injury, which came with the Bulls up 12 with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining. After missing so much time with toe, back, right ankle and right foot injuries, Rose overcame missing six of his first seven shots to look like the explosive player who became the youngest most valuable player in NBA history last season. And then this. ”We have to pick ourselves up,” Korver said. “We’ve played a lot of games this year without him. Maybe that was getting us ready for this. Nothing can prepare the Bulls for losing their best player on the cusp of what all hoped would be, following the league’s best regular season again, a championship run. That’s why executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, other management figures and players rushed to the hospital to support Rose, who had told a teammate he heard his knee “pop.”
Afterward, controversy surrounded Tom Thibodeau for leaving Rose in the game despite general consensus that the game was already over.
But is it his fault? If a player has no restrictions, there is no reason for a coach to assume something might happen to that player in the beginning of a game or the end it.
Thibodeau certainly did not take kindly to being referred to as a possible scapegoat.
From David Haugh of Chicago Tribune: “Why was Rose playing so late with the Bulls’ lead so comfortable? If beating the Heat to win the Eastern Conference is the only thing that matters, why did Thibodeau have Rose still in during mop up time of Game 1 in the first round? Even Sixers forward Thaddeus Young wondered, speaking for basketball skeptics everywhere. ”You definitely don’t want to see him go down in a game where he kind of should have been out,” Young said. The question in the post-game news conference irked Thibodeau. The defensiveness of his answer will infuriate many Bulls fans, but I agree with what Thibodeau said — if not the way he said it. ”I don’t work backwards like you guys do,” Thibodeau snapped. “The score was going the other way. He’s got to play. We sat him till the (7:53) mark of the fourth quarter. He’s got to work on closing. That’s what I was thinking.”
The bigger story may have been their inability to stop the frontcourt from doing whatever they wanted, be it score or rebound. The combination of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah shot a combined 17-of-30.
From Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Hamilton scored 19 points, doing so by making all but one of his seven shots and each of his six free throws. He did so many figure-eights running defenders off picks that you had to wonder if he was a little dizzy after the game. The Sixers probably were as they got manhandled down low all game. Chicago owned the backboards to the tune of 47-38 and continually took the ball hard to the basket, an art the Sixers seem unwilling to learn… Evan Turner, booed lustily by his hometown crowd, chewed up most of the two-guard minutes and finished with 12 points and five assists. But the advantage that was most lopsided in the game was the Bulls play around the basket. They continuously were able to either get the ball at the rim or fight for offensive rebounds. And defensively they didn’t allow the Sixers any comfort, holding them to 39.8 percent shooting (33-for-83) and muscling them away from the basket all day. Joakim Noah was a big part of that, collecting 12 points and 13 rebounds. ”We’re going to watch a lot of tape,” said Elton Brand, who led the Sixers with 19 points and pulled down seven rebounds. “Now it’s a chess match. We have to get better, we have to box out, maybe not trap as much so we’re not out of position [to rebound]. We’re going to find a way to hit those boards.”
As coach Mike Woodson so articulately pointed out, “All hell broke loose”.
In all likelihood, New York’s goal was to steal one of the two games in Miami, so one loss was not the most devastating situation.
What did become tough to swallow was losing Shumpert for 6-8 months, as previously mentioned, after he suffered a torn ACL when he tried to change directions with a behind the back dribble.
It was a true insult to injury, and any hopes the Knicks may have had of upsetting the Heat became that much more of a daunting task.
From Howard Beck of The New York Times: “Tempers flared, jump shots faltered, a knee buckled, the mood darkened. And a Knicks postseason that had inspired so much promise turned quickly, shockingly gloomy Saturday afternoon. Carmelo Anthony could not shoot straight. Tyson Chandler was alternately woozy and hyper aggressive. Amar’e Stoudemire was nearly invisible. And no one in a blue jersey could do much of anything to contain the Miami Heat, who outworked and outclassed the Knicks in a stunning 100-67 rout in the opener of their first-round series. LeBron James dominated the afternoon, scoring 32 points in just three quarters while basking in chants of “M.V.P.!” Anthony, flummoxed by James and Shane Battier, finished with 11 points and 4 turnovers while going 3 for 15 from the field. The Knicks shot 35.7 percent from the field and committed 27 turnovers, which the Heat gleefully converted for 38 points as the building rocked. Miami shot three times as many free throws, going 24 for 33 from the line. “They hit us in the mouth, so we got to see what we’re made of now,” the interim coach Mike Woodson said, adding, “All is not bad yet.”… So the Knicks, who tied a franchise playoff low for points, are still in search of their first postseason victory since 2001. Their 11-game postseason losing streak is one shy of the N.B.A. record. J. R. Smith finished as the Knicks’ leading scorer, with 17 points, although he was 7 for 17 from the field.”
More from Beck: “Jeremy Lin played one-on-one Saturday afternoon, an indication that he is ahead of schedule in his recovery from knee surgery. But his availability for the Knicks’ first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat remains uncertain. Lin was running, cutting and moving laterally on the American Airlines Arena court three hours before Game 1. He also played one-on-one against the assistant coach Kenny Atkinson. Lin had surgery on April 2 to repair a small meniscal tear in his left knee. Until recently, he had been limited to jogging in a straight line. The Knicks have not officially changed Lin’s prognosis, which called for a six-week recovery period and would probably cover the first round. But it is now conceivable that Lin will play in this series, depending on how long it goes.”
Tyson Chandler, deemed questionable for the game due to flu-like symptoms, played through dizziness and fatigue.
He may have been better off taking the day off.
He was also nearly tossed out of the game due to a hard leaning-pick on LeBron James. You can be the judge for yourself on whether this play warranted a flagrant foul.
Ultimately, the most important defensive piece for New York was nowhere to be found on Saturday afternoon, understandably.
From Edgar Thompson of The New York Times: “He blocks shots, he shuts down players, he’s our defensive catalyst,” point guard Baron Davis said. “We’ve been missing him a lot. He’s our vocal leader. “Hopefully, he gets better.” Chandler, who was excellent in the regular season, could hardly be worse than he was in Game 1. In 21 minutes, he had no points, three rebounds, two steals, no blocks and seven turnovers, four of them on offensive fouls. “He wasn’t himself out there,” forward Amar’e Stoudemire said. “Tonight, he didn’t quite have it.” Carmelo Anthony said Chandler came into the locker room after the game “throwing up and things like that.” Chandler received fluids intravenously after the game and was surrounded by doctors as he discussed his frustrating day. “I just felt like I was just kind of blank,” he said. “I was kind of always dizzy and foggy. Everything was off.”
James just about outplayed the Knicks by himself.
From Joseph Goodman of Miami Herald: “For LeBron James, this one felt different. No pressure. No problem. James played freely all season, seemingly unburdened by expectations and the memory of last season’s collapse in the NBA Finals. But could he carry that air of liberation into the postseason? That was the question entering the playoffs. He answered it with a resounding yes in his first playoff game since the Heat’s and James’ epic collapse in the 2011 NBA Finals. Miami defeated the Knicks 100-67 on Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 1 of its best-of-7 first-round playoff series. James finished with 32 points on 10-of-14 shooting to go along with four rebounds, four steals and three assists. He was 11 of 14 from the free-throw line and played excellent defense on Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. After the game, James said the pressure the team felt in its opening first-round playoff game last year against the Philadelphia 76ers was completely gone against the Knicks. “We all felt it,” James said of last season’s pressure. “It’s just more comfortable this year. I think it comes from us being together two years now. “This is Year 2 for us, and I think the camaraderie and the comfort level we’re at right now everyone, that definitely helps.”
Next came the most surprising result to the series that was considered an afterthought to most.
The Magic, playing without their franchise player Dwight Howard, upset the Pacers on their home floor.
Glen Davis, deemed questionable for the first game due to a sprained ankle, did his best Howard impression, while Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson came up with key baskets down the stretch.
From Josh Robbins of Orlando Sentinel: “The way experts talked about the first-round playoff series between the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers, you would’ve thought the Magic had no chance without Dwight Howard. The Magic silenced that talk Saturday night. Trailing by seven points late in regulation, they scored 11 unanswered points and pulled out a stunning 81-77 upset in Game 1 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. ”We all we got,” said Jason Richardson, repeating the phrase the team adopted as its motto. ”Nobody believed in us. Nobody. All the ESPN analysts, all the sportswriters. In the eyes of the basketball world, nobody thought we have a chance in this series, of course, without Dwight.” It sure looked bleak in the fourth quarter. Orlando went almost five consecutive minutes without scoring a point, and after the teams traded baskets, Indiana took a 77-70 lead with 4:05 to go. Who knew then the Pacers wouldn’t score again? Jameer Nelson ignited the 11-0 run when he made a difficult fadeaway jumper. Then, with Glen Davis andRyan Anderson both setting screens, Richardson followed with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 77-75. After Danny Granger missed a pair of foul shots, Richardson ran around a screen by Anderson to sink another trey that put Orlando ahead 78-77 with 1:04 to go. The Magic never trailed again.” Jason Richardson scored 17 points. Jameer Nelson added 17 points and nine assists. And Glen Davis, who played 41 minutes on a sprained right ankle, contributed 16 points and 13 rebounds.
If you wanted to see an early LeBron James choke job, no dice.
The Pacers did a fine job being your consolation prize, though.
Details are below, but none may have been worse than Danny Granger’s travel violation with 7.5 seconds remaining in the game.
It sure brought out the best in Chris Duhon who entertained everyone with this gem:
Roy Hibbert nearly had a triple-double with 8 points, 13 rebounds and set a franchise mark with nine blocks in the game. Unfortunately, his accolades will not be praised due to his team’s overall ineptitude.
From Bob Kravitz of Indianapolis Star: “There’s clutch. And then there’s clutching your throat. The Indiana Pacers, who really ought to win this series with Orlando in five or six games, flat-out choked down the stretch, choked the way they choked against the Chicago Bulls in game after hard-fought game during last year’s first-round series loss… How do you explain blowing a late seven-point lead, on your home court, against a team that is smaller, less athletic and lacks the kind of depth you possess? It was Paul George, missing two wide-open 3s late and generally playing without a lick of offensive assertiveness. It was Danny Granger’s horror show, missing shots and free throws and turning the ball over down the stretch, giving ammunition to critics who suggest the Pacers don’t have a go-to guy in the clutch. It was Darren Collison, who otherwise played a gritty defensive game, dribbling aimlessly and settling for a way-short jumper from 19 feet when his team was down three points late. It was the Pacers missing nine free throws on a night when they doubled up the Magic in raw number of free throw attempts. It was, in a word, a collapse.”
And finally, the most exciting game of the day turned out to be the very last one when the Western Conference Finals foes of last season went head-to-head much earlier this time in the first round.
The game seemed to bring painful reminders for the Thunder of what happened in last season’s playoffs as Dirk Nowitzki seemed unstoppable in crunch time, Jason Terry couldn’t miss, Jason Kidd came up with all the big stops and Shawn Marion held Kevin Durant in check.
That is, held in check until the final moments of the game when Durant took over, first with deft passes, then with a game-winning dagger shot with his team down by one.
The Mavericks, out of timeouts, had one last chance to hoist up at least a half court shot, but Marion somehow thought he could take three solid dribbles past the half court line with 1.5 seconds remaining in the game before throwing up a wild one-hand runner that would not have counted if it went in, which it didn’t.
From Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: “As the final seconds trickled off the game clock, Kevin Durant put the ball on the floor and crossed the 3-point line. That alone was a good start. It was a sign that this last-second look could be different from most of the others. And it would be. Durant dropped in an off-balance 15-foot jumper over Shawn Marion with 1.5 seconds remaining to give the Thunder a 99-98 win over Dallas in Game 1 of this opening-round series on Saturday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. His leaner hit the rim and rattled around atop the cylinder before finally falling in. As it did, Durant turned and raised both arms in triumph as the Mavericks hustled to inbound the ball and fire up a desperation heave. But as Marion crossed halfcourt, he failed to get off a shot before time expired, prompting confetti to rain down from the rafters signaling a scintillating opening-game victory in what could be a long and hard-fought series. The final bucket went down as Durant’s second, but most significant, game-winning dagger against Dallas this season.”
James Harden – playing in his first game since suffering a concussion – provided a lift off the bench with 19 points, Russell Westbrook led the way with 28 points, and Serge Ibaka scored 22 points while blocking five shots.
From Dwain Price of Star-Telegram: “We were right there,’’ said Dirk Nowitzki, who poured in 25 points on 8-of-18 shooting. “I turned the ball over twice in the last few minutes when we were up seven, and little stuff like that put them in transition.’’ The Mavs led 94-87 with 3:23 left. But the defending NBA champs kept turning the ball over down the stretch and that enabled the Thunder to get back in the game. “Three minutes is a long time,’’ guard Jason Terry said. “A lot of possessions left in a three-minute ballgame. “Give them credit. But for us, we’ve got to do a better job of closing out the game.’’ Nowitzki had given Dallas a 98-97 lead when he hit a pair of free throws with nine seconds left. But the Thunder called timeout, and worked the ball to Durant, who scored with Shawn Marion draped all over him. “Good [defense], better [offense],’’ Terry said. “It happens.’’ It happened on a night when the Mavs won the battle of the boards 42-36 and seemingly was in control of the majority of this game. In the first three quarters, Terry was 8-of-9 from the field and scored 20 points. But in the fourth quarter he was scoreless and only got off one shot.”
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. Follow him on twitter @nbatupark.