Remember the Oklahoma City Thunder?
They have been out of the news for a while since sweeping the Dallas Mavericks back on May 5.
The waiting game will end soon enough as they will learn who their next opponent will be, with the Lakers and the Nuggets playing an elimination game on Saturday.
There will be no waiting for the Sixers and the Celtics, who face off in the second round just two days after celebrating their first round victory.
As mentioned by the passionate 76ers fan Chris Bernucca, Philadelphia and Boston were once a part of a historically great rivalry.
That, of course, is no longer the case.
The Celtics have made deep playoff runs every season since the arrival of the “Big Ticket” in the 2007-2008 season, while the Sixers haven’t won a playoff series since the 2002-2003 season.
It showed in the reactions of the respective teams when Andre Iguodala – tasting his first playoff series win – jumped on top of the scorer’s table with joy and celebrated hard with teammates and coaches, while the Celtics simply breathed a sigh of relief and walked off the floor after barely defeating the Hawks in six games.
Coach Doug Collins was among the Sixers that celebrated the long-time-coming victory, with good reason.
From Marcus Hayes of Daily-News: “Collins won a playoff series for the first time in 23 years. He won for the only time without Michael Jordan, for the first time since the Jordan-era Bulls ran him out of town for coaching too hard. He took a No. 8 seed and upset a No. 1 seed, the fifth time that has happened in NBA history. He took a team that made an industry of losing close games early in the season and won three times against the Bulls, 79-78 in Game 6 Thursday. The Sixers were 3-18 until crunch time in games decided by seven or fewer points. They are 5-0 since. Collins is a stat geek. He knows all those numbers.”
Though it may be a daunting task to beat a veteran Boston squad with homecourt advantage, Philadelphia heads into the Eastern Conference semifinals knowing it has a chance, having won two of the three regular season games in convincing fashion.
The first crushing victory of 103-71 came on March 7, followed by a 99-86 win on March 23. The one blowout loss of 103-79 came on April 8.
One of the biggest factors for the Sixers may be the play of Spencer Hawes, who, in the first round, has shown glimpses of the player that started the season on fire.
From John Mitchell of The Inquirer: “As the 76ers begin play in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003, Hawes can reap a dual benefit in his matchup with Celtics center Kevin Garnett. One of the things that Hawes didn’t appear to bring back with him when he returned to the Sixers was that 18-foot jumper that fell so regularly early. The shot was money, and since it was not an aspect of his game in previous seasons, it caught many clubs off balance. The good news is that Hawes showed signs against the Bulls of being able to make that shot again. And if he can continue to do so, it’s going to force Garnett – the only rebounding threat on the Celtics – to defend him farther from the basket than he or Boston coach Doc Rivers wants. It also could have the residual effect of allowing the Sixers to get more of those dribble handoffs that were a part of their offense early and result in more drives to the basket. And, as we saw in the Chicago series, more drives produce more free throws.”
After the series victory against the Hawks, Kevin Garnett expressed his displeasure of comments made by the Hawks owner Michael Gearon Jr. in regards to him being a dirty player and being old.
He’ll have more motivating words to work with, if he reads the Inquirer.
More from John Mitchell: “And while Garnett was not thrilled with the Atlanta Hawks owner’s implication that age was part of the reason he has become a dirty player – he’s not, he’s just more animated with the chest-thumping and scowls – he is older. There is no reason at all for Hawes and the Sixers not to force Garnett to run the floor as hard as they can in trying to wear him down.”
The key for the Celtics heading into the series may be the health of their wing players.
Paul Pierce is still dealing with a left knee sprain, but plans on playing in Game 1.
Though Philadelphia is not the team they expected to face in the second round, no one on the Celtics is counting them out.
From Steve Bulpett of Boston Herald: “You’ve got to respect them 100 percent. You can’t (be) thinking this is a team that nobody knows who exactly is on the team that can play well. They’ve got guys that play hard. They’ve got a deep bench. “You go into a playoff series, and these guys are playing well together. It’s not about one guy taking the shot. Those are the teams that are more dangerous, because you have an all-around attack.” An attack that is aimed at some of the Celtics’ weaknesses — the bad turnovers, etc. This is not a great matchup at all for the Shamrock-ing Chair A.C. “They will be (a tough opponent),” Rajon Rondo said. “They’re a very young, athletic team that causes a lot of turnovers, and they’re a unique team — kind of similar to Indiana. Not just one guy is the star. Five or six guys score in double-digits, so it’s going to have to be a great team effort from us just to slow those guys down.” And as Paul Pierce pointed out, it’s a matter of the math. “It’s the second round,” he said. “Teams get better.”
Charles Barkley wasn’t the only one that thought this series would go to seven games, as you’ll find in the link above, but he may have been one of the few that actually believed the Nuggets could win the series.
That notion will be in test tonight as Denver, fighting their way back from a 3-1 deficit, looks to upset the Lakers in Game 7.
It would be quite a gift for George Karl, who celebrates his 61st birthday today. He understands the upset can happen, as his SuperSonics lost to the lower-seeded Nuggets nearly two decades ago.
From Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: “The giant man was sprawled on the hardwood, hoisting the ball in the air with both hands, his mouth open, his eyes shut. The 1994 Nuggets, an eighth seed, had just stunned No. 1 seed Seattle to win a first-round playoff series. It was probably the best day in the history of the Nuggets. “And it was probably the worst day of my life I can remember, other than my dad dying,” said current Nuggets coach George Karl, who coached Seattle back then. “Losing that game on your home court, and being the first No. 1 seed ever (to lose), that’s pretty powerful.” The indelible image of Dikembe Mutombo still haunts Karl, all these years later. There’s one thing that can help erase that memory. A Nuggets’ victory over the Lakers tonight in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series, which, if it happens, would cap one of the great playoff comebacks in franchise history… ”Game 7 is going to be fun, I’m nervous already,” Karl said. “I’m turning 61 years old, and I haven’t been nervous this early in a long time.”
The team will have to be prepared for Metta World Peace, who returns from his six-game suspension.
More from Hochman: “Naturally, there was a buzz about Metta World Peace, who is returning to the Lakers tonight after a seven-game suspension. ”I think it’s more awareness of him and what he does well, but it’s an individual awareness right now, rather than overreacting to what they’re going to do as a team,” Karl said. “We know he’s a power player, he’s a very good inside player and can make the 3-ball. But his strength is he’s going to do some defensive things that will help them be a better defensive team.”
More importantly, the combination of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will have to show up and play with more of a purpose.
Bynum has looked distant and disinterested at times during the series, while Gasol managed just three points on one-of-10 shooting and grabbed three rebounds.
It prompted Kobe Bryant, who had 31 points despite playing with a stomach ailment, to call out his teammates.
Asked if his teammates matched his heart in Game 6, he answered “No. Of course they didn’t.”
He also had comments about the return of World Peace that perhaps indirectly further attacked his teammates.
From Tom Hoffarth of Daily News Los Angeles: “Much of the discussion was focused on reaction to why Kobe Bryant said after the 113-96 Game 6 debacle Thursday night in Denver that World Peace was “the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete and play hard and play with a sense of urgency and no fear. ”I’m looking forward to having that by my side again.” Was that a slap at the lethargic play of Pau Gasol (1-for-10 shooting 3 points 3 rebounds in Game 6) and Andrew Bynum (4-for 11, 11 points, 16 rebounds)? ”I don’t know,” Gasol said Friday. “A lot of times an opinion is determined by the timing of things. Obviously we’re all happy to get Metta back … and I’m glad Kobe relies on him that much … ”He brings defense and energy, passion. Those will help you win a Game 7.”
Meanwhile, Magic Johnson made some strong comments about the status of Mike Brown, saying the first-year coach would be fired if the Lakers lose to the Nuggets in the first round.
James Park is a regular contributor to Sheridanhoops.com. You can find him on twitter @nbatupark.