With the second round of the NBA playoffs comes a more competitive set of series for fans to enjoy as we inch closer to the Finals at the end of May.
The Rockets were not without their chances in Sunday’s game one loss to the Warriors at the Oracle in Oakland. In fact, a late steal gave James Hardin an opportunity to tie the game at the end of regulation with a three-point attempt.
Hardin posted 35 points in the contest, the same amount as Golden State’s Kevin Durant, but he was not able to make the critical three after a Chris Paul steal with less than 17 seconds left. He may have had a better chance, though, if he focused more on making the shot than getting fouled.
It is not my business to tell the great James Hardin how to play his game, but it is becoming more and more common in the NBA to fish for a foul to bail your team out in a pinch. I can only abide this strategy when it is earlier in the game and you have to take an unbalanced shot to beat the shot clock.
But this was the game for the Rockets. They needed this basket to keep game one alive and Hardin seemingly flailed his legs out during the shot and missed it quite badly. He then crashed to the floor and waited for a whistle that never came.
Stephen Curry would go on to sink a technical free-throw attempt to put the Warriors up by four and ensure the game one victory.
A big deciding factor in game one was the first quarter. After a back-and-forth battle to start the afternoon, Golden State scored 11 unanswered points in the final two minutes to gather momentum after the first. Houston would right themselves in the second, but this game would have been a lot different if they were not chasing a big deficit like that after a mostly competitive opening quarter.
Eric Gordon was extremely impressive for the Rockets in game one with 27 points, second to only Hardin and Durant. Chris Paul added another 17 and three steals. Curry was 3-for-10 from three-point range for Golden State and posted 18 points to complement Durant’s big day.
The level Durant has taken his game to over the last week makes me very skeptical of Houston’s ability to make this a series down the stretch. He is the best basketball player in the world right now and, considering the team around him, he will be almost impossible to slow down as the postseason progresses.
The Rockets looked to rebound in Golden State on Tuesday night in game two. The series will return to Houston for game three on Saturday, giving the teams three days off in between games two and three.
Elsewhere in the second round, the Boston Celtics looked to make it back-to-back wins over the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday. On Sunday, it was Boston who looked like the East’s one-seed with an impressive 22-point victory.
Milwaukee’s Greek superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo posted a modest 22-points in the losing effort. It was Kyrie Irving of the Celtics who stole the show with 26 points, 11 assists and seven boards for Boston. Al Horford added another 20 while Jaylen Brown posted 19.
The Bucks won 60 games this season to earn the top seed in the East and will go as far as Giannis can take them. But it is unclear how much further that will be for someone who had never made it out of the first round until now.
The Celtics, on the other hand, are probably the most experienced team in the East by default at this point. Cleveland would still be without a championship if it were not for Irving’s heroics in 2016. Brad Stevens is more experienced than most 42-year-old coaches have any business being. In short, do not be fooled by the little ‘4’ that sits next to Boston’s logo on the scoreboard.
With LeBron James no longer ruling the East, I truly think it is safe to say that Boston is the favorite to win the conference. Entering game two on Tuesday, they were the only undefeated team remaining in the playoffs. Even a loss in game two would not be overly traumatic with the series returning to Boston over the weekend.
Elsewhere in the NBA’s second round, the Denver Nuggets lead the Portland Trail Blazers 1-0 in the West. Denver escaped the Spurs with a win in game seven last weekend while Portland’s Damian Lillard hit an incredibly long three-pointer to eliminate the Oklahoma City Thunder in game five of the first round. The winner will meet Golden State or Houston in the Conference Finals.
In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors are even at a game apiece with the series shifting to Philly for games three and four. Both teams advanced in five games over the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic, respectively, in the first round of the playoffs. The winner of the series will meet either Boston or Milwaukee in the Conference Finals.
While the series are just now becoming competitive for the NBA in the second round, the NHL has seen postseason mayhem since the drop of the first puck and eight teams still hope to see their names engraved on the Stanley Cup.
The Dallas Stars remain alive as a wildcard team after they defeated top-ranked Nashville in six games in the first round. They enter Wednesday’s game four against the St. Louis Blues trailing two games to one.
The Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets competed in two thrillers and entered Tuesday’s game three with the series knotted up at a game apiece. Both of the first two games of the series, which took place in Boston, went into overtime. The Bruins were able to win game one but could not take advantage of game two’s multiple chances, allowing Columbus to pick up a win before heading home for games three and four.
The Colorado Avalanche and San Jose Sharks were also even with one game apiece entering Tuesday’s game three. The winner of this series will advance to meet either Dallas or St. Louis.
The Carolina Hurricanes, who knocked off the defending Stanley Cup Champions last week in the Washington Capitals, are off to a two games to none series lead over the New York Islanders. The winner will ultimately advance to play Boston or Columbus.