The NBA Playoffs continue with three series in which the road team was able to steal home court advantage and head into game 2 with a lot less pressure on their shoulders: The Washington Wizards visiting the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks playing the Indiana Pacers and the Brooklyn Nets facing the Toronto Raptors.
The game that opens the night will be in Indiana, where the team with the best record in the Eastern conference tries to climb out of the shambles this season might be turning into. The Pacers have stopped moving the ball as it gets stuck in the hands of Paul George, Lance Stephenson and the disappearing George Hill, while their defense seems to be troubled by a team that penetrates with Jeff Teague and dishes out it out to four capable shooters all the time.
This is still Indiana’s series to lose. Yes, they have a very poor record in Atlanta (only two regular season wins since December 2006) but they eventually got a win there when they needed it last season in the playoffs. Paul George is talented enough to be a number one guy, but the ball has to start moving for the Pacers, otherwise they’ll be making it very easy for the Hawks to defend, which isn’t exactly a strength of theirs.
Teague had a big game in the opener with 25 points, and it’ll be once again on his head, hands and shoulders to make the Hawks tick. The Pacers have the ability to respond, but that hasn’t really been shown over the last couple of months. If Teague can once again force the Pacers to shift around uncomfortably on defense and creating openings we weren’t used to seeing from them, we might have another case of fans leaving early.
In Toronto, there’s been too much talk about Masai Ujiri and his ‘[email protected]#$ the Nets’ slip and not enough about how badly the Raptors played in game 1. They simply fell into every trap Jason Kidd and the veteran Brooklyn team set for them, being unable to utilize and take advantage of their own strengths and advantages. Complaining about the referees and their performance in the fourth (which was abysmal to be honest) isn’t going to help them either.
Paul Pierce, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson made the win happen. They slowed things down, posted up on smaller guys and made their shots look easy. More importantly, they made it very difficult for the Raptors to run. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross took bad shots in half court offense, as it looked like only one player, the one with the ball, was actually moving when they had possession.
Going to Kevin Garnett, the weak link for the Nets on defense, is an option for the Raptors. Jonas Valanciunas can dominate him in the paint, and eventually, it might force the Nets to start moving around and helping out. That might be a chance for them to finally look a little less stagnant offensively, because if they drop a second game at home this series is as good as over.
The Bulls, the third of the teams hosting game 2 with an attempt to tie the series, didn’t actually play that badly. They were surprised by how good Nene and Gortat were, but trying to put a finger on one thing that lost them the game is difficult. Probably D.J. Augustin trying to play like he is an All-NBA player has something to do with it, even though he’ll never be exactly like the rest of the Bulls players.
The Wizards are going to need the same kind of huge effort on the boards to make this happen. Nene and Gortat dominated against Noah and Gibson, while Boozer isn’t a surprise. Part of that is John Wall being able to make the Bulls defense move away from its comfort zone, including Noah stepping away from the basket. If Chicago look a lot more dominant and aggressive on defense which means the Wizards not getting the shots they like, this series will be overturned.
It’ll be interesting to look at Bradley Beal and Jimmy Butler. Not just because the way their on each other defensively, but their potential of giving an outside-shooting spark to both teams, which sorely need it. The Bulls missed plenty of open shots in the first game, and can’t afford to let that happen, which means better execution from Dunleavy, Butler and Hinrich this time, while Augustin needs to keep himself under some sort of control.