The Celtics beat the Pistons in Game 7 in the only first round series to go the distance, making the path for the Toronto Raptors considerably easier in the second round.
But I can't be worried about what's going on in the East because we've got a tough matchup on our hands in the second round against Dallas. It used to be that the Mavericks were one of the easier opponents for us, but that was before Jonte Jones developed into one of the top three best centers in the league.
Let's take a look at the tale of the tape.
"...Denver again advances to the second round, but there's still lingering questions about the Nuggets' consistency, questions that will have to be answered satisfactorily if they want to get past Dallas.
Kirk Hinrich won a ring with the Bulls in 2009 and that playoff experience showed in Round 1, where he led Denver in points and assists with 17.5 and 9.3 respectively. He was also tops on the team in steals with 1.7 and his reputation as the most consistent, steady Nugget who's the perfect fit for Denver's offense continutes to grow.
At 36 years old, Jason Terry is a faded player, but still a fairly good one, averaging 13.6 points and 7.6 assists in the first round. His defense is passable, his ballhandling skills average for a PG, but Dallas is going to miss Devin Harris and regret having traded him away at more than one point in this series.
One of the most impressive things about Denver's opening round over San Antonio was that they did it despite Mateen Yeaton shooting a simply shocking 36.7% from the floor. While Yeaton made up for his offensive woes somewhat with 5.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.8 blocks a game, he needs to get untracked against the Mavericks or the Nuggets are going home.
Unfortunately for Nuggets fans, Josh Howard has the defensive stopper ability that Joe Johnson did last round for the Spurs and he also has the size to counterbalance Yeaton. While Howard isn't the megastar that Yeaton has acquired the title of, he's outplaying Yeaton on the offensive end in the playoffs, averaging 15.6 points on 51.2% shooting in the first round.
Starting Vince Carter may come back to haunt Larry Brown, as Carter, while an accomplished shooter, doesn't have the defensive game needed to combat his studly opponent. Worse still, at 6'6, 225 lbs, the 36 year old gives up a ton of size and will likely be abused all series long. Patrick Pastner, who is much bigger and better defensively should be starting.
Go ahead. Try to say he's too old and that his game is on the decline. The fact of the matter is, Dirk Nowitzki hasn't let being 35 bother him one bit and he has the 20.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in Round 1 of the playoffs to prove it. 7', 245 lbs, he's one tall glass of water who's going to be in Carter's face every single game of this series and be a major benefit to Dallas.
Emeka Okafor is having a quietly successful postseason, averaging 10.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, a steal and 2.3 blocks. He'll have his usual workmanlike solid statistics in this round, while making his presence felt most greatly on the defensive end of the floor.
Daniel Wilder keeps improving every year, but the 23 year old, now in his 5th season, is still no match for Okafor, as his 8 points and 5.8 rebounds from the first round illustrates. Overall though, this position battle is not considered one of the major matchups of this series.
Dan Jacobson really blossomed in the first round, shedding his reputation as a playoff pansy with an average of 15 points and 10 rebounds on the nose against San Antonio. Of course, it must be noted that he was abusing a much smaller, much less talented player in Hilton Armstrong.
Jonte Jones looked MVP-like against Utah, putting up 22 points, 15.6 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 1.4 blocks a game against the Jazz. As much as Jacobson's improved, he's still light years behind Jones, who should be All-NBA this year again and who, scarily for the other teams in the league, still has some growth potential.
Patrick Pastner should be starting at SF and even though he wasn't in the first five in the last game of the San Antonio series, he still averaged 15.2 points and 1.3 steals. He'll be a matchup nightmare for the Mavericks coming off the bench. Marcus Williams was a notable presence as well in the opening round and Phillip Gill is averaging 5 points per game in just over 11 minutes, compared to 5.6 points a game in 24 minutes per contest last year for Indiana.
Second year guard Jamar Barnes averaged 8.8 points versus Utah, F/C Mike Patterson 7.6. Jeff Green is always a solid all-around bench player, but the boneheaded move that Dallas is making is that they're giving defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha just 7.6 minutes per game and they need to amp up his time against the firepower-leaden Mavericks.
Tough luck for the Nuggets, who simply looked outclassed here. Even at PG and PF, where they hold the edge, the magnitude isn't nearly as great as the other positions and Jonte Jones will make this series his own personal house party, much as he did last year. Denver's only hope is if Mateen Yeaton breaks his shooting slump.
Prediction: Dallas in 5
Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys. Although I have to privately admit, I wonder myself if we've got the ability to beat the Mavericks. They do match up aggravatingly well against us...
A nightmare. That's the only way to describe this game as Dirk Nowitzki goes gangbusters for 34 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block, Jason Terry scores 21 and Jonte Jones hits us for 20 points and 10 rebounds. On our end, Dan Jacobson had 14 points and 12 rebounds, Kirk Hinrich 19 points and 13 assists, and Patrick Pastner led the reserves with 10 points, but this was an out and out asskicking. Not a good start at all.
Final - Denver 97 Dallas 115
We go in the lockerroom down 50-39 at the end of the first half and I'm anticipating another soul-crushing blowout defeat, but then we come out hot and don't stop, scorching them 70-53 in the second half to snatch a -huge- victory. Vince Carter finishes with 24 points, Emeka Okafor gets 10 points and 12 rebounds, Mateen Yeaton scrapes out 22 points, Kirk Hinrich mirrors Okafor's double-double with 12 points and 10 assists and Patrick Pastner continues to be our saving bench grace with 15 points. Dirk Nowitzki is having one hell of a series, as he supersedes Game 1 with 41 points here and Jonte Jones does better as well, with 25 points and 12 rebounds. But Jason Terry is held to the poor man's double of 10 points and 10 assists and the rest of the Mavericks just fall apart down the stretch.
Final - Denver 109 Dallas 103
Can we ride the Big Mo shift and the return home to seize the series lead? Mateen Yeaton electrifies the home crowd with 29 points, Kirk Hinrich dishes out 10 points and 18 assists and Patrick Pastner scores 14 off the bench. But all five Mavericks starters score double-digits, led by the unreal Jonte Jones with 28 points, 16 rebounds, assist, 3 blocks and 2 steals and we're left staring down the business end of a heartbreaking, loaded gun in a crushing loss.
Final - Dallas 113 Denver 100
I'm scared to even watch this game and I have to take three Prilosec throughout the day to try and calm the acid reflux raging in my stomach and throat. The pills help, but not as much as seeing us shoot nearly 60% from the field (59.5%), led by Kirk Hinrich with a devastating 34 points and 16 assists, Mateen Yeaton his second with 26 points, Emeka Okafor a doubler with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Phillip Gill coming through with 13 bench points. That's not to say Dallas didn't try their damndest. Dirk Nowitzki continued his amazing series with 31 points, Jonte Jones scored 21 and the Mavericks bench played brilliantly, with 20 points from Jamar Barnes and 12 rebounds from Josh McRoberts, but in the end we even up the series, helped by a torrid 42-30 2nd quarter to punch Dallas in the mouth before the half. It's a bloody series, oh yes.
Final - Dallas 108 Denver 116
Much to my chagrin, the only sweep in the second round is Indiana knocking out the 76ers. The Pacers are looking very crisp, Ben Gordon leading the team with 20.6 points, Paulinho Buboltz averaging a surprising double-double of 13.7 points and 10 assists and they've got just incredible offensive balance all around. The real kick in the teeth is that Joakim Noah is the starting C now and he's averaging 7.8 points and 9.8 rebounds thus far in the postseason.
Every other series is knotted up at two a piece, making Indiana's success all the more striking.
It goes without saying that this is the most important game in the series. The winner shoves the loser to the brink of elimination. We need to steal another win in Dallas. That's all there is to it. So what do we do? Go out and play the worst damned game I've ever seen any team play in any playoff game anywhere. Patrick Pastner was the only Nugget ready to play, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. Jonte Jones rapes us for 38 points, 16 rebounds, 9 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals. A god-damned near triple-double! It was a magnificient performance, one for the ages and we had to swallow every last bitter drop of it and Dirk Nowitzki's insult-to-injury 20 points.
Final - Denver 77 Dallas 105
Miracles happen, right? It's a very faint belief, threadbare by this point, but it's all I have left. All -we- have left. And what happens? We follow up our worst game of the series with our best, Kirk Hinrich again coming through with 30 points just when we need it most. Mateen Yeaton scores 25 and Patrick Pastner is absolutely masterful in hitting the exact same 25 points off the bench. It was inspiring, almost as inspiring as limiting Jonte Jones to 15 points and 21 rebounds. Jason Terry scored 21 and Jamar Barnes added 14 points off the bench, but we force our way to a deciding Game 7!!!
Final Dallas 99 Denver 110
It's thrilling second-round action all around, as every other series save Indiana/Philadelphia goes to the ultimate limit as well. The papers and the Internet are alive with chatter that this might be the most exciting round of playoff basketball in NBA history.
Oh please oh please, let us beat Dallas....
My stomach was jumpy before Game 4. It ceases to function entirely before this game, to where I can't even eat. I just drink water. Lots of it. Because I'm sweating profusely from the tension. It's a frenzied crowd in Dallas, who want to see their team have their own breakthrough in going to the Conference Finals, while we're trying to pull off the miracle in hostile territory. We pour it all out on the court, leaving every last bit of energy we have out there. Mateen Yeaton scores 23 to lead all scorers, Emeka Okafor plays well with 12 points and 17 rebounds and Patrick Pastner again rises to the occasion with 16 points to lead the reserves. Daniel Wilder counters with 13 points and 11 assists for Dallas, Jonte Jones chimes in with 18 points and 10 rebounds, Jeff Green the top benchman with 10 points. It's a game that's neck-and-neck, but Kirk Hinrich, the one whose clutch shooting has gotten us so far, fails on the one night we needed him most, finishing just 1 for 8. With his collapse, so too our dreams of championship glory fade away into the night, while delerium reigns in the stands.
Final - Denver 88 Dallas 93
Misery has a lot of company tonight as millions of people sit home heartbroken in Denver and in Sacramento, where the headiness of shocking the Lakers evaporates in the bitterness of a Game 7 loss to Memphis.
But nowhere is the pain greater than in Canada, where the mighty Raptors, the defending champions who looked poised to become the first repeat champions since I entered the league, are shocked by the Celtics 111-109 in Toronto. A two-point game. One single stinking bucket in a game that saw 23 lead changes and 12 ties.
I feel their agony. Defeat is hell.
2006 Golden Scribe Nominee
2006 Golden Scribe Winner
Best Non-Sport Dynasty: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)
Rookie Writer of the Year
Dynasty of the Year: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)