After the first round concluded, many experts predicted that Boston and Miami would breeze through the conference semis. In fact, ESPN's NBA experts had unanimously picked the C's and the Heat to advance. Not so fast, folks.
Two exciting game twos have made the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals far from a sure thing. Philly and Indiana both stole home-field advantage from their foes, and have placed themselves in great position to pull off potential upsets.
Dating back to game six of the first round, the Philadelphia 76ers have played in three straight games decided by one point, winning two of them. With the second round series against Boston tied at 1-1 heading into Philly tonight, the Sixers have put themselves right where they want to be if they are going to try to steal this series.
Boston and Philly have shown to be very similar teams. Both offenses are dealing with a few key injuries, and have started the series off slow. Their defenses have been stellar on the floor, however, intensifying the first two games.
The Sixers held the Celtics to 11 points in the third quarter on Monday, and still won by only one point. What makes this series such a grind is that these two defensive minded Atlantic Division have a clashing style of play.
Boston flourishes in half court offense, with excellent jump shooters in Pierce, Garnett, and Allen. They also play well in transition, which happens to be the Sixers' forte. The clash occurs because these stubborn defenses have been able to stifle the opponent's offensive strategy, creating a scoring struggle that can be at times painful to watch.
This was especially evident in game two where both teams went through long stretches without scoring. For the first seven minutes into the third quarter, both teams had combined for a mere ten points.
The keys to this series are in two players. Andre Igoduola and Paul Pierce. This matchup has been great to watch. Andre is dealing with a strained achilles, which has been evident in his lack of ability to drive to the hoop. This has been devastating to the Sixers' fast break offense.
His defense has not been affected as severely, as he held Pierce to seven points in game two. Pierce is dealing with a left knee injury, and it is clearly affecting his ability to score and play effectively, as he had five turnovers in game two.
If one of these guys can step up and take over a game, as they are both very capable of doing, it may make a difference in this second round tilt. A pivotal game three tonight in Philly will give its winner a drastic amount of momentum, and would especially fuel Boston if they can regain home-field advantage. Expect another nail-biter to the end.
Arguably, what is more s
hocking than the surging 76ers is the stubborn Indiana Pacers. After dismantling Orlando despite a game one loss, Indiana won four straight to carry some serious momentum and confidence into a second round bout with Miami. After a powerful fourth quarter allowed Miami to take game one, Indiana came right back in game two and proved that they are willing and capable to close out games against the defending Eastern Conference champions.
Speaking of closing, I don't know if I'm caught up in the media hype, but every time I watch LeBron in the weening minutes of the fourth quarter, I find myself yelling at my television. Take it! He won't.
Going back to the first round and countless games in the regular season, LeBron has shown that he can take over a game in the fourth quarter only to dish it out or essentially hide (watch LeBron in the video as Wade tries to hit the game-tying shot) when it comes time to take the last shot. In Indiana, the play seemed drawn up for Chalmers, who has proven that he can take a late, clutch shot.
Despite that, if you are going to win not four, not five, not six, not seven, championships, Mario Chalmers is not the guy who should be taking the last shot. Remember when LeBron was the chosen one? The biggest prospect since Jordan?
He needs to show the killer instinct, and want that ball in his hands with four seconds on the clock and the Heat down two. Yes, he wants to be a better teammate. Yes, he said he was excited to play in Miami to help make his teammates better by improving passing and rebounding aspects of his game.
But that is not the focus of the greats. Sure, it's nice to rack up a triple double. Sure, making your teammates better is important. But when you show the freakish amount of talent that LeBron seems to turn on and off willingly, you need to use it. To win. And he is the best guy for that.
LeBron needs to man up and show that he can be that guy. Not the game winning assist. But the game winning shot. No hesitation, no fear. The killer instinct. The MJ and Kobe effect. If he doesn't do that, he won't win three championships, let alone eight or whatever him, Bosh, and Wade proclaimed at the clown- fest launch party in Miami where Bosh did his best dinosaur impression. Hell, they might not even get past the Pacers.
This is one hell of a year for the NBA playoffs. An eight seed in the second round. A winning, exciting Pacers team. Kobe and the Lakeshow being blown out of the water by OKC. And a veteran San Antonio team trying to grab one last ring.
Should be an exciting finish, and perhaps a surprise champion.