Just a week ago, the Los Angeles Clippers were handling the Portland Trailblazers. The No. 2 seed in the East, the Toronto Raptors, recovered from an early loss to go up 2-1 over the Indiana Pacers. the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Charlotte Hornets, were being lambasted by the Miami Heat in record fashion. The No. 4 seed Atlanta Hawks were up 2-1 over the fifth seeded Boston Celtics. All of the other series were largely foregone conclusions.
The momentum in a series has been known to shift on the slightest twist of fate. Not long ago there were several series that seemed to be sweeps in the making.
I had resigned the Charlotte Hornets to oblivion in naming the Miami Heat as the preeminent threat to Cleveland Cavalier supremacy in the Eastern Conference. Additionally, I listed the Boston Celtics among my biggest disappointments in the NBA playoffs thus far. Being that there are levels to everything, I have to put the Toronto Raptors on their proper throne as being my top lame duck participant in this year’s big showdown, with heir high-scoring backcourt tandem of DeMar DeRozen and Kyle Lowry coming up way short of expectations.
Sometimes, it is as tangible as a series-shifting injury or something seemingly as mundane as which pair of sneakers a player may have been wearing when he explodes for a career night. In the case of Toronto Raptors, it would seem the team is imploding. The backcourt performed poorly in last year’s playoffs as well, but many gave Lowry a pass because of back problems.
DeRozen averaged 20 ppg on 40 percent shooting - the Wonder Bread of All-Star shooting guard stats - when the Raptors were swept by the Washington Wizards.
This year, we see that both DeRozen and Lowry have returned to their prior postseason habits. Lowry's playoff numbers are well below his season average with 15 points per game, and DeRozen is averaging a mere 13 -ten below his regular season output.
Remember when being an All-Star meant showing up in the playoffs, even in defeat? Even if Pepperidge Farms doesn’t remember, I do.
The Hornets had won the second-most regular season games since the All-Star break behind the Golden State Warriors. The Raptors finished atop the Atlantic Division and were appropriately granted home court advantage in the first round, and the Boston Celtics fought for a top spot in the East up until the last few weeks of the regular season. But the Raptors, who are tied at two games apiece with the No. 7 seed Indiana Pacers, aren't performing as well as other teams that have fought back after being down 2-1.
Yes, big man Jonas Valanciunas has been putting in work down low with 15 points and 13.5 boards per game, but the Raptors aren’t getting anything else up front. Which, coincidentally, is exactly the sort of trouble Boston’s bigs were having in the first two games.
With the Charlotte Hornets, it was a historical eventuality that pulled their series with the Miami Heat to 2-2. After all, you had the specter of Michael Jordan’s franchise having to win a playoff again eventually. But two in a row? Aw, snap. While I doubt the Carolina contingent will be dabbing in South Beach this year, the emergence of Jeremy Lin, and the return of PG Kemba Walker to his usual level of effectiveness has raised the eyebrows of many.
A “big up” is especially in store for diminutive dynamo in Kelley green otherwise known as Isaiah Thomas. After poor performances in Games 1 and 2, Thomas eviscerated the Hawks with 42 points in Boston. He turned around and dropped 28 points the next game, offsetting a 45-point retaliatory explosion from Atlanta forward Paul Milsap. But mad praise and accolades had to go out to coach Brad Stevens and his defensive strategy, spearheaded by guard Marcus Smart, who has provided some clutch scoring as well. If Atlanta is not careful this will be their swan song. Kyle Korver, paging Mr. Kyle Korver to the front desk.
To have to discuss an injury of one of basketball’s best players is never done easily. We all want to see the very play at the highest levels and we wish Chris Paul a full recovery. However, without him the Clippers have a situation that has gone to bad, up only 2-1 over Portland, to now being tied 2-2 and without their leader. While the Clippers are still favored to beat the Trail Blazers as constructed, their once slim chance of defeating the Golden State Warriors has evaporated into none.