Studs and Duds From Week 2 of the Playoffs
After Week 2 of the NBA playoffs, Basketball Insiders’ Moke Hamilton ranks the five best and five worst performances, including Donald Sterling, Kevin Garnett and more.
As the NBA Playoffs enter Week 3, Senior Writer and Columnist Moke Hamilton shares his Studs and Duds from Week 2…
As the hunt for the Larry O’Brien Trophy continues, the Indiana Pacers vs. San Antonio Spurs Finals that looked to be probable back in December is officially in trouble. Each of those respective teams enter Week 3 of their drive toward the 2014 NBA Finals trailing in their respective playoff series, while the story in both Houston and Brooklyn is one of missed opportunity and frustrating futility. The Oklahoma City Thunder have their hands full with the Memphis Grizzlies, while the Chicago Bulls must attempt to climb out of a hole that has proven to be too deep for the majority of teams in NBA History.
But alas, there can only be 10 of whom are called out for their performances (or lack thereof) through these playoffs.
5) The Chicago Bulls
It is difficult to find fault with the Chicago Bulls. They are tough, gritty and they never quit. After barely dropping last Tuesday’s Game 2 to the Washington Wizards, the Bulls got a 35-point effort from Mike Dunleavy en route to winning Friday’s Game 3 in Washington, D.C.
However, even without the suspended Nene for Sunday’s Game 4, the Bulls were unable to capitalize, eventually falling, 98-89.
The bigger concern for the Bulls is that their two leading per-game scorers in this series are Taj Gibson (19.8) and D.J. Augustin (15.5). Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah are averaging just 13 and 11.5 points per game, respectively.
Even worse, they have yielded 100 points to the Wizards in three of their four meetings and have lost both of their home games, thus far.
The Bulls certainly will not quit, but a series that looked to have the makings of a rather competitive one may be over in just five games. It may be a testament to Tom Thibodeau’s short rotations and the heavy minutes he plays his starters, but whatever the cause, the effect is that his Bulls are, unfortunately, a Week 2 Dud.
4) Roy Hibbert (Indiana Pacers)
We are not entirely sure what has become of Roy Hibbert, but we do know that if the Indiana Pacers are to have any shot of advancing to even the second round of the NBA Playoffs—much less the Eastern Conference Finals—they will need Hibbert to rediscover the magic that made him one of the most talked about players during last season’s postseason run for the Pacers.
Through four games and with their series against the Atlanta Hawks knotted up, 2-2, Hibbert has become an afterthought, struggling to find a way to remain relevant and effective against the smaller and quicker Hawks.
He has averaged six points and 4.3 rebounds in just 24.3 minutes per game over the course of the first four games of the series and has seen his playing time diminish substantially.
The Pacers could easily be bend 3-1 in this series, but with it knotted at 2-2 after Saturday’s dramatic 91-88 victory in Atlanta, it is now a best-of-three series in which two games will be played at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Pacers may have enough to get past the Hawks, but as a matchup with the Wizards appears to be taking place, Hibbert will need to rediscover his effectiveness.
3) Nene (Washington Wizards)
Although his team bailed him out by winning Game 4 without him, Nene is deserving of some harsh criticism for allowing his emotions to get the best of him during his team’s 100-97 Friday night loss to the Chicago Bulls. Nene was ejected with about 8:30 remaining in the fourth quarter with the Wizards trailing 78-76. They would go on to lose the game, but even worse for Nene, he was suspended for Sunday’s Game 4.
Granted, tempers flare during the playoffs and teams begin to get tired of seeing one another by Game 3 of a series, but on the play in question, Nene wasn’t assaulted, there was no flagrant foul and seemed to be little to warrant his accosting of Butler.
His Wizards prevailed, even with his being suspended, but the bottom line is that had he kept his composure, the Wizards may have very well swept the Bulls and would be patiently awaiting the conclusion of the Indiana Pacers-Atlanta Hawks series.
Instead, the Wizards must head back to Chicago for a Game 5 and hope to win there in order to avoid a long series.
Dumb move, especially since Nene has been one of the Wizards’ top players during the series, having shot a combined 19-for-30 in Game 1 and Game 2.
2) Kevin Garnett (Brooklyn Nets)
Make no mistake about it, we’ve got tons of love for Kevin Garnett, but that fact does not make him above reproach. After missing 28 games during the regular season, the thought and hope for Garnett was that he would be fresh enough to make some meaningful contributions to his Brooklyn Nets. Instead, Garnett has become an afterthought while the Toronto Raptors stole Game 4 in Brooklyn on Sunday night.
Though the Nets do have good depth and capable scoring, they are locked into a best-of-three series with the Raptors that will see two games played in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre. They could certainly use a shot in the arm, but Garnett has been unable to provide it, scoring just 7.5 points per game in just 19 minutes.
His timing is off and he is missing easy looks at the rim. Both issues may improve with more repetitions, but the Nets are out of time. With perhaps as little as two games remaining in their season, they simply need more from Garnett, who boldly told the media back in October that “the only reason I came to Brooklyn was to win a championship.”
1) Donald Sterling (Los Angeles Clippers)
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few days, you are probably aware of the remarks that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling purportedly during what he believed was a private conversation with a woman in which he is reportedly romantically involved.
Since then, the Clippers—one of five teams that have a legitimate shot at winning a championship this season—have been besieged by media from across the country and have had their emotions, resiliency and focus all tested mightily.
Not that there would have ever been an appropriate time or place for the comments allegedly made by Sterling, but during a tough first round playoff battle against a division rival is probably one of the worst times that the NBA’s most despised owner could have gotten exposed.
One way or another, Sterling will be punished for his remarks and whether fair or not, his team will ultimately feel the weight of an entire country that has suddenly become much more interested in the NBA and its race dynamics.
Calling Sterling the Dud of the Week was an easy call.
In Related: Not much the league can do, sadly.
5) Vince Carter (Dallas Mavericks)
He may only be half the player he was five years ago, but he is still at least half-amazing.
Vince Carter came to the rescue of the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday when he nailed the game-winning, falling-out-of-bounds, buzzer-beating three-pointer. As a result, the Mavericks took a 2-1 series lead over the San Antonio Spurs and have applied tremendous pressure to the defending Western Conference Champions.
With 1.7 seconds remaining in the game, Carter received Jose Calderon’s perfect inbounds pass and drilled a corner-three with Manu Ginobili draped all over him.
Thus far throughout these playoffs, we have witnessed a tremendous amount of spirited and overall amazing play, but as far as single shots go, Carter’s is near the top. That it came in a swing-game that saw the underdog pull ahead and take the lead in the series and that it happened for one of this generation’s brighter stars who has willingly become a model role player in the twilight of his career was a special moment for those who have been watching Carter since he entered the league way back in 1998.
4) Trevor Ariza (Washington Wizards)
Despite an overall dearth of playoff experience, the Wizards have handled the postseason and some of the tighter moments that they have had during their series against the Chicago Bulls like some spry veterans.
Any number of players can be singled out for performing admirably, but it is Trevor Ariza that gets our affection this week.
Without a suspended Nene for Sunday’s Game 4 against the Bulls, Ariza turned in 30 points on just 17 shots, converting six of the 10 three-pointers he took. Those baskets went a long way toward helping the Wizards build a 3-1 lead that will probably end up being insurmountable for the Bulls.
The 30-point effort followed up an overall strong performance for Ariza in Friday night’s 16-point, 11-rebound double-double.
Over the course of the series, he is averaging 18 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. He has converted on 51 percent of his shots, including a whopping 48 percent from beyond the arc.
He has come a very long way since being drafted by the New York Knicks with the 43rd overall pick of the 2004 draft. He has worked quite hard since then and remains a testament to what hard work and dedication can help accomplish in the NBA.
In Related: How far can the Wizards advance?
3) Reggie Jackson (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Trailing by five with a minute remaining in Saturday night’s Game 4 battle at the Memphis Grizzlies, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season was officially on life support.
Then, an unexpected hero re-emerged.
With Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combining to shoot 3-for-16 in the game’s fourth quarter, the Thunder were all but certain to fall into a 3-1 hole from which teams are rarely able to climb out, but Jackson scored five-straight points within the span of 30 seconds and helped the Thunder force overtime.
In the extra segment, he scored eight points, including the game-clinching free-throws.
By the time it was all said and done, Jackson had scored a game-high 32 points off the bench—more than the 30 points Durant and Westbrook totaled, combined. He was the only player in the game who both took more than one shot and converted more than 55 percent of his shots from the field.
As the Thunder continue along on their journey to the NBA Finals, Jackson’s Game 4 may soon be forgotten, but that night and his huge performance down the stretch may have been the entire difference for the Thunder.
2) LeBron James (Miami HEAT)
We take LeBron James’ greatness for granted, and there is no question about it.
As his Miami HEAT quietly chug along, they are the only team in the league to get out to a 3-0 lead over their first round opponent and are the only team that even had an opportunity to think about a potential sweep.
And they did it all behind 29.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and five assists per game from James. He has connected on 57 percent of his shots from the field, including 40 percent from behind the three-point arc.
Any other player that approached that productivity would be applauded greatly.
We simply shrug our shoulders.
Respect is due to the captain of the three-time defending Eastern Conference Champions. As the HEAT chase their third straight NBA Championship, they do so behind the capable leadership of James.
1) LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers)
With a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets, it is difficult to imagine the Portland Trail Blazers failing to advance out of the first round, but it is even more difficult to imagine where they would be without LaMarcus Aldridge.
As Aldridge looks to advance out of the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs for the first time in his career, he and teammate Damian Lillard have been absolutely superb. Where Aldridge really deserves credit is for his increased activity on the interior and his capable defending of Dwight Howard, in spurts. Not renowned as a rim protector, Aldridge is averaging three blocks per game for the series.
Oh, and the 35.3 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 11.5 rebounds he is averaging per game isn’t too shabby, either.
We will pause briefly to give an honorable mention to Lillard as well. In three playoff games last week, Lillard’s 23.7 points, 8.3 assists and five rebounds per game were just as important as Aldridge’s contributions.
Still, as of this moment, entering the third week of the NBA Playoffs, thus far, we would have to peg Aldridge as being our Playoff MVP.
Have feedback? Want to nominate a Stud or Dud for next week? Drop a question in Moke Hamilton’s Weekly NBA Chat, held each Friday, or send him a Tweet, @MokeHamilton. We value your feedback!
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