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Studs and Duds from Week 3 of the Playoffs

Moke Hamilton looks at some of the studs and duds from the third week of the 2014 NBA postseason.

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And then, there were eight.

With the second round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs set to begin on Monday night, the masses were treated to a number of thrilling occurrences.

From Vince Carter and Damian Lillard’s respective game- and series-clinching three-pointers to a brilliant Game 7 performance by Chris Paul to a series-clinching block by Paul Pierce, these NBA playoffs have been riveting.

The best part? It’s only just begun.

With the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks all meeting their demise, the field has gotten remarkably slimmer, and the studs and duds have been further revealed.

 

Duds

The Toronto Raptors, for their fourth quarter defense in Game 7

Rather than single out a player—such as DeMar DeRozan, who shot just 38.5 percent over the course of the team’s seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets—we will collectively look at the Raptors’ inability to do anything about Joe Johnson during the final quarter of their Game 7 battle on Sunday.

Johnson is an oversized shooting guard who is big and strong enough to bang with many of the league’s power forwards and with their season on the line, the Raptors had absolutely nothing for him.

The Nets went to Johnson each and every time down the stretch and he torched their defense, scoring 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting in the fourth quarter.

Though the Raptors made a late charge, their double-teaming of Johnson and rotations often came late and simply allowed the Nets to build a cushion that was too much for the Raptors to overcome.

The franchise made a good decision in reportedly re-signing head coach Dwane Casey to a three-year contract, but the truth of the matter is that if they avoided foul trouble and forced the ball out of Johnson’s hands earlier, they may be in Miami preparing for the HEAT.

James Harden, for his inefficiency

Heroes are made in the playoffs, so when you come up short, you deserve some negative attention. In the 2012 NBA Finals, James Harden averaged just 12.4 points per game on 37.5 shooting from the field. His production was desperately needed, but he simply could not muster the type of effort and efficiency required to help his Oklahoma City Thunder avoid a five-game loss at the hands of the Miami HEAT.

Now, in consecutive seasons with the Houston Rockets, Harden has scored well, averaging over 26 points per game in his 12 playoff games with the Rockets, but has converted on just 38 percent of the shots he has taken from the field.

Maybe they are simply growing pains, as we do firmly expect the Rockets to be a contender for years to come, but it is a bit of a disappointment that—as the higher seed with home court advantage—Harden and his team were not able to have a better showing.

Now, the beard, like Wyclef Jean, is gone ’til November.

Roy Hibbert, for his almost too late arrival

Roy Hibbert may have come up big against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7 on Saturday, scoring 13 points, grabbing seven rebounds and recording five blocks, but we cannot let him off the hook so easily.

The Pacers came into the postseason with their minds set on getting a crack at the Miami HEAT in the Eastern Conference Finals, but due to Hibbert’s all-around no-show, they were almost upset in the first round.

After barely escaping, the Pacers will see an upgrade over Jeff Teague in John Wall. Although the Wizards’ frontline is not as quick as the Hawks’, they are bigger, strong and more skilled. In the Pacers’ Game 1 loss to Washington, Hibbert had zero points, zero rebounds and five fouls.

The Pacers are in for another very tough fight and this time, they will not be able to escape without Hibbert playing at a very high level.

Zach Randolph, for losing his cool 

It is not everyday that a team is forced to play an elimination game without arguably its top gun, but that is exactly what the Memphis Grizzlies had to do on Saturday night thanks to a boneheaded decision by Zach Randolph to strike Steven Adams of the Oklahoma City Thunder, not once, but twice.

Randolph’s lapse in judgment cost him his eligibility in a Game 7 opportunity that his team worked extremely hard to earn. There is nothing wrong with losing to a higher seeded or more talented team, but it would have been nice if the Grizzlies were afforded the opportunity to compete at the highest level with all of their marbles.

When Randolph lost his, he cost his team an opportunity to advance to the second round of the playoffs and that is something that you do not see every day.

Without question, Randolph has earned the dubious distinction of being our dud of the week.

 

Studs

Jason Kidd, for his coaching adjustments and tough decision making

It took a late block by Paul Pierce and perhaps a bad decision by Kyle Lowry to not settle for a 12-foot pull-up, but Jason Kidd has guided the Brooklyn Nets to the second round for the first time since 2007. Ironically enough, their first round series saw them defeat these very same Toronto Raptors.

And their starting point guard? It just so happened to be Kidd.

Kidd deserves tons of credit for his even-keeled and laid-back demeanor. Despite what was occurring around him, his quiet confidence kept his locker room together, but what he deserves more credit for is the tough decision he made following Game 5 of the series.

The Nets squandered Game 4 and followed it up with a loss at the Raptors in Game 5. Trailing the series 3-2, he opted to sit the productive Shaun Livingston in favor of the defensive stalwart Alan Anderson. He also pushed standout rookie Mason Plumlee down the depth chart and allowed Andray Blatche to play Plumlee’s minutes.

Anderson and Blatche came up huge for the Nets and the decision to bench Livingston and Plumlee was a tough one considering each of their parts in the Nets’ success this season.

But Kidd made the call, his team won the final two games of the series, and now, they travel to South Beach for a showdown with the Miami HEAT.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, for their response to adversity

This space was going to belong solely to Durant for the way he handled and responded to the adversity he faced after coming up fairly short through Game 5 against the Memphis Grizzlies. After shooting just 40 percent from the field over the course of the first five games of the series, he responded.

In Game 6 and Game 7, Durant shot 23-for-41 from the field and averaged 34.5 points in those two victories. He understands that criticism comes with the territory and was one of the first to acknowledge that he had to pick it up.

Then, he did.

As for Westbrook, although he does have a propensity to be a bit trigger-happy, his Game 7 stat-line of 27 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds was almost as jaw-dropping as his 10-for-16 shooting from the field.

Although the Grizzlies were without Zach Randolph, the Thunder handled their business the way contenders are supposed to and despite the adversity, Durant and Westbrook led the way.

Better late than never.

Damian Lillard, for being the best sophomore we have seen in a long time

It is not everyday that the masses are privy to a series-clinching, buzzer-beating, 25-footer, and it is almost never that the shot comes at the hands of a second-year pro who has yet to celebrate his 24th birthday.

Lillard is the real deal, and we have known that for quite some time, but the shot that he hit to sink the Houston Rockets on Friday night was truly remarkable.

The game-winning play was drawn up for LaMarcus Aldridge, but Nicolas Batum told the media that given Lillard’s track record of hitting clutch shots and a botch defensive switch by Patrick Beverley and Chandler Parsons, that blowing up the play and going to Lillard was a no-brainer.

Now, the Blazers have won their first playoff series since 2000 and will have an opportunity to overthrow the defending Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs.

Because the Spurs have excellent interior defense and plus-perimeter defenders, Lillard may find himself with his team’s fate in his hands once again.

Already, though, he has proven those 24-year-old hands to be quite capable.

Doc Rivers, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, for everything

For the verdict on Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, check out Sunday’s roundtable between Joel Brigham, Jessica Camerato and myself.

And as for Doc Rivers? The job he did keeping his team focused on their ultimate goal and the way that he managed his communications with the league, its player union and the public was graceful and classy.

As one of the leaders of the franchise’s front office, Rivers found himself in an impossible situation but still found time to game plan against and out coach Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson. Things looked bleak after the Clippers were trashed in Game 4, but a Rivers team is to never be counted out.

Anyone with a long-term memory can think back at how Rivers’ Boston Celtics competed and won despite often daunting circumstances. Now, as the Clippers open up their second round series against the OKC Thunder, they do so knowing that they have one of the league’s top motivators and basketball minds patrolling their sidelines.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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