The NBA’s version of the Elite Eight is in full-force and as the clock ticks, the hourglass sifts on the season of four more teams that hope to play for the Larry O’Brien trophy. At the end of the day, though, we know that there will only be two, and unfortunately for those that reside in Rip City, or support the team that hails from there, we know it will not be the Portland Trail Blazers.
Entering week five of the NBA Playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs have not only beaten the Blazers, they have embarrassed them, dropping them into the all-too-familiar 0-3 hole and beating them by an average of 18.7 points per contest.
After a first round full of exciting finishes and scores of fans walking around with exposed cuticles due to the nail biting, the second round has been a bit of a dud comparatively speaking.
But of course, not the biggest one. That designation will be revealed below.
Nene, Because He Should Have Been Ready For This Challenge
After dismantling Joakim Noah, Nene has regressed a bit in the second round. Facing tougher interior opposition than a one-footed Noah, Nene has combined to shoot just 8-for-28 over the Wizards’ past two games and has seemed to be just a shell of the offensive force that he was against Tom Thibodeau’s team. Though his defense has been mostly on-par with what we have come to expect from him, from top to bottom, the Wizards need to find a way to both score more than 63 points (like they did in Game 3) and not cough up a 19-point lead (like they did in Game 4).
As a veteran on this team and one of the few that has tasted this type of playoff intensity, Nene needs to lead the way and find a way to be more effective if the Wizards are to have any chance of advancing
Russell Westbrook, For Not Passing to Kevin Durant When It Mattered Most
If you ask those who are associated with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s players, most of them will have you believe that the ire that Russell Westbrook often comes under for shooting too much is a foolish media-creation.
But when you are playing with the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player and you have an opportunity to hit him for a game-winning three-point shot in a pivotal Game 4 of a playoff series, you pass him the damn ball, even if you are playing in your hometown.
Westbrook got a clean look at the buzzer of Sunday’s Game 4 against the Los Angeles Clippers, and certainly, flashbacks of the heroics that Damian Lillard provided in Game 6 of the Blazers’ first round series against the Houston Rockets probably flashed across his subconscious as he received the ball at mid court and proceeded to fly up the floor and take (and clank) the game-winning shot.
That was Durant’s shot, and there was more than enough time to get him the ball. As great as Westbrook has been thus far this series (27.5 points, seven rebounds, 8.8 assists on 54 percent shooting from the field), he failed to make the pass when it mattered most.
As a result, his Thunder are locked in a series that they could easily lose and though his passing to Durant in that moment may not have changed that, it would have sent a loud and reverberating message to all of his critics.
Instead, the Thunder now face a must-win Game 5 in a series that they should be leading 3-1.
The Portland Trail Blazers, For Getting Schooled
The Spurs are no strangers to one-sided beatings in the NBA playoffs. Way back in 2007, some wondered whether the upstart Utah Jazz, being led by Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, had a chance to topple the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
Five games later, the world knew better and as the Spurs went on to sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers and finish up their latest NBA title run by going 10-1 over their final 11 playoff games, we got a stark reminder: you need to be ripe before you can become a champion.
From top to bottom, the Trail Blazers are learning that the hard way.
Offensively, the Spurs are more disciplined and run a far superior system than the Houston Rockets and defensively, there is simply not competition.
Damian Lillard is shooting just 37.5 percent from the field and unless that changes in a serious way, the Blazers will fall to the Spurs just like Boozer’s Jazz once did.
It has been a wonderful season for the Blazers, and their future is quite bright. But there is no question that a more spirited and competitive fight should have been had. For sure, they are the dud of the week.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, For Refusing to Fall
20.3 points, 12.3 assists and 3.3 steals per game against a defense like the Oklahoma City Thunder’s? That is something worth celebrating.
Through four games, Chris Paul has been every bit as good as Kevin Durant and we will also send an honorable mention to Blake Griffin for the fearless and reckless manner in which he has continually challenged the intimidating interior defenders of the Thunder.
After winning Game 4 in dramatic fashion, the Clippers are tied in a three-game series with the Thunder and though this writer picked the Thunder to take this one in seven games, we cannot discount the Clippers as a real threat to not only topple the Thunder, but to win the entire thing.
What we recall most about the go-ahead three-pointer by Jamal Crawford was Paul’s surveying of the floor and immediate recognition of the fact that Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins converged in the middle of the paint to cut off Blake Griffin’s drive. The last time the Clippers ran that play, Griffin ended up converting a three-point play and Scotty Brooks ensured that would not occur again.
So Paul did what Paul does—he got his teammates the ball in a position to do something with it and Crawford responded by hitting the game’s biggest shot.
Again, we say, a team with Paul at the helm is never out of any game. Period. And, they’re never out of a series, either.
Paul George, For Galvanizing His Team and Showing Some Rare Mental Toughness
It is not easy sticking to one’s guns. This writer predicted that the Indiana Pacers would win the 2014 Eastern Conference Championship and changing predictions is simply not something that we do.
We said that even when the Pacers trailed the Atlanta Hawks 3-2 back in the first round and we will continue to say it.
But holy cow, thank goodness we finally have some reason to believe it.
In Game 3 against the Wizards, the Pacers showed us once again that they can be an indomitable defensive force, stifling and frustrating the Wizards into scoring just 63 total points and holding John Wall, Bradley Beal and Nene to a combined 15-for-46 from the field.
The next game, they erased a 19-point deficit and stole Game 4 at the Verizon Center.
Per ESPN, Paul George became the first player in NBA history to score 39 points, grab 12 rebounds and hit seven three-pointers in an NBA playoff game.
Roy Hibbert now seems to have rediscovered his mojo and all of a sudden, despite all that has occurred to this point, the Pacers are one win away from getting back to the Eastern Conference Finals—this time, with home court advantage.
They are on the cusp, and when they needed it most, George came up with a 28-point second half in Game 4.
Tony Parker, For Showing Damian Lillard Who’s the Boss
Who’s the best point guard in the NBA?
Chris Paul? Russell Westbrook? Derrick Rose? Rajon Rondo? Where does Goran Dragic rank? How far down the line is Kyrie Irving?
This past season, we have heard a few pick up on the idea that Mike Conley is underrated, but really and truly, who is more underrated than Tony Parker?
Of the aforementioned point guards, how many of them have championship rings? How many of them have been the MVP of the NBA Finals? How many of them are the best point guard to come from their continent?
The answer is one, and in each instance, the answer is Parker.
Over the course of last season’s NBA Finals, Parker was the most consistent force for the Spurs and he just so happened to pull off one of the most amazing shots ever witnessed in Game 3.
So are you surprised that he has taken the challenge of going directly at Damian Lillard and showing him who’s boss?
Are you surprised that he is averaging 26 points, 8.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game on 52 percent shooting from the field?
Are you surprised that Parker is the impetus behind the Spurs beginning to shovel dirt on the grave of the Blazers’ 2014 NBA season?
If so, why?
Parker has been one of the league’s most consistent floor generals over the course of the past decade.
But just in case you forgot, he figured he would remind you.
And we are glad that he did.
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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