By Jon Carlos RodriguezThe NBA Playoffs is usually the time when all the excitement building up during the regular season explodes in a crazy, beautiful splatter of high-stake buzzer-beaters; unsung heroes; epic meltdowns; and (usually) a Lance Stephenson meme.
No Sweep in Cleveland
LeBron James vs Lance Stephenson—the NBA’s Pettiest Rivalry—is back and proves that the feud is very much alive in 2018. In Game 1 of the Cleveland Cavaliers-Indiana Pacers series, James and Stephenson renewed the rivalry with a couple of plays that made their previous battles fun and meme-worthy. In one play, James was caught trying to stifle a laugh as a blank-faced Stephenson positioned beside him in defense. In another, Stephenson hacked at James head and was T’d up. Fun times. Oh and by the way, the defending Eastern Conference champs Cavs sucked in Game 1 at home and lost by 18 points.
Paul George has always been a different animal in the playoffs. In last year’s postseason, he led his old Indiana Pacers team with an average of 28 points in four games. The year after that, he put up a 27.3 ppg average in seven playoff games. George again got buckets in Game 1 of the first round matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz with 8 three-pointers for a total of 36 points. No surprises there. What was unexpected was George’s new nickname to complement his postseason game: Playoff P. It does make sense to call him that, but let’s hope he gets to keep it longer than the second round.
Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute beast in the regular season, averaging 21 points on 55 percent shooting; 12 boards; and 1 block per game. But in Game 1 of the series between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets, Towns disappeared with only 8 points on 3-of-9 shooting. He did salvage his stat line with 12 rebounds and a block, but for the Wolves to have any chance in taking down the Rockets, Towns will have to do more than what he did in his playoff debut. Maybe KAT just needs more focus:
Derrick Rose Sighting
While KAT shrunk, his Wolves teammate Derrick Rose (yes, that same Derrick Rose) shone in the moment and announced his return to the NBA Playoffs, although in a smaller role off the bench. The former MVP was the Wolves’ second topscorer behind Andrew Wiggins, chipping in 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting. It was still a far cry compared to his 36-point playoff debut as a rookie, but after what he’s been through, Rose doing well in the 2018 playoffs is a feel-good, unexpected narrative we all need.
The once lowly and forgettable Philadelphia 76ers ended the regular season on the highest note possible by going on a historic 16-game winning streak. The surprising run catapulted the Sixers to third place in the East, where a formidable Miami Heat team held on to the sixth spot. So we already know that the Sixers are good, but did we know they were playoff good? They certainly proved it in a 27-point drubbing of the Heat, the team’s first playoff win in six years. JJ Redick, Dario Saric, and Marco Belinelli scored a combined 73 points, which was an absurd stat for a team relying on Ben Simmons (he almost had a triple double) and Joel Embiid to complete the years’ long Process. With Embiid getting ready to return from injury, we should start expecting big things from the Sixers, and this time it no longer involves lottery picks.