A Look Back at the Playoff Preseason (First Round) - Eastern Conference
By Craig Kwasniewski
Three weekends later and the first round is finally over.... finally!
Remember the times when the first round was 5 games and was over by April 25th? Remember when the second round started as soon as the opponents were set? Remember the excitement of 2 or 3 games a day no matter what with practically every game having some sort of meaning? Take away the ultra competitive Bulls - Celtics series and we were left with a bunch of yawners in the first round. I know the NBA will never reduce playoff games, but the first round looks more like a playoff preseason, even finishing behind the NHL in excitement. And the NBA should NEVER take a back seat to playoff hockey!!!
Anyway, let's take a quick look back at all eight series in the newly christened Playoff Preseason:
Cleveland beats Detroit 4-0: YAWN! (And that was from Piston fans who didn't sell their seats to Cavs fans.) If we're claiming the Bulls-Celtics series one of the greatest ever... ever...ever (echo-echo-echo) and making lists proclaiming it as such then let's to a list of the worst ever call this what it was: an abortion! Basically this was the worst playoff series since the Celtics-Pacers in 2004.
The Pistons gave up on the season way back in November when Joe Dumars hired Michael "I'm afraid to stand up to my veterans" Curry and shipped their leader, their heart and their soul in Chauncey Billups to Denver for Allen Iverson's expiring contract. You gotta hand it to Joe Dumars, he not only killed one of the most successful teams in professional sports but he also ripped the heart out of Iverson and offered it to Kali Ma like that dude in Temple of Doom. The end result is collision of a team on a mission against a team mailing it in. I'm guessing Stern didn't consider this when expanding the Playoff Preseason to 7 games.
Orlando beats Philadelphia 4-2: If these teams actually had fans this might have been a little more exciting. Instead the only entertainment factor was watching the TNT crew rip the Magic apart for their offense, their coach, their star players, their role players, their fans, their city... everything. When did the Orlando Magic become the Terrell Owens of the NBA? I get that their offense is bland and uninspiring and that Dwight Howard is not yet at the level of playoff superhero but take it easy fellas. The Magic CLEARLY aren't in the same category of the Lakers, Cavs or Celtics but just a level below with Denver (thanks to their GM Joe Dumars). I feel they're headed in the right direction. I just think Orlando like NOLA last year benefited playing the role of upstart team and stole a few W's here and there (hello Lakers!). We'll see what happens next year when they play all season with a HUGE target on their back.
Atlanta beats Miami 4-3: Again since we're now all about absolutes, is this the worst 7-game series ever? The closest game was 10 points! Even worse, those loud 4-letter bombs you hear are coming from the ABC and TNT offices after missing out on the ratings winfall of LeBron vs. Wade. How did David Stern let this pass? The 2006 Stern would give Wade 30 to 40 freethows, the 2006 Stern would have fouled out Mike Bibby AND Joe Johnson, the 2006 Stern would have had Joe Crawford give the Hawks three tech's... oh he did?... well it least he got that right. The 2006 Stern would have found a way to make LeBron vs. Wade happen.
Anyway, the only other thing I got from this series is Mike Woodson's "who just farted?" face. Call me crazy but if your coach looks confused, panicked and annoyed AT THE SAME TIME... well I'm not feeling too confident unless I have a ghost writer coach like Tom Thibodeau.
Boston beats Chicago 4-3: The greatest series ever! The greatest clutch-ness ever! The greatest fans ever! The greatest coaching ever! (SCREEECH-CRASH!!!)
Okay stop right there! This definitely was one of the most competitive series ever. Five of the seven games went down to the last possession with each team showing extreme cantaloupe-sized balls. But let's take a pause before rating this as the greatest ever. As the TNT crew said, this series was close because of parity. If Boston had KG this goes maybe 5 and we're all talking about how boring the 2009 Playoff Preseason was. If Chicago had a head coach they win in 5 (seriously, how many times will Ray Allen be single-guarded with the C's down three? And how many games did Del Negro lose because he ran out of TO's?). If Derrick Rose actually knew how to play defense the Bulls win in 6. If Paul Pierce wasn't so run down from carrying the Celtics to 60 wins, the Celtics win in 5. But none of that happened and instead we witnessed easily the most competitive in the Playoff Preseason since the league expanded to 7 games. But to call it the best playoff series ever is absolutely insane.
The best ever are filled with drama, with stars, with destiny and a feeling of importance. Take the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals between Celtics-76ers, you have the drama (five games decided by 2 or less), the stars (Dr. J near the end of his prime and Bird coming into his own) and you have the importance (playing for a Finals appearance). Remember last year's Suns-Spurs Game 1? At the time people were calling it the greatest playoff game ever, basically erasing 60 plus years of NBA history along the way. But in the end the series fizzled in 5 with neither team having any relevance in the NBA title hunt last year. Now Game 1 is just a 30 second commercial and nothing else.
Let's see how Boston does for the rest of the playoffs before we rank this series in history. If they somehow find a way to compete with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals then we're talking a heroic effort along the likes of the 1987 Celtics, who fought tooth, nail and broken ankles through to the NBA Finals. BTW - one of my favorite teams in NBA history and a true lesson on how to properly defend a title (2006 Miami Heat I'm talking to you!). However, if they get bounced easily by Orlando, then the Bull-Celtics series will be easily replaced by whatever close 7-game series happens next year.
One final note about this series: Rondo was great, but not THAT great. What I'm sayin' is that he's put together some very impressive numbers against ZERO defense. The Bulls focused on shutting down Paul Pierce and sagged far away from Rondo, giving him a slew of WIDE OPEN jumpers. Also, early in the series Derrick Rose played matador defense and leaked out for fastbreak opportunities. We heard Doc Rivers pointing that out during a timeout and Rondo took advantage to the tune of a near triple-double average. Before we start comparing Rondo to Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson or even Chris Paul let's see what he does with defenses actually focused on him. But WIDE OPEN is still WIDE OPEN and Rondo made the Bulls pay for not defending him one iota... so I guess he's got that going for him.
One more final note: Will Boston drop a banner and throw a parade for eliminating a 7-seed at home?