For basketball fans, this time of year is the equivalent of opening their favorite pair of Jordan on Christmas morning. With the 2016 NBA playoffs underway, there are a lot of stories to tell. No surprise the top three for this week come out of the Western Conference, but an honorable mention award goes to the East.
Honorable mention: Detroit Pistons give LeBron and Co. Competition
In their first round one meeting, the Cavaliers went head-to-head with a very inexperienced Pistons team. In fact, the only player of the Pistons’ starting five to have ever seen a playoff game was their exuberant point guard Reggie Jackson, but that did not discourage them. Neither did LeBron James. Despite the 106-101 loss, Jackson commented after the game, “We fear nobody, and experience is going to be our best teacher. We’re going to learn on the fly. We think we have a chance.”
The way the Pistons played through the first three quarters, Jackson’s statement was not far off. Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons were red hot to start, making 10 of 16 threes in the first half, incessantly answering the Cavs’ offense and taking the lead multiple times throughout the game including a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. However, their lack of experience would rear its ugly head down the stretch, where Cavs’ big man Kevin Love proved to be a problem for them as he hit two big three pointers to spark a Cavs run.
This was no fluke and the Cavs will not be able to skate by the Pistons easily, especially while everyone outside of the big three contributes little to nothing. Like gnats at a barbecue, the Pistons are not going away.
3. Curry Out for Game Two with Ankle Injury
The NBA’s Golden Boy and MVP of the league did not play in game two against the Houston Rockets after tweaking his ankle (the same ankle he had surgery on four years ago) in game one on Monday night, but the extent of the injury is still unknown. The chief did take the floor to do some pregame warmups, but was shortly ruled out from a game his teammates would win 115-106. Head coach Steve Kerr made it abundantly clear that he will proceed with caution. “If he’s not right, then he’s not going to play. It’s not worth risking turning this into a long term issue…” especially with more potent competition ahead whether that be the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder.
James Harden and the Rockets seem to be a lost cause, so it was definitely a wise choice to not play Curry where he was not needed. Klay Thompson scored 34 points in the win and runner-up for DPOY Draymond Green added 12 and grabbed 14 boards. Shaun Livingston, who started in place of the injured Curry, shot an efficient 7-of-9, finishing with 16 points. With two already put away in this series, it would be wise to sit Curry for the remainder of it whether the ankle heals or not, but anything beyond this series may cause some trouble for 73-9 Warriors.
2. Spurs Forward Kawhi Leonard Wins Back-to-Back Defensive Player of the Year
24-year-old Kawhi Leonard has been named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight year. The Spurs forward, who was also named to his first All-Star game this year has already established his presence on the court as a force to be reckoned with on the perimeter. He is relentless, he is aggressive, he is unapologetically great. He is one of the only players able to swat both Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant’s shot without an ounce of concern for who they are.
Leonard finished with 547 points in the voting and 84-first place votes, in front of the Warriors Draymond Green, who finished with 421 votes and 44 first-place votes. The Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside finished third in the voting and many feel he was unrightfully snubbed given he averaged 11.8 rebounds and a league-high 3.7 blocks. Could you make a meaningful argument for Green and Whiteside? Sure. But the unanimous decision is Leonard, who says, “You’re going to be embarrassed when you’re trying to play defense. I know that. I just keep pushing to the fourth quarter until it finally ends.” Well-deserved Kawhi.
1. Felton and Mavericks Stun OKC in Game Two
Starting in the place of an injured JJ Barea, Raymond Felton recorded a double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Mavericks to a thrilling win. What’s even more hilariously absurd is that he missed two crucial free throws in the final seconds of the game, which doesn’t happen too often for the former Knicks point guard. In fact, in clutch situations such as last night’s, Felton has shot 82.4 percent from the free throw line this season. Had Steven Adams’ last shot counted, those missed free throws would have been the sole reason the Mavericks went down 0-2 in the series and Felton knows it too well. “I’m still sick, even though we got the win. I’m still sick,” he said.
But let’s not pretend that had KD and Russell Westbrook have been shooting like their normal selves and not as if they were paid to lose the game, Felton’s performance would have been anything more than a pat-on-the-back moment. OKC shot horribly from the start, but Durant made an abysmal 7-of-33 shots, which arguably cost OKC the game. You have to admire the Mavericks feisty, incessant heart, but KD will return to true form and the Mavs may not get another game in this series.