Monday, April 25, 2011Posted: 6:01 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
The top-seeded Bulls narrow loss Saturday was an omen. Just like the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs, the tight finish in Game 4 of the Chicago-Indiana series was a harbinger for postseason slate full of upsets and close calls over Easter weekend.
Following the Pacers surprising win was an exhilarating ending in Portland, in which Trail Blazers guard Brandon Royafter sinking to the verge of tears previously in the seriesscored 18 fourth-quarter points to bring his team back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit to tie the series at two games apiece. For Rou, the performance was doubly sweet, as the former All-Star struggled in his new reserve role this season in the aftermath of having surgery on both knees.
The next game was equally dramatic, as the Grizzlies managed to hold off the Spurs for the franchises first home win in its history. An improbable Zach Randolph three-pointer sealed the triumph for Memphis, which now leads No. 1 seed San Antonio in the series, 2-1.
Saturdays final matchup featured Oklahoma City and Denver, a game that featured several runs by each potent offensive team. After the Nuggets stormed back at the end of the third quarter to make the game close, the Thunderled by All-Star duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but also receiving a breakout outing from fellow youngster Serge Ibakaseemed to have the game in hand, but had to stave off a near-miraculous late individual spurt from J.R. Smith (who missed a contested potentially game-tying shot from long range) to take a 3-0 lead in the series.
Not to be outdone, Sunday was just as loaded with thrilling matchups, starting with an afternoon matinee close-out game between Philadelphia and Miami. Instead of eliminating the young 76ers, the Heat got off to a slow start and though they made one of their patented dominant runs to get back into the contest, the always-exuberant coaching of Doug Collins and clutch play of youthful trio Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Lou Williams (who hit the eventual game-winner)combined with LeBron James failing on yet another opportunity to be the heroprevented the sweep.
Perhaps the least-unpredictable game was in the matchup observers were most intrigued by heading into the postseason, Boston and New York. Behind Rajon Rondos 21-point, 12-assist afternoon (coming off the heels of his Game 3 triple-double, which included 20 assists), the Celtics cruised to the win at Madison Square Gardenensuring a 7:00 p.m. local start time for Tuesdays Bulls-Pacers Game 5 at the United Centersweeping the new-look, injury-riddled Knicks, despite 32 points from Carmelo Anthony.
Atlanta continued to surprise its doubters in the following contest, holding off Orlando behind yet another big game from sixth-man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford, as well as a solid outing from fellow former Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich. With its strategy of bodying up Dwight Howard one-on-oneliterally, as the one-game suspension of Hawks center Zaza Pachulia for head-butting Magic swingman Jason Richardson, who also sat out Sundays game for slapping the backup big manthe Hawks lived with Howards inside dominance and again concentrated on shutting down Orlandos perimeter shooters.
The weekends final game, however, might have been the biggest shocker, as New Orleans repeated its Game 1 upset of the defending champions, taking down the Lakers on its home court to even the series at 2-2. Chris Paul appears to be back to his pre-injury form, posting a triple-double27 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists; superstar counterpart Kobe Bryant was held scoreless in the first half, but a bigger issue might be his ankle and foot injuriesand despite not having power forward David West, the Hornets are surviving against the Lakers behemoth frontline, with All-Star Pau Gasol close to invisible for much of the series.
When the dust settled, the top two seeds in each conference fell (with the West's No. 1 team, San Antonio, actually trailing against an eighth seed) and outside of two teams--Boston, which advanced to the second round, and Oklahoma City, which still hasn't lost--no team has proved invulnerable. Who knows whats in store this week with the playoffs, but its clear that thus far its shaping up to be one of the most exciting postseasons in years.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.