NBA playoffs hit full swing

Matthew Lefebvre

The regular season is over. The best eighth teams from both the Eastern and Western Conferences have been selected. They will battle to represent their respective conference in the NBA Finals and try to earn the chance to call themselves world champions.

The playoff system is set up for the first seeded team to play the eight seeded team in their respective conference followed by two versus seven and so on.

In past post-seasons, the first round series is five games, and the subsequent series are all seven games. This year though the league is expanding the first round to seven games to increase playoff revenue as well as giving the underdog teams a better chance to advance in the playoffs.

Saturday was the first day of competition and it was nothing short of amazing.

In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics overcame an 18 point 3rd quarter deficit to beat the Indiana Pacers, 103-100, in Indianapolis. Paul Pierce of the Celtics set and NBA playoff record by going 21-21 from the free throw line. He scored 21 of his game high 40 points in the final quarter. Ron Artest paced Indiana with 26 points before he fouled out in the fourth.

New Jersey rolled by number seven seeded Milwaukee, 109-96. The score doesn’t reflect the dominance of the Nets who had a 31 point lead in the fourth quarter. Kenyon Martin had 21 points and added 15 rebounds. Jason Kidd had a game high 14 assists. Gary Payton, Milwaukee’s midseason pick-up, didn’t play up to his all-star reputation. He didn’t score until 4:10 to go in the game. Payton finished with eight points, 10 assists and five turnovers.

Number one seed in the East, the Detroit Pistons, fell to the eighth seed Orlando Magic, led by Tracy McGrady’s 43 points. Orlando’s rookie, Drew Gooden who was acquired in a midseason trade for Mike Miller, dominated still injured Ben Wallace in the post. Gooden had 18 points and 14 rebounds. Wallace had 13 rebounds and three blocks for the Pistons who were led by Richard Hamilton’s team high 28 points.

Philadelphia and New Orleans tangoed in the four-five match-up in the East. The 76ers won at home 98-90, led by Allen Iverson and his playoff high 55 point performance. He was 21 of 32 from the field. He scored 20 in the fourth quarter to help the Sixers slide past the Hornets in their first season in New Orleans. The Hornets were led by Jamal Mashburn who had 28 points. Hornet point guard, Baron Davis, injured his knee in the fourth quarter playing defense. The prognosis is unsure.

In the Western Conference, the defending NBA champions trying to four-peat, beat forth seeded Minnesota at Minneapolis, 117-98. LA was led by Kobe Bryant who had 39 points, 29 of them coming in the first half, and Shaquille O’Neal who had 32 points and 10 rebounds. The Lakers are the only road team in the first round to be favored to win the series. Minnesota was led by all-world sensation Kevin Garnett who had 23 points and 14 rebounds. They have yet to win a playoff series in their team history, they are 0-6.

This year’s number one seed in the West, the San Antonio Spurs, fell to the eigth seeded Phoenix Suns, 96-95 in overtime. Phoenix was down 87-84 with 8.4 seconds remaining in regulation. That’s when rookie sensation, Amare Stoudemire, banked home a three-pointer, his third this season, to send the game to OT. San Antonio was up two in overtime when Tim Duncan, who had 17 points, missed a pair of free throws. The miss was tipped out to Stephon Marbury, who led all scorers with 26 points, proceeded to rush down the court and bank a three pointer, similar to Stoudemire, to win the game. Stephen Jackson led the Spurs with 23 points.

The Dallas Mavericks, who fell to the number three seed in the West after a tremendous start, were able to hold off the number six seed Portland Trailblazers. Dirk Nowitzki led all scorers with 46 points. Dallas jumped out to an early lead which they lost to Portland who led most of the way.

Dallas then recaptured the lead in the 3rd quarter which they never relinquished. Portland lost its lead when Rasheed Wallace, the team’s emotional leader, went to the locker room with 7:23 left in the 3rd with an ankle injury. Wallace led the team with 26 points.

The second seeded Sacramento Kings held off the Utah Jazz 96-90. The Kings were led by Chris Webber who scored 27 points and added 11 rebounds. Utah’s tenacious defense and fundamental offense kept them close with the explosive Kings. Malone led Utah with 28 points and had a team high 8 assists. Greg Ostertag had 18 points and 11 rebounds, taking advantage of the double teams on Karl Malone. Both teams have decisive home court advantages.

The playoffs are shaping up to be a test of experience and youth, aggressive defense and high octane offense, and high flying guards versus dominant big men. It is going to be an interesting post season.