Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz
Houston wins 4-1
No surprise here. This was the most potent offensive team in the West all season long. But look who’s made it to the Conference Finals for the first time in his Hall of Fame career. Congrats to Chris Paul, no longer the Dan Marino of the NBA. Naw, just kidding, he needs to WIN the conference finals to shed his Marino-ness. But really, Chris Paul really did take his fate into his own hands last night, putting up forty-one points, ten assists, and seven rebounds in theRockets isolation-heavy offense. Donovan Mitchell might be the future for the Jazz, but last night, I hope he was taking notes from a future legend. In a rare moment of calm, James Harden was content to sit back and watch Paul single-handedly destroy the opposition, going a staggering eight-for- ten from beyond the arc. According to the stat crew at the Elias Sports Bureau, Paul is the first player in playoff history to go for forty and ten without committing a turnover. No one was taking this day away from Paul. He’ll face a familiar foe in the Conference Finals, and if he says he’s not losing sleep over it, he’s lying. The Warriors have been the team that eliminated many of CP3’s best chances with the Clippers over the past few seasons.
The Jazz, despite the series loss, must be encouraged by the play of their young core, especially rookie of the year candidate Donovan Mitchell, who put the team on his back in the second half, scoring twenty-two points in the third quarter to give the Jazz a lead to start the fourth quarter. He would leave the game with several minutes left to play, and would be seen later in a walking boot. We’ll never know what might have been, had he not been injured, but even without him, the Jazz kept answering Houston’s runs with scoring bursts of their own. A trip to the conference semifinals was certainly far more than fans in Utah were expecting this season after the departure of Gordon Hayward.
Golden State Warriors vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Golden State Wins 4-1
OK, national media. Let’s get one thing straight. The Warriors third quarter assault team is most definitely not called the “Hamptons Five”. It’s the Death Lineup. It was the Death Lineup before the Warriors traded Harrison Barnes away and went all in to get Kevin Durant. You can’t add one of the world’s best players to the Death Lineup and then soften the nickname. Don’t be absurd.
The Pelicans are just the latest to see what happens when the Warriors come out of halftime with that crew ready to roll. They had to have been feeling good about themselves, having won game three to keep their heads above water and trailing by only three points going into the break. But after halftime, the Warriors decided that they’d had enough of the pesky Pelicans, and did what they’ve done so many times before. They hit the gas, piling up points and assists in equal measure, forcing turnovers and pummeling New Orleans by seventeen points in the third frame. Anthony Davis was the game’s high scorer with thirty-four points, but it didn’t matter. Four of the Warriors starters had nineteen points or more, with Draymond Green putting up nineteen points, fourteen rebounds and nine assists. Durant, Curry and Thompson had twenty-four, twenty-eight and twenty-three, respectively. That’s a hydra that’s pretty much impossible to stop. You simply can’t stop a team that scores at will from all over the court, with every player.
The Pelicans will build on this season going forward, and the return of big man DeMarcus Cousins should solidify them on the defensive interior, but will they be any better? I just don’t know. A tandem of big men like Davis and Cousins was once a recipe to contend for basketball’s biggest prize. Now, I’m not so sure that the Pelicans as designed would fare any better against teams like the Rockets, or the Warriors. Big men just aren’t the gold chips that they once were. Sharp shooting guards and long wings with handles are far more valuable in today’s NBA than traditional back-to the-basket centers. Sure, they’ll always block somelayups, but you have to be much, much taller to block three pointers.
Image source: espn