As the NBA playoffs began all eyes turned to the West.
- Hawks win again, push Celtics to brink
- LeBron, Cavs finish off Wizards
- Jazz knock off Rockets in six
- Kahn: Why Celts are facing Game 7
- Rosen: Cavs advance, Wiz crumble
- Hench: East is where action is
- Rosen: Pistons find another gear
- Kahn: Deadline deals were duds
- Hill: Suns should keep D'Antoni
- Kahn: End of an era in Phoenix
- Rosen: Suns' fun-'n'-gun done?
- Western Conference playoff central
- Eastern Conference playoff central
- Best shots from the first round
- Playoff preview: Spurs-Hornets
In the 1-8 matchup, no one really gave the Nuggets a shot against the Lakers, but most figured there would be at least a couple of inspiring shootouts between Kobe Bryant and the double-barreled duo of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. Nope. The only thing in Denver that exceeded expectations was Melo's blood-alcohol content and the team's perplexing ennui.
Anthony accused the Nuggets of quitting in Game 3, which begged the question, can anyone tell the difference between the Nuggets quitting and the way they usually play D?
But surely the veteran Mavericks and comparatively green Hornets would give us a good series, right? This was everyone's pick for a first-round upset. Instead, Chris Paul so humiliated Jason Kidd who reached a career low with his clothesline of Jannero Pargo that Josh Howard was able to get an early jump on his off-season self-medicating and Avery Johnson paid with his job.
The only marginally compelling series out West has been Jazz-Rockets, where Utah figures to close out plucky Houston in Game 6, which would drop Tracy McGrady to 0-7 in first-round playoff series.
But over in the East, the stories were riveting.
In getting blown out with barely a whimper in the first games in Boston, the Hawks looked content to have made the playoffs for the first time in nine years and quietly accept the hazing of a four-game sweep at the hands of the 66-win Celtics.
That all changed when the series moved to Atlanta, where the Hawks went 25-16 this season.
Joe Johnson grabbed the headlines with his fourth-quarter dominance of a helpless Ray Allen in Game 4, but we already knew he was an All-Star.
The real coming-out party belonged to the 22-year-old Josh Smith, who is transforming from inconsistent project to legit star right before our eyes. Like his crazy hops, there appears to be no limit to his potential.
In the Hawks' back-to-back wins over the Celtics in Games 3 and 4, Smith scored 27 and 28 points on 58 percent shooting, had six assists in Game 3 and seven blocks in Game 4. There is no clearer indication of Smith's massive impact on the series than all the chippies the Celtics are missing around the basket for fear that he is lurking nearby and will pin their layup attempts to the glass. His Game 5 block from behind of a breakaway layup by Rajon Rondo was the defensive play of the first round.
With Smith swatting shots and dunking at will, Johnson stretching defenses and Al Horford looking like a nightly double-double on the block, not only will the Hawks not have to wait another nine years to make the playoffs, they might go nine years before missing the playoffs again.
The Celtics hope they can shake Atlanta in six games the way the Pistons finally dispatched Philly, but don't be surprised if the Hawks are shipping up to Boston for Game 7 on Sunday.
Though they finally succumbed in Game 6, the Sixers, who quietly went 22-12 down the stretch, introduced themselves to the public and said hello to the unsuspecting Pistons with a Game 1 left hook to the jaw.
Philly also won Game 3 and led Game 4 by 14 in the second quarter before Detroit finally flipped the switch. Over the last 10-plus quarters the Pistons crushed the upstarts 260-197. But for the first week of the playoffs, Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Reggie Evans and Samuel Dalembert were the best story going.
Two weeks ago, the Magic wouldn't have seemed to have much of a shot against Detroit, but with the way Dwight Howard flicked aside the Raptors in the first round, you get the feeling he'll have something to say about the Pistons keeping their appointment in the conference finals.
The most intriguing series in either conference has been the annual renewal of hostilities between the Cavaliers and the Wizards.
The Cavs were on the verge of eliminating the Wiz for the third straight year before Caron Butler converted (and LeBron James did not) at the end of Game 5.
This series has had as many plotlines as hard fouls.
There is, of course, the befuddling delusion of DeShawn Stevenson. A month after calling LeBron James overrated, Stevenson has had two absolutely priceless moments of gall in this series. First, he did his goofy little hand-wave-in-front-of-his-face after a 3-pointer that cut Cleveland's lead from 19 to 16 in what would end up a 30-point Washington loss in Game 2. Then in Game 4 he went for the decapitation, clubbing James in the head on a flagrant foul. When it comes to the LeBron-DeShawn rivalry, James pretty much nailed it when he said Stevenson was Soulja Boy to his Jay-Z.
And just when you thought an individual rivalry couldn't get any more one-sided than James-Stevenson, along comes James vs. Brendan Haywood. First, the lumbering center wiped out LeBron with a vicious foul in Game 2. Then he mocked LeBron in a baby voice after James complained that the Wizards were trying to hurt him. Wow.
But perhaps the most intriguing plotline of all in the Cavs-Wizards series is the addition-by-subtraction of Gilbert Arenas. With Arenas shut down because of his balky knee, Butler was once again the man and he delivered. Butler's 32-point, 9-rebound, 5-assist masterpiece sent the series back to Washington, where James who took a shot in the chops from Darius Songaila in Game 5 will have another 48 minutes to duck and dodge various flying body blocks, forearm shivers and low bridges.
Hey, it's the Eastern Conference. Where the action is.
Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: May 3, 2008