The Thunder-Rockets series reminds us of some recent playoff series, for a variety of reasons. Here are three:
In Game 1 last April, the Bulls had a 99-87 lead with 1:10 left when Derrick Rose went down with a knee injury. He still hasn’t returned from that injury, and he most certainly wasn’t coming back in that Eastern Conference first-round series.
The top-seeded Bulls held on for a 103-91 victory that day. But with C.J. Watson forced to take over at point guard, Chicago struggled. The Bulls had tied the Spurs for the NBA’s best record, and they entered the playoffs as highly-touted as the Heat. But Chicago lost Game 2 at home 109-92.
Then the series shifted to Philadelphia, and the 76ers won both 79-74 and 89-82. Chicago stayed alive in Game 5, 77-69. Then came Game 6 in Philly. The Bulls led 78-75 with 20 seconds left. Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau inserted Ronnie Brewer — yep, Ronnie Brewer — for defensive purposes. Lou Williams sank a basket for Philadelphia to make it 78-77.
The 76ers fouled with 7.8 seconds left. The 76ers fouled Omer Asik — yep, Omer Asik — and Asik missed both foul shots. The Sixers came down, and Andre Igoudala drew a foul with 2.2 seconds left. He sank both to give the Sixers the lead. Then Watson missed a halfcourt heave at the buzzer.
Chicago clearly missed its all-star point guard. The Bulls scored 103 in their first game without Rose. But then Chicago scored 74, 82, 77 and 78 points.
Similarity to Thunder-Rockets: A star player is sidelined, and it changes the entire landscape of the series. The Bulls went 1-4 without Rose. The Thunder is 1-2 without Westbrook.
Dissimilarity to Thunder-Rockets: The Thunder has Kevin Durant. The Bulls had/have no Kevin Durant.
DALLAS-GOLDEN STATE 2007
Only four times has a No. 8 seed eliminated a No. 1 seed. The Rockets are attempting to become the fifth. Their patron saint might be the 2007 Warriors. Dallas entered the playoffs with a 67-15 record. Golden State was 42-40 and was making its first playoff appearance in 13 years.
But the Warriors, coached by Don Nelson, monkeyed with the Mavericks’ psyche. They went small, before that was a common occurrence in the NBA. Golden State started Al Harrington at center and Stephen Jackson at power forward, to go with perimeter players Baron Davis, Monta Ellis and Jason Richardson. They brought Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus off the bench. Backup center Andris Beidrens played just seven minutes in Game 1 — and Golden State won 97-85.
The Warriors stayed one step ahead the rest of the way, winning the series in six games. Dallas continually shifted its lineup, seeking an answer. The Mavs never found one. Golden State won Game 6 111-86.
Similarity to Thunder-Rockets: A big underdog plays an unconventional lineup and finds success against the defending West champ.
Dissimilarity to Thunder-Rockets: Golden State got on top and never took the foot off the pedal. Houston was down 3-0 and is climbing to get back.
The sixth-seeded Blazers lost the first three games of the first-round series. They staved off a sweep by winning at home, 98-79 in Game 4. When the series went back to Dallas, Zach Randolph scored 22 points to lead Portland to a 103-99 victory, and suddenly the series was very interesting.
Game 6 was sobering for the Mavericks — Portland led 97-66 after three quarters and won 125-103.
So back to Dallas for Game 7, and the game was a doozy. With 3:13 left, Scottie Pippen’s 3-pointer tied it for Portland at 93-93. But over the next four Mav possessions, Dirk Nowitzki scored seven points, two off regular field goals, then a 3-pointer that made it 100-94. Dallas held on for a 107-95 victory that kept the Mavs from being the only team in NBA history to squander a 3-0 lead.
Similarity to Thunder-Rockets: A heavy favorite takes a 3-0 lead, then loses two straight to turn the series very interesting.
Dissimilarity to Thunder-Rockets: That Portland team was not an up-and-down team. It won 50 games and did not rely on the whims of 3-point shooting. Those Blazers could pound the ball inside with Randoph, Rasheed Wallace and Arvydas Sabonis. This Houston team can get hot, but it also can get cold.