After both underdogs won on the road in Monday’s games, it would have been fair to ponder whether the NBA’s conference semifinals, like the first round, could be shaping up to be the type of series TV executives drool over. But Tuesday saw the two representatives from last year’s NBA Finals restore some order to what has been a wacky postseason thus far, with each favorite leaving little in the way of drama when the final buzzer came calling.
The Miami Heat came into Tuesday’s Game 1 against Brooklyn having had a week to prepare for someone, though LeBron & Co. knew for just the last couple days exactly who that someone would be. The Spurs, conversely, were coming off a seven-game dogfight, only to meet up with a Portland team with seemingly very little to lose in this series. But despite the contrasting roads to Tuesday night, both favorites dispatched their adversaries with ease, likely leaving some already wondering whether a Finals rematch could be in the cards.
HEAT 107, NETS 86
Heat lead series 1-0
Takeaway: Whenever a team faces a long wait in between playoff rounds, we in the mediasphere like to wax poetic about the role "rust" might play when said team comes up for air and takes the floor for its next game. In the case of the Miami Heat, we had more than a week to dissect all the ways the two-time defending champs could be vulnerable against a Brooklyn Nets squad that, amazingly, swept them in the regular season. But when the teams finally took the court Tuesday, the Heat looked every bit the part of a No. 1 seed playing on fresh legs, while the Nets equally resembled a No. 6 seed low on fuel after emerging victorious from a grueling seven-game series. Brooklyn showed fight at first — and you’d expect nothing less from a team flanked by playoff veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (who still, I must say, look odd in any colors but green and white) — but eventually the Heat kicked things into gear, shooting an astronomical 65.7 percent from the floor in the second half to put Brooklyn out of its misery.
Star review: Garnett channeled his inner Roy Hibbert in Game 1, scoring exactly zero points on two shot attempts and grabbing just four rebounds in a paltry, but not necessarily foul-plagued, 16 minutes of action. That’s not exactly what we’ve come to expect from a future Hall of Famer who has averaged 18.7 points and 10.8 rebounds for his playoff career, but Garnett isn’t getting any younger, so not many figured a series of double-doubles would be in the cards. Unfortunately, KG’s no-show was only exacerbated by the poor play of Pierce, who scored just eight points in nearly 29 minutes Tuesday — the fourth-fewest he’s ever scored in at least 28 minutes of action in his playoff career. The Heat’s Big 3 was good but not exceptional in the win, with LeBron leading the way with 22 points, but that’s really all they needed against a Nets team that may find itself relying a lot more on Deron Williams (17 points, 3 assists Tuesday) than it expected.
Looking ahead: Game 2: at Miami, Thursday, 7 p.m. ET
What to look for: The generally accepted belief is that a series doesn’t truly shift momentum until the home team loses a game, and it’s true that the Nets, even should they lose Thursday in Miami, still could have two more chances to unseat the Heat on its own floor — provided, of course, that they take care of business in front of however many dozen people show up to root them on at Barclays Center. But after Brooklyn’s debacle in Game 1, Game 2 might be the team’s only chance to right the ship that ran aground on South Beach on Tuesday. And if the Nets can’t at least make a game of things on Thursday, Miami could soon find itself facing another long layoff before the Eastern Conference finals. KG doesn’t have to be the superstar he once was, but he needs to at least make his presence felt, and the Nets need to hold LeBron in check as much as they can to make a series of this.
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SPURS 116, BLAZERS 92
Spurs lead series 1-0
Takeaway: The plucky Portland Trail Blazers are nothing if not determined, but a gallant effort means little against the ever-dependable Spurs. San Antonio rendered the second half a formality after a first-half pummeling that saw the Spurs shoot 60 percent from the field to the Blazers’ 33. After going blow for blow with a Dallas Mavericks team that was arguably more playoff-ready than the Blazers could ever hope to be, the Spurs almost seemed to welcome a Portland bunch that is fun to root for — but not one you’d ever put your money on. San Antonio did virtually everything better than Portland on Tuesday in a clinic that was about as exciting as anything else the Spurs have done in the Tim Duncan Era. (And that’s only kind of a compliment.)
Star review: The Spurs’ game plan seemed to be to make LaMarcus Aldridge beat them, even after he dismantled Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets to the tune of 30 points and 11 rebounds per game in Round 1. Indeed, the fringe MVP candidate Aldridge was a relative no-show during the first two quarters of the first conference semifinal game of his career, scoring 13 points on 17 first-half shots as the Spurs essentially dared him to do what he pleased. Similarly, Damian Lillard was nowhere to be found early on after averaging 25.5 points, 6.3 boards and 6.7 assists against Houston, chipping in a cursory 17 points in Game 1 against San Antonio. On the other side of the court, ageless Spurs point guard Tony Parker outclassed Lillard all night. Parker scored most of his 33 points in the first half. Though Aldridge came to life a little in the latter two quarters, finishing with 32 points and 14 rebounds, don’t take that to mean anything. The Blazers didn’t solve the Spurs in the final 24 minutes; instead, the Spurs simply conserved energy for the rest of what might not be the long series we all crossed our fingers for going in.
Looking ahead: Game 2: at San Antonio, Thursday, 9:30 p.m. ET
What to look for: Just like Tuesday night’s Heat-Nets result, one Spurs blowout does not a series make. But you’ve got to wonder whether Portland, which was actually outscored by the Rockets in the Houston series despite winning four of six games and never losing by more than 10, has the chops to hang with a Gregg Popovich-coached team that has been the model of playoff consistency since Lillard was in pull-ups, not shooting them. The only reason Portland has reached this point is has is because Lillard and Aldridge, two bona-fide stars, have been nothing short of incredible. But it’ll take a return to form to pull things even in Game 2 in San Antonio. If the Blazers’ leaders can’t right the ship for Portland, then I’m not sure who else will, because Rip City’s bench — which was outscored by Marco Belinelli (19 points) alone in Game 1 — simply can’t hang with the Spurs’ reserves, however gritty we want to believe them to be.