The NBA’s first round was incredible, yet for all the Game 7s, thrilling overtimes and unexpected twists, we’re left with a second round that most fans would have expected. Other than both the 5-seeds beating the 4-seeds and the sixth-seeded Nets beating the third-seeded Raptors, all the top seeds eventually survived to the second round.
It doesn’t mean we won’t remember the good times. Fittingly, the Spurs put an end to all the mayhem by finding their usual rhythm to quench the run of the No. 8 Mavericks with a 23-point blowout Sunday. Earlier, the Nets also put an end to the unexpected success of the Raptors, getting a late block by Paul Pierce to preserve a 104-103 win in Canada. Though most of the upsets were snuffed out, the second round is now setting up to be another great one with marquee matchups in each series.
Takeaway: Maybe San Antonio just needed a taste of urgency. In their first Game 7 since losing last year’s finals in Miami, the Spurs "Oh yeah, we should probably win this," awakening. The defending West champions finally played like a No. 1 seed, getting back to their systematic efficiency while evading another standout performance by Monta Ellis or Vince Carter. It’s hard to say if the Spurs overlooked the Mavericks or if the Mavericks just caught enough offensive fire to push it to seven games — or maybe we just have to recognize the Spurs’ choice to pace themselves for a long postseason, preserving some energy. Regardless of the reason, the Spurs took the moment and painted it with black and silver.
Star review: The Spurs’ arsenal just has too many options. The beauty of the Spurs’ offensive system is that it rewards its scorers with open shots from specific spots on the floor. For example, a post like Tim Duncan knows exactly from where he will get his shots and what option he is on any given play. The same goes for Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and on down that Spurs line. But guys like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have the ability to freelance, and when they get going and add to that systematic approach, the Spurs are just too tough. Parker turned into the lead playmaker for the Spurs, looking plenty healthy as he sliced to the basket and scored a game-high 32 points, including hitting 10 of 13 free throws, to go with four assists and four rebounds.
Looking ahead: Game 1: Trail Blazers at Spurs, Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. ET
What to look for: The Spurs’ defense that showed for Game 7 will face a tougher test against the Blazers. Portland comes into the second-round series scorching offensively, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s schemes have a way of slowing down young scorers at the right time. The wing defense of Leonard and the veteran interior defense of Duncan will be tested, particularly by Portland stars Damian Lillard on the outside and LaMarcus Aldridge on the inside, but if the Spurs do manage the Blazers’ offense they will win the series.
NETS 104, RAPTORS 103
Nets win series 4-3
Takeaway: Well, this wasn’t what the Nets had in mind. Pierce was brought to Brooklyn to be the closer, but the expectation was that it would come on the offensive side. Instead, Pierce blocked the shot of Kyle Lowry on the final play of the game as the Nets survived Toronto on Sunday and moved on to the second round. Clutch plays can come on both sides of the ball, and the Nets will advance any way they can. The veteran advantage always seems to come into play in Game 7s and especially late in those games. While Pierce wasn’t hitting his shot and was limited because of foul trouble, he still was the hero in the final highlight of the series.
Moral victories are as empty as a Rob Ford promise of sobriety, so Toronto fans likely won’t cherish only a first round of excitement. But it’s funny how quickly expectations shifted from the target of an Andrew Wiggins draft pick to being just a game away from squaring off against the two-time defending champs in the second round. Toronto’s season was a success, even if it may not feel that way after Sunday.
Star review: When Joe Johnson is being double-teamed, that’s good news for the Nets. His shooting was the pulse of the Nets’ offense all series. Johnson, like Pierce, was originally brought to the Nets to be a dominant scoring threat. And yeah, about that veteran advantage … Johnson scored 13 of his 26 points in the final quarter of Game 7.
Looking ahead: Game 1: Nets at Heat, Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET
What to look for: This is the series Brooklyn circled last summer. The Nets were built to take down the defending champs, and of course Pierce and Kevin Garnett were the hired guns to help poison The King. The series will resemble the recent Celtics-Heat playoff matchups of years past. The pride of Garnett and Pierce is tough to extinguish, and of course the Nets’ 4-0 record against the Heat in the regular season will provide plenty of confidence for Brooklyn.