These NBA playoffs should come with anti-anxiety meds — or at least something to calm the nerves for those staying up late to watch this Rockets-Blazers showdown. The series has gone to overtime in three of the four games, and somehow it’s still arguable whether or not it’s even the best series. That’s how good this first round has been.
Sunday also featured a Stephen Curry three-point showcase, a Raptors goal-line stand in the final minutes against Brooklyn and the Wizards’ latest swing at the Bulls. The NBA playoffs are certainly winning.
Takeaway: This matchup has officially surpassed epic levels of entertainment. In a series that’s been all about who can hit the most clutch shots late in games, it actually came down to defense in the final play of Game 4 when Wesley Matthews came up with a steal in the final seconds to seal Portland’s victory. As for the Rockets, well they just didn’t play much defense at all. Houston shot 48.8%, but the defense couldn’t contain Portland’s perimeter threats and the Blazers shot 49.5%. These two teams mirror one another, but Portland is turning the ball over less and shooting a bit better down the stretch.
Star review: Such large doses of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard can be too much for any defense to handle. Aldridge was again the best player on the floor, tallying 29 points and 10 rebounds. While Dwight Howard has resembled those Orlando years more than his LA days, he’s still being outplayed by his fellow interior superstar.
Looking ahead: Game 5 at Houston, Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. EST
This series has been far too close to end in five games, right? The Rockets haven’t finished games as well as the Blazers, but that switch can flip at any moment. Expect another fireworks show back in Houston for Game 5. If you can’t stay up, at least set the DVR this time.
RAPTORS 87, NETS 79
Series tied 2-2
Takeaway: This Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett version of the Nets was supposed to be a closer type. The team would be nothing if not clutch, the type of team that ripped out hearts in the final moments of big games — just as the Nets did in Games 1 and 3. But instead of bringing the Raptors closer to extinction, the Nets let ‘em off the hook. Brooklyn took a 79-78 lead on a pair of Kevin Garnett free throws with just under five minutes to play, and they never scored again. Let’s not ignore the Raptors blowing a 17-point lead in all this, but it’s OK to give them credit at the same time for such a drastic shutdown of Brooklyn’s offense.
Star review: In those final five minutes, Pierce, Garnett and Joe Johnson only combined for one shot attempt and the team turned the ball over four times. Pierce had been deadly all game, shooting 9-of-13 for 22 points to lead Brooklyn to the 4:58 mark, but he only took one contested jumper the rest of the way.
Looking ahead: Game 5 at Toronto, Wednesday time TBA
Not only did they not close the game, but the Nets failed to take full control of the series. Young teams with inexperienced postseason players tend to get juiced by loud home crowds. The defensive-minded Raptors have been able to cover lots of floor, challenging the Nets offense to get creative. If Jason Kidd doesn’t have an answer, the Raptors could take a 3-2 series lead.
WARRIORS 118, CLIPPERS 97
Series tied 2-2
Takeaway: Donald Sterling has always been the king of losing in Clippers land, but this time he’s made himself into a real loser. The Clippers were engulfed by the team owner’s alleged racist comments, which undoubtedly seized far too much attention and were a distraction for the players and coaches. At least it looked that way when the Clippers walked into a hive of Stephen Curry 3-pointers and fell behind 39-24 after the first quarter. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin dismissed any built-in excuse after the game, but it was clear Game 4’s Clippers looked far less crisp than the team that won the previous two games.
Star review: Curry, the majesty of three-point shooting, hit a career-high of seven from behind the arc in tallying 33 points. Any Curry 3-pointer shakes Oracle, but one in the playoffs is enough to make the Bay Bridge shake. That energy fed the Warriors, as the rest of the team shot 8-of-18 (44%) from deep. That’s a big difference compared to the team’s 19.4% three-point shooting from Game 3.
Looking ahead: Game 5 at Los Angeles, Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. EST
The cloud of Sterling will still fill Staples Center even if the tarnished owner isn’t allowed to attend his team’s game. It was a clear distraction for Game 4, and it may not get any better. Actually, it might intensify when the team returns home and the media has time to send even more troops. Doc Rivers said after the game: "We’re going home now. Usually that would mean we are going to our safe haven. And I don’t even know if that’s true to be honest."
WIZARDS 98, BULLS 89
Wizards lead series 3-1
Takeaway: The Wizards are the better team. There’s more two-way talent and more urgency to their game than the Bulls. And that wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Chicago had the experience and intensity, and it seemed like its defense would knock the unschooled backcourt of the Wiz back on its heels. Instead, it’s Washington that’s playing a step ahead. It was the Wizards who won the turnover battle (16-8) and earned 16 fast-break points. Washington played off an early energy, perhaps propelled by the underdog tag of being without suspended teammate Nene, and commanded Game 4 from the start.
Star review: One veteran stepped up for the absence of another, and Trevor Ariza’s 30 points more than offset the loss of Nene. Ariza is the perfect veteran for any playoff team, a defender who can knock down threes. The Wizards may be headlined by their young backcourt, but the team is loaded with veterans feeling the energy of the postseason.
Looking ahead: Game 5 at Chicago, Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST
The Bulls worked too hard in the second-half of the season — overcoming the Derrick Rose injury and the giveaway of Luol Deng — to go out this easily in the first round. The Bulls have played against the odds for months now, and they continue to come through. So if there’s a first-round team with enough fire to come back from a 3-1 deficit, it’s this one.
Follow the NBA playoffs with Jimmy Spencer on Twitter @JimmySpencerNBA