As the Duke Blue Devils revel in the glory that is their fifth National Championship, the pros have begun their quest to an NBA title. Lebron is in Cleveland, attempting to bring a title back to his home state, to the team that drafted him and to the fans that are so passionate about him. The Atlanta Hawks seem to be the only true challenger to Lebron’s reign in the Eastern Conference. Led not by one star, but by a team effort all year long, the Atlanta Hawks captured the Eastern Conference’s number one seed. However, out in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, the high octane Golden State Warriors, led by sharpshooter and potential MVP Stephen Curry, will be challenged by fellow MVP candidate James Harden and the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Clippers and the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.
In the Eastern Conference, the playoffs began with an overtime battle between the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards. Behind a raucous Toronto crowd, the Raptors were able to claw their way back from an early deficit with a huge fourth quarter surge, capped by a Greivis Vasquez three-pointer in the final minute to send the game into overtime. Nevertheless, savvy veteran Paul Pierce led his Washington team to victory in the extra session with five points. Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, Derrick Rose made his return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 to match up with the Milwaukee Bucks. Rose and company were able to control the pace of game one and win on their home floor to open the series. With a healthy Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls are an entirely different team and are ready to make a run deep into the playoffs in a mediocre conference. The new Big Three in Cleveland, Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, began their title hunt with a victory over the Boston Celtics. Finally, the balanced top-seed Atlanta Hawks defeated Brooklyn with the help of 21 points from sharpshooter Kyle Korver.
Out West, Golden State was able to hold off a late surge by the New Orleans Pelicans and superstar Anthony Davis. Davis put up 20 points in the fourth quarter, bringing the game close, but Stephen Curry had an answer every time the Pelicans seemed to draw close, finishing with 34 points of his own. Elsewhere, Chris Paul and the Clippers won their opener, defeating the Spurs convincingly, and Memphis topped Portland in dominating fashion.
While it is still early, we’ve learned some interesting things in this first week. LeBron James is leading his team in more ways than one. The superstar is one of the only Cavalier players with any substantial playoff experience, and the team followed him into the playoffs and picked up right where they left off in the regular season, seemingly unphased by the new experience of playoff basketball. Kyrie Irving led the team with 30 points in his first ever playoff game while Kevin Love pulled down 12 rebounds to go with 19 points in his first ever playoff game.
We’ve also learned that the Los Angeles Clippers are the real deal and then some. The forgotten power of the Western Conference, masked by the Splash Brothers from Golden State and James Harden’s beard, methodically cruised through the regular season without so much as a hiccup. These same Clippers began their playoff run by absolutely dominating the defending champions and forcing them to shoot a miserable 36% from the field. On the other end of the floor, Blake Griffin took advantage of a porous defense, slamming home three awe-inspiring dunks over San Antonio defenders in the third quarter alone. From there, Los Angeles never looked back, proving to the entire country that they are a force with which to be reckoned in the coming month.
Finally, we have seen that team basketball still works, even in the playoffs. The Atlanta Hawks had five players score in double figures, none of which are considered stars by definition. Yet they are the top seed and won their opener convincingly. Similarly, Memphis doesn’t have a superstar but they have been playing team basketball, playing tough defense and scoring the ball in a balanced manner thus far in the playoffs. Again, five players scored in double figures in their playoff opener led by role player Beno Udrih with 20 points.
These playoffs will continue long into the Colgate summer, but they’ll only get more and more exciting. The playoffs gives fans of basketball a chance to watch the best players in the world play intense, passionate basketball, which is a treat no fan should take for granted.