Last updated on May 26th, 2015 at 04:19 pm
We are down to the conference finals in The Association, and as is usually the case, form has held. Each conference final features the top two seeds. In the East, it is Atlanta vs. Cleveland. In the West, it is Golden State vs. Houston.
Almost always, in a seven-game series in professional basketball, the better team wins—meaning there are rarely real upsets. The 82-game regular season rarely occurs in error, teams end up where they should and once they meet in the playoffs, the higher seed typically wins. Other than money, this was why the first round went from best-of-five to best-of-seven. There are matchup considerations that sway this sometimes, and there are always some twists and turns along the way. But the results we have this year are no real surprise.
The best of the second round series was clearly the Rockets and Clippers out West. For the ninth time ever (but second for this franchise), the Rockets came from three-games-to-one down to win a series. The other time was in 1995, on their way to their second of back-to-back championships, when they won games five and seven on the road to beat Phoenix. Then Coach Rudy Tomjanovich delivered his famous line: “Never underestimate the heart of a champion.” It remains to be seen if this team is a championship one, but they sure have lots of heart.
While the popular narrative is how the Clippers collapsed (and they certainly did in game six, being outscored 49-18 in the final 15 minutes), at home with a chance to clinch the series, the true story here is the resilience of the Rockets. They outscored the Clips 40-15 in the fourth quarter almost entirely with the bench. MVP runner-up James Harden played 10 seconds. Carried by names such as Terrence Jones and Portland, Tennessee, native Corey Brewer, Houston staged a rally for the ages in the 119-107 shocker.
What really put Houston over the top was Dwight Howard. A player always with the ability to dominate (but does not on any sort of consistent basis), Howard was relentless in the Rockets surge to victory. After putting up 20 points and 21 rebounds in game six, being the only starter with any significant time in the fourth quarter, he followed it up with 16 and 15 in game seven. James Harden finally played more like an MVP scoring 31, and Clippers hearts were broken again.
Golden State also found their game, winning the final three to defeat Memphis in six games. Memphis controlled the pace to take games two and three, but the Warriors found their stride and showed unexpectedly stifling defense to top the hobbled Grizzlies. Stephen Curry, the MVP himself, took all the air out of the Grizzlies with his 62-foot buzzer beater at the end of the third quarter of game six.
In the East, Atlanta also won the final three games to win their series, four games to two over Washington. After the great Paul Pierce won game three at the buzzer, the Hawks showed the grit that won them 60 games this season in finishing off the Wizards. John Wall was courageous, playing and starring with five non-displaced fractures in his left hand.
Atlanta will face Cleveland who also won the final three to beat Chicago. LeBron hit a buzzer beater to even the series in game four, and the Cavs never looked back. It was a disgraceful performance in game six for the Bulls, losing 94-73 at home, essentially quitting in the second half.