The NBA playoffs have provided a number of stories thus far. Here are the biggest to date:
1. Stephen Curry—becoming a star: the 25-year-old sharpshooter was already considered a good player after four years in the league, but the postseason is clearly his time. Remember that Curry’s stock shot up into the stratosphere out of nowhere in 2008 when he led Davidson to the Elite Eight with a dizzying array of 3-pointers. He continued to show his penchant for the moment when he put up 54 points earlier this season on the NBA’s biggest regular season stage—Madison Square Garden. But this has been his first taste of the NBA Playoffs.
Curry’s 44 points and 11 assists Monday night in a narrow Game 1 loss at four-time NBA Champion San Antonio was an incredible performance that nearly single-handedly won the game for the Warriors. Not quite up there with Michael Jordan’s 63 points at Boston in the ’86 playoffs that vaulted him into superstardom, the always-poised Curry, when at his best, has such a quick release on his shot, that it’s nearly impossible to block—and almost always goes in. Should someone get too close to him he’s been able to penetrate the lane and find an open shooter on the wing. Unstoppable.
2. Tom Thibodeau taking coaching to the next level: Chicago is grossly short-handed this postseason. Yes, former MVP Derrick Rose has been out the entire season, but added to that are injuries to Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich this postseason. Yet Chicago won a Game 7 on the road (very hard to do) in Brooklyn, without those three, and mustered a win in Miami (even harder) in Game 1 of the second round, just for good measure.
The old-fashioned Thibodeau, who was the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2011, has refused to make injuries an excuse this postseason and his team seems to take on his personality. Should he pull off the unthinkable—taking down the Heat—he’ll be considered the best coach around, not named Phil Jackson.
3. How the Clippers early exit affects their future: star point guard Chris Paul is a free agent now and though Los Angeles can offer him more than any other team, it’s no slam dunk that he’ll sign with such an historically un-proud franchise. Dallas will certainly make a run for his services this summer. Should he leave, the Clippers go back to being a lottery team—yet again. Yes, they have Blake Griffin, but Griffin needed Paul and vice versa.
Affecting his decision may be the decision the Clippers have with whether they want head coach Vinny Del Negro back next year. Although Del Negro led them to a franchise-best 56 regular season wins, the team’s first round ouster was certainly a disappointment.
4. Another early exit for George Karl: the good news is that nobody expected Denver to take the three-seed this year in the West. The bad news is that another great George Karl-coached team fell short of its regular season bar in the playoffs. For those of you counting at home that’s seven first round exits in eight seasons in Denver—five of which were by teams that won 50 or more games.
To be fair, Karl was without Danilo Gallinari this postseason but this trend has followed Karl’s regular season success at previous stops in Milwaukee and especially Seattle in the ’90s. Does he get nervous come playoff time, culminating in the team becoming nervous or is it just plain bad luck, year after year after year? No one seems to have the answer.
5. The official mess the Lakers are: It’s official. With the first round sweep courtesy of San Antonio, the Lakers season, which had such high hopes following the acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, was a total disaster.
It gets worse though.
The team will have much difficulty rebuilding without the three first round picks (yikes) they gave Phoenix for Nash—who has suddenly looked all of his 39 years in LA. In addition, should the seemingly disgruntled Dwight Howard leave town this summer via free agency, they’ll have nothing to show for his one season in town. And the team’s best player, Kobe Bryant, may never be the same after his Achilles injury. What a difference six months makes.