Tonight most expected both series to be closed out but we all ended up being witnesses to the unexpected as the NBA playoffs reminded us of why we love them so much.
The shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers (missing Kevin Love due to a shoulder injury) traveled to Chicago leading the series 3-2 to face a motivated Bulls team. The talented big man Pau Gasol re-entered the starting lineup after dealing with a hamstring issue, contributing only 8 points. But, he wasn’t the only star to have an off night – that was the theme throughout. Lebron James shot 7/23 but still managed to end 1 rebound shy of a triple double (15 points, 11 assists and 9 rebounds). Derrick Rose had a quiet 14 points and Kyrie Irving ended with 6 points as he was forced to make an early first half exit with a knee injury.
So with every “superstar” having an off night with the exception of Jimmy Butler (20 points) how did the game end up so out of hand? Role Players. Always a major deciding factor come playoff time, tonight proved that as Matthew Dellavedova scored 19 points, JR Smith gave them another important 12 and Iman Shumpert helped cap a 20-2 run. The celebration in Cleveland will be bittersweet however with the injury to Kyrie Irving and the uncertainty behind it. On the flip side, the attention in Chicago immediately switches to coach Tom Thibodeau. Will the Bulls front office stick with Thibs even though the talented roster continues to fall short of the Finals? To his credit, his best player has been off and on the injury report for years while the team was still extremely competitive. Give him some time to work with Rose, Butler, Gasol and Noah – that is a quality core group.
In the meantime, the Cavaliers await the winner of the Wizards vs. Hawks series.
Here is the scenario: You’re down three games to one. You lost the last two games back to back by a combined 58 points. What do you do? That question was presented to the Houston Rockets and they answered with a convincing 21 point victory in Game 5. But, what happens when the Clippers get back in front of their ‘Lob City’ crowd with a chance to close out the series? The Clippers would win…right? We thought so for most of the night as the fans were loud, enthusiastic LAC owner Steve Ballmer was enjoying the 19 point 3rd quarter lead then all of a sudden the Rockets put 4 fingers in the air for the final quarter and went to WORK.
Theme of the night: Role Players. Corey Brewer gave Houston an incredible boost with 19 points off the bench (notice the deficit they overcame to win) while a poised and focused Josh Smith matched his effort with 19 of his own carrying the load in the 4th. Not to mention Terrence Jones scrapped for 16 points splitting time. Dwight Howard came with the ‘S’ on his chest totaling 20 points and 21 rebounds. Chris Paul had 31 points, 11 assists to go with Blake Griffin‘s 28 points and 8 rebounds but they still couldn’t hold on. Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and JJ Redick will have to come ready to contribute Sunday night in Houston for Game 7 or this may go down as one of the biggest collapses in recent NBA Playoff memory. Excellent effort by the Rockets tonight outscoring the Clippers 40-15 in the 4th quarter.
Tune into Game 7 Sunday night, guaranteed to be one of the best games of this year’s playoffs.