Conventional wisdom says you must fight through the regular season and try to secure the highest possible seed you can get, because having homecourt advantage is a huge deal. With that said, Saturday saw just one home team (Oklahoma City) take advantage of their locale, with the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors losing Game 1 and homecourt advantage in the process. What the heck happened?
EXPLAINING THE RAPTORS
They say numbers never lie. Well, they did in this case. Although the Raptors are the No. 3 seed and the Brooklyn Nets are the No. 6 seed, the Nets are the better and more experienced team. They are also the team better suited to perform in this kind of tense playoff atmosphere.
The excitement of a crowd and the energy they supply only lasts so long. Sometimes (as with the Raptors yesterday), that energy turns into playing tight and nervous basketball. The Nets were the ones who were able to jump out to a 12-point lead, forcing six Raptor turnovers in the process. The Raptors fought back to a 29-21 deficit at the quarter break — the result of settling down.
Late in the game, that experience came back into play. Paul Pierce scored nine points in the fourth quarter, with the Raptors going into jumper-mode. After getting to the foul line successfully for three quarters (25 times), the Raptors took ZERO foul shots in the fourth. By contrast, the Nets went a perfect 8-for-8. The Nets were simply the better and more prepared team.
EXPLAINING THE PACERS
Oh, boy. The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference didn’t have a wonderful opening game of the 2013-14 NBA playoffs. In fact, they looked a lot like the team that should have been in the No. 8 seed. The Hawks led by as many as 20 and rode Jeff Teague‘s 28 points and five assists to what was an easy victory.
Teague is from Indianapolis, which made this a nice homecoming for him. Still, there’s much more to the Pacers’ failures than that. They’ve been squabbling in the locker room, throwing silent jabs at each other. They’ve struggled offensively and defensively for a solid six weeks. This Pacer team is in shambles and it showed on Saturday.
Confidence is a major thing in professional sports and the Pacers have none of it. The fake confidence quickly turns into fear when an opponent takes it to you early and often, as Teague did. Paul George and Lance Stephenson combined to shoot just 14-for-36, with the team making just 42 percent from the field. The Hawks penetrated at will and ended up a plus-8 from the foul line. The Pacers’ 17 turnovers turned into 25 points for the Hawks.
Simply put, the Pacers played like a scared team without an identity. They couldn’t lean on their defense, because they weren’t able to answer for the spread offense the Hawks were throwing at them. They couldn’t lean on a superstar, because they don’t have one. The Pacers are the top seed and will probably still win the series, but they’re being held together with Elmer’s glue right now.
EXPLAINING THE CLIPPERS
There’s a reason that most players don’t burn themselves out over the regular season. Unless they’re a cyborg, they wouldn’t have anything left for the playoffs if they averaged 42 minutes per game. But once the playoffs hit, it’s full steam ahead and they’re going to burn it out for as long as it takes.
When Blake Griffin only plays 19:14 and fouls out, you’d think the Clippers would struggle. When noted free-throw savants like Chris Paul (85.5 percent), Jamal Crawford (86.6) and Darren Collison (85.7) shoot a combined 11-for-18 (61.1 percent), one can’t be surprised to see a home loss.
It was the perfect storm, really — the better team simply had everything go against them. The Clippers just simply laid an egg and even though all of those things were going against them, they still had a chance to win late, with the game tied 105-105 late in the fourth. The explanation for the Clippers is simply that the game was a fluke — a statistical outlier. It won’t happen again. You heard it here first.