The title of this was a reference to "The Final Countdown" in case you didn't catch that. Go back and read it to the rhythm of the song, it's funny.
It is now the best time of any playoff series, the semi-finals. Am I the only one that thinks the semi-finals always seems to be better games than the championships themselves? So many times I just feel like I watch an incredible conference championship or semi-final game and get so hyped for the championship only to have it be very anti-climactic. For example Seattle and San Francisco came down to the final play in the NFC Championship and then the Superbowl will be remembered for the party, not the game. But I digress.
The NBA Conference finals features, what do you know? The two conference finals predicted before the season even started. The first one I will address is the east.
In the east we have the 1.5 time defending champion Miami Heat. I say 1.5 because we all know the Spurs should have won last year so I am only going to give the Heat credit for winning half a championship. The other half was given to them with an edible arrangement. The Heat will face off against their eastern conference foe Indiana Pacers who have looked more like the New York Knicks as of late. Winning one game convincingly and then getting blown out by 25 on their home court the next night. This is the match-up they wanted though. The team that beat them in seven last year in a series where they probably should have gone up 3-1 at one point. It is an interesting showdown because both teams really haven't looked like themselves this playoffs.
The Hornets (who are the Bobcats?) played the Heat pretty good, better than anybody thought they would if you ask me and probably would have taken at least one game had Big Al not gotten hurt. In the next round the Heat played the Brooklyn "We don't really have a structured offense" Nets and actually trailed late in the fourth in 3 of the 5 games in the series. Brooklyn managed to hold onto the lead in one of those games, but in the other two they showed how old and awful they really were. The Heat didn't necessarily outplay the Nets, the Nets outplayed themselves. How do you not at least get a shot off when your backs are against the wall and 4 seconds away from elimination? Kick the ball at the hoop for all I care. What I am saying is the Heat have not really looked like the Heat. This year, in the first two rounds, the Heat outscored the Hornets and Nets by 66 total points. In the previous two years, over the first two rounds, the Heat outscored their opponents by a whopping 122 (2012-13) and 121 (2011-2012). That's not even close. Well those two numbers are close, but they aren't close to this years. You know what I mean.
Now let's look at the Pacers. A team that in February everybody thought was a shoe-in to not only make the eastern conference finals, but to beat the Heat and make it to the NBA Championship. Then they got too big headed though. Paul George threw down a ridiculously nasty 360 windmill dunk and the Pacers were on top of the world. Oh how quickly they fell. I like to think that dunk got them thinking "Wow, we are so good nobody can or will beat us." They scraped, clawed and fought the rest of the year to get the number one overall seed and stumbled into the playoffs. Boy did it show. The Atlanta Hawks, a team that didn't even want to make the playoffs so they could be in the lottery, took the Pacers to 7 games. Next, bring on the Washington Wizards, a young team with not a lot of playoff experience outside of Andre Miller and Drew Gooden. Let's be honest though, Miller has been in the league 65 years so he better have some experience and Gooden has played for every single team in the NBA so he definitely has some. The Wizards took game one of that series making the Pacers look like garbage. Then the Pacers looked great and the Wizards looked young. Then the Pacers looked like garbage. Then the Pacers looked decent and closed out the series.
So what are we looking at? Two teams who really can't find their old skool identities, which will only make for an incredible series. Let's look at the match-ups.
Mario Chalmers vs George Hill
These are two very similar point guards. Both aren't really the best passers on the floor, but both can shoot the lights out if need be. Hill has experience playing under Pop so you have to think he will be a little smarter than Chalmers, but Chalmers has two championships under his belt and a guy named LeBron to pass the ball to. It should be a great match-up, but won't get much love because of a bigger match-up coming up later. I'll give you 3 guesses as to what it is and the first 3 guesses don't count.
Dwayne Wade vs Lance "Born Ready" Stephenson
A lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, but hear me out. Stephenson is going to be a star in this league. Going to be. Right now he is still young and still jumping in the air and throwing passes right into Bradley Beals chest under his own basket with under a minute left up 5. He is versatile and young and will probably run circles around Wade, but Wade is Wade. He has bad knees and isn't the same flash as back in 06, but he has the experience and smarts to outplay Stephenson in more ways than pure athleticism.
LeBron James vs Paul George
Advantage: Too easy
Has anyone even heard of these two players? Listen, I love Paul George as much as the next guy. Although, a lot of people don't really like George, so I probably love him more than the next guy. The only problem is he is going up against the best all-around player in the NBA. If George can step up and take it to the level he was playing to start the year when he was an MVP candidate than this will be an INCREDIBLE showdown between two freak athletes. If he plays as he has been, then it won't even be close and he may, MAY, play LeBron well for one or two games if he is lucky.
Dinosaur vs David West
West had his best offensive game of the playoffs at a perfect time. An elimination game right before squaring off against the Heat. West will bring Bosh down low and make him wish he was still the same ol post player he used to be in Toronto. West has the versatility to play Bosh outside of the paint, which Bosh has yet to experience this playoffs, and West is smart enough to force Bosh into taking lots of outside three's. Sure Bosh will hit one or two, but he is too inconsistent for West to pressure him out there all game. He just better make sure he has him on lock towards the end of the game because if there is one thing Bosh can do, it's hit the three in the clutch oddly enough.
Any other Heat big man vs Hibbert
Advantage: Hibbert (so longs as he doesn't throw up donuts)
Hibbert has been a perfect example of what the Pacers have been this playoffs. Up-and-down quicker than Vince Wilfork and Rick Ross on a see-saw (so long as it doesn't break). In last years series vs the Heat Hibbert was a monster. I said after the series ended that Hibbert could bring back the old bruiser style down low play that has long been forgotten in the NBA. Then this year happened. Hibbert has the ability to dominate the paint vs the Heat bigs and if he does it will be the reason this series goes 7. If Hibbert does not show up though, don't expect this series to go past 5 games.
Ray Allen. Nuff said. If you have this guys coming off your bench there is a pretty good chance you will win the game so long as the ball ends up in his hands for the final shot. Since 96-97 Ray Allen has shot 10-16 in game tying/winning three point shots, which is the best since that time. The next closest is Derek Fisher who has shot 3-5, then Big Shot Bob (or Rob whichever you prefer) at 3-6 and then it was Reggie Time at 6-13.
Prediction: The Pacers have just been far too inconsistent and that will doom them. Unfortunately, I don't see this game going 7 and think the Heat will take it in 6. If it does get to 7, look out Miami because the Fieldhouse will be absolutely rocking and the Pacers will do the knocking. Heat in 6, if it goes 7 give it to the Pace.