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A Guide to the (Pretty Lame) First Round of the NBA Playoffs

Last year, the first round of the NBA Playoffs was pure delight. This year it's all been broken faces and sweeps and Joe Johnson. Let's run it on down!
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The distinguishing characteristic of the NBA Playoffs is that they are extremely difficult. The funhouse machinations of the other American sports make for charming tournaments riddled with wacky results that are fun and beloved by all. Royals in the World Series? Some NFL team gets last minute long pass'd? (I do not follow football, sorry.) Hot goalie drags unlikely group of bums to Stanley Cup? Wild surprises, everywhere you turn!


But basketball is not a high variance game. The better team wins at basketball very often, and almost always wins four games out of seven in the playoffs. Game to game, there are surprises, improbable eruptions from scrubs and stars playing even better than usual, and so a clear scratch series gets tight in the collar. Even if the ultimate results may as well be foregone conclusions, the first round of NBA Playoffs give you the best basketball in the world, every night. Last year's first round was spectacular, some of the best sports anyone could possibly watch.

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This year, the pendulum has swung the other way. The scratch team has made quick work of nearly every series. It has sucked. The NBA happened to be top heavy this year, particularly in the rancid-ass East, so the first round has mostly been a big ol' pile of dog goop. Six of the eight series went to 3-0, the mountain no team hath yet climb-ed. If you haven't been paying attention, and why would you, with America's Gentle Big Brother Alexander Rodriguez and his longballs warming our hearts on television every night, you would have to be some sort of gross NBA wretch to watch these nightmares instead, here is a brief guide to these horror shows:


THE SERIES IN A SINGLE PAINTING: A ruthless, brilliant giant pulling the wings off a confused butterfly who is trying to shoot acid in his eye.


Francisco Goya's "The Colossus," because why not? Image via WikiMedia Commons

WHY IS IT HORRIBLE? The Celtics had absolutely no business being in the playoffs. The front office clearly tried to get its tank on going into the year, collecting asset-y players and hoping for a breakout that could lead to a productive flipping. But the bottom of the East is so bad that the Celtics managed to get back into the postseason simply by dint of vague competence and consistent effort. The team is a cracked mirror image of the Hawks: a bunch of players who aren't regarded as greats gathering together under a plan and succeeding, except everyone is two notches worse than their counterparts in Atlanta. The rote-ass final game in the series cost Kevin Love a shoulder, Jae Crowder a knee, JR Smith two games or so worth of salary, and Kendrick Perkins another little shred of his dignity. Evan Turner played in this series.

WHY IT WASN'T THAT BAD: Watching LeBron Godzilla over New England institutions is the purest pleasure that remains in modern life. I would pay $1 million to see him fill Fenway to the top with his holy urine.


THE SERIES IN A SINGLE PAINTING: A young man measuredly doing his taxes while he drinks a cup of green tea.

WHY IS IT HORRIBLE? The Nets are, from every angle you could consider them, terrible. They carry the stench of brand-ness wherever they go, their mediocre-isolation-heavy attack is downright asinine, and the ceilings in Barclays are too low. The Hawks, on the other hand, are good: they play modern pace-and-space as well as anyone, they pass, and their organ music is fun. So why aren't they whooping the Nets so bad that people talk about disbanding the franchise!? 99-92, 96-91, and then a pair of actual losses in Brooklyn. This is a series now, when all America wants is to see the Hawks plunge the Nets into a Barclays shaped toilet and raise their wet body aloft for everyone to see. Instead, they're taking a measured, laconic approach and playing in close games instead.


WHY IT ISN'T THAT BAD: The games are close, but no person with blood in their veins wants a Joe Johnson clutch performance.

"Here I come to botch a play!" Image via Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports


SERIES IN A SINGLE PAINTING: Your little brother crying while your parents tell you they're getting divorced.

WHY IS IT HORRIBLE: 4-5 matchups are generally competitive affairs. Instead, the Raptors were a group of damaged leaves getting blown off a bridge by Paul Pierce. They were once a team of castoffs made into something bigger than themselves, but their bones melted in front of the world in a depressing spectacle. Kyle Lowry was terrible.

WHY IT WASN'T SO BAD: Watching a player thrive in the "Weird Unfamiliar Jersey" portion of his career is pretty fun. John Wall is awesome. The Wizards are in their second straight year of hilariously showing out in the playoffs by playing a different than the one they used during the year.



WHY IT IS HORRIBLE: Milwaukee, who started out strong but were slowly decimated by injuries and personal crises, have for the most part been profoundly outmatched by Chicago. They've won two games anyway.

WHY IT ISN'T SO BAD: Derrick Rose has looked like a productive offensive player. There was a game winning buzzer beater layup from Jerryd Bayless.


SERIES IN A SINGLE PAINTING: The world's strongest man guzzling a rusty bucket full of Kool-Aid.


There were at least 50 pictures of Zach Randolph that were as good as this one. Image via Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

WHY IT IS HORRIBLE: Portland, an injured squad that was the fourth seed thanks only to a division win, was cursed to meet their nightmare matchup in the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have spent four years building a defense that thrives on slowing the game down; the Blazers' offense operates on initial motion actions and slow down principles. In short, their strategy is the Grizzlies' strategy, a bucket of oil trying to play against fire. Damian Lillard, Portland's most charismatic player and a playoff hero last year, has seemed to have spaghetti for shoes. The entire enterprise is haunted by the spectre of LaMarcus Aldridge's pending free agency. Mike Conley's facebone got broken by a man named "CJ." There's at least one more game in this series, too.

WHY IT ISN'T SO BAD: Marc Gasol is fun to watch, I suppose. Game 4 featured extraordinarily productive minutes from Meyers Leonard, a large fawn transfigured into human form.


SERIES IN A SINGLE PAINTING: A Jackson Pollock someone cut open with a razorblade.

WHY IT WAS HORRIBLE: Since they unwisely traded for Rajon Rondo in the hope that he'd stop acting like Rajon Rondo, the Mavs have been a mess. There was a vague hope that they would not be a mess, a belief Rondo's recent awfulness was the providence of his not caring about playing in Boston instead of an actual downturn, but this was not the case. Rondo got benched in one game and straight up left the team afterwards. The Rockets are not a mess, and in fact are rather good, and so have made quick work in this series.


WHY IT WASN'T SO BAD: Dallas did win a game! Monta Ellis had 30. You like Monta Ellis! The three people who like watching Dwight Howard play basketball have been treated to a good series from him. Josh Smith was really great in one game.



WHY IT WAS HORRIBLE: Golden State swept, like they were supposed to, with only a little resistance. Anthony Davis was typically excellent in his playoff debut, but didn't manage a psychedelic performance that makes angels weep.

Now kiss. Image via Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

WHY IT WASN'T SO BAD: That game three, where Golden State came flying out of nowhere and drug the hapless Pelicans down with less than 10 minutes remaining was really terrific. The game-tying play involved Marreese Speights, a human sunbeam, grabbing a board and making a perfect handoff to Curry in the corner.


SERIES IN A SINGLE PAINTING: BIll Clinton's Presidential portrait.

WHY IT'S ACTUALLY PRETTY GOOD: The Spurs and the Clippers are the most evenly matched teams in the whole playoffs thus far. The teams have an intriguing match of styles, a pair of equally efficient offensive attacks, one built around the singular athletic brilliance of their players and the other around methodical ball movement. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kawhi Leonard, and Tim Duncan have all turned in brilliant individual performances.

WHY IT ISN'T THAT GREAT: The coward Austin Rivers had a breakout game.

In conclusion: even annoying playoff basketball is still pretty good relative to many other things.