The second round of the 2014 NBA playoffs is in the bag. Which moments are we still reeling from? What do we expect moving forward? Our five-man team has answers.
1. What was the biggest surprise of the second round?
Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Insider: How quickly the Spurs dismantled the Blazers. Other than that, the second round didn't raise too many eyebrows. But it did raise our blood pressure. From an entertainment perspective, it's a shame we didn't get to see the Clippers and Thunder series go seven games, but it's probably best for our health that it ended in six.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com: The dueling comebacks between the Thunder and Clippers were pretty surprising. From a Game 4 Thunder collapse to a Game 6 Clippers disintegration, it appeared at times as though nobody was coaching these fantastically talented teams.
Tom Sunnergren, TrueHoop Network: That the Indiana Pacers are escaping it. After Indiana dropped Game 1 to the Wizards -- thanks in no small part to the zero points, zero rebounds and five personal fouls it got from its starting center -- the Pacers looked fully, finally, cooked. But Roy Hibbert and the Pacers persevered. Indiana won four of the next five games and Hibbert averaged just under 15 points and seven rebounds the rest of the way.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: The Pacers' habit of completely falling apart at home in the playoffs. This was a team that set out from the start of the season to get the No. 1 seed in the East and use it as a springboard to get past Miami and ultimately into the NBA Finals. Yet home has been anything but an advantage for Indiana. After losing six games all regular season at home, they've already lost four home games in the postseason.
Royce Young, ESPN.com: The Spurs' obliteration of Portland. On paper, the Trail Blazers looked like a better version of the Mavericks, a team that had just taken the Spurs to seven games. They had an offensive-minded point guard, a nightmare jump-shooting forward, a lengthy wing stopper and shooters to spread the floor. Except the Spurs made it look ridiculously easy. Didn't see that coming.
2. What was the best moment of the second round?
Haberstroh: Kevin Durant sitting like a nervous child with his back to Russell Westbrook, who was at the free throw line. It produced one of the most memorable photos I've seen on a basketball court, and it symbolized how nerve-wracking that series was. If the MVP couldn't handle it, how could we? Indeed, sports are the best reality show on TV.
Strauss: Clippers fans might disagree, but I'll take the back-and-forth sequence that followed Durant's 3-pointer with 43 seconds left in Game 5. Quickly, we went from Jamal Crawford's errant runner to a Durant layup to a Chris Paul turnover, to the most controversial call of the playoffs. It was an incredible turn of events in such a short period of time.
Sunnergren: LeBron's big night in Brooklyn. After James blitzed the Nets for 49 points -- each and every one of which Miami needed -- in the Heat's Game 4 win, Shane Battier compared the night to his teammate's epic 45/15 performance against the Celtics in the 2012 conference finals. It wasn't a bit hyperbolic. James was simply awesome Monday; attacking relentlessly, getting to the rim whenever he wanted and reminding the world -- forcefully -- that there's nobody better at this basketball thing.
Wallace: The multiple comebacks late in the fourth quarter to win games. The Clippers did it to the Thunder in Game 4. The Thunder did it to the Clippers in Game 5. The Pacers did it twice to the Wizards. The Heat did it twice against the Nets. But if one has to hold the crown as being the best moment, it was OKC's rally from a seven-point deficit in the final 50 seconds for what proved to be a series-altering win.
Young: The Thunder's Game 5 comeback. Down seven with 47 seconds left, sending some of the most loyal fans to the exits, only to come back with absurd plays, crazy shots and controversial calls. Game 5 in Oklahoma City had it all. It's one of those we're not going to forget anytime soon.
3. Who has been the best player in the playoffs thus far?
Haberstroh: LeBron James. After being neck-and-neck with Durant in the regular season, James has stepped it up in the playoffs, as most of us expected he would. Just not to this degree. He's miles ahead of the league in playoff PER (32.94) and earning tons of rest by quickly disposing of his opponents. Put it this way: He's nearly outscoring Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined (270 points versus 292 points).
Strauss: LeBron, and I'm not sure it's been close. He's crushing all comers in the advanced stats (32.94 PER, .332 Win Shares per 48) while playing far better defense than he did in the regular season. He has been almost too good to garner attention, as the Heat haven't lost enough to deal with drama yet.
Sunnergren: LeBron. This postseason, the MVP runner-up leads the association in PER, true shooting percentage, win shares, win shares per 48 minutes and probably a handful of acronyms. A Miami team that slunk into the playoffs has an 8-1 record through two rounds. No one has been better. No one has been particularly close.
Wallace: LeBron. Just tell him what you need done, and he'll handle it. James has had high-scoring games, high-assist games, solid rebounding efforts and has also taken on the toughest defensive assignments in the final minutes. What would be a tremendous and even overwhelming burden for most star players is donned on a nightly basis by James as comfortably as a designer backpack. Durant is right on his heels, though.
Young: LeBron. But after Kevin Durant's closeout Game 6 in Los Angeles, it's tight. It's basically an extension of the regular-season MVP race. One does something, and the other just seems to set out to top it.
4. Who will win the East?
Haberstroh: Miami Heat in seven bloodbaths. I still can't bring myself to pick against the best player in the game. Wade looks a tad more fresh than he did last postseason, and the Heat have some lineups that seem to have cracked the Hibbert code. The NBA's top offense against the NBA's top defense. Giddy up.
Strauss: Miami. If not, we the media have to collectively write an apology to the much-mocked Indiana Pacers. While I'll acknowledge the possibility that the Pacers take this series, I just can't trust them against LeBron.
Sunnergren: Miami. The Pacers have played the Heat close the past two postseasons and split the regular-season series with them, but this shouldn't distract us from the salient fact about Indiana: It's not a good basketball team right now. Miami, on the other hand, is rolling. Make it four NBA Finals in a row for LeBron & Co.
Wallace: Miami, in seven. Until the Pacers prove otherwise, there is no doubt that James and Wade can go into Bankers Life Fieldhouse and win a big game with everything on the line. I'm not sure the same can be said with as much certainty for this fragile and inconsistent Indiana squad in its own building. That said, these Pacers sure tend to find themselves when they face the Heat, especially Roy Hibbert.
Young: Miami in six. The Heat are in that scary postseason groove where they just seem to find ways to win games, and the Pacers have open wounds that haven't healed from the first two rounds. They fought so hard for home court, but they're just too erratic to trust.
5. Who will win the West?
Haberstroh: Oklahoma City Thunder in seven track meets. As much as I feel compelled to worship at the altar of Pop, I can't get past the Thunder's 10-2 record against the mighty Spurs in their past 12 meetings. The status of Serge Ibaka's bum calf could swing this pick, but my crystal ball tells me that we're headed for a 2012 Finals rematch, not 2013.
Strauss: Oklahoma City. I lean on its recent dominance of San Antonio, but it's hard to feel confident in such a guess, considering Serge Ibaka's injury. So I'm picking the Thunder knowing what we know now. If Ibaka's missing games, though, forget that I wrote this.
Sunnergren: San Antonio. Despite needing seven to get by the Mavs in Round 1, no team has looked sharper in the 2014 playoffs than last season's runner-up. After whacking the Trail Blazers by at least 15 points in each of their four wins, the Spurs lead the West in postseason point differential and the NBA in field goal percentage and 3-point shooting. Unless Tony Parker's wonky hamstring is a lot worse than it looks, they should handle the Thunder.
Wallace: San Antonio, in seven. This series completely hinges on the status of Parker's hamstring. If he's even slightly diminished at this stage, it just may tip the scales in favor of the Thunder. Westbrook is coming off the most impressive and complete series he's had, and he smells blood right now. But if Parker is OK, the Spurs have just enough firepower and depth to avoid being completely overwhelmed like they were two years ago after taking a 2-0 lead against the Thunder in the conference finals.
Young: Oklahoma City in six. The Thunder have just had the Spurs' number the past few years, sweeping the season series 4-0 and winning 10 of the past 12. It's going to be LeBron-Durant, Round 2. With the way these playoffs have gone, it just feels like the perfect conclusion.