This is the first time we had 4 Wildcard games as we expanded the format and it was definitely worth it as we had some memorable moments on Sunday. Reminder the last 4 minutes will be stoppage time for the entire playoffs if the game is within 10! Now let's get right to it!
HORNETS vs PISTONS: This was arguably the toughest game to predict as both squads have had their moments this year but have also had some tough losses. The main focus was going to be on the veteran star vs the young star (Nishan & Kris) and it turned out to be a great battle. The first half was a defensive grind as both teams played hard on defence as the playoff intensity was evident. The Hornets shocked everyone by going man to man all game instead of zone which seemed to really throw off the Pistons. This was a great decision by GM Hari as they have capable defenders and it really woulda suprised their opponent who woulda game planned for zone defence. Both teams only combined for 27 points in the first half but luckily the 2nd half was much more exciting. The Hornets started to get gassed on defence as they were not used to defending this way for long periods of time and slow rotations plus not fighting through screens really let them down in the 2nd half. Kris was able to find space and drive to the basket at will and either cashed in with a bucket or headed to the freethrow line where he was money as well (9 for 9). His teammates could not help him out in this one but they made just enough timely shots to keep the lead. At some point he is going to need someone to step up if they want to get to the finals. Nishan meanwhile was the catalyst for the Hornets and dropped 29 points on only 15 shots as he was locked in and ready to play...only issue was that noone else was able to find a rhythm. Sen had some great looks as did Asok but just could not knock them down. All year it seemed like the issue was going to be balanced scoring and it reared its ugly head again. Nishan had the hot hand and it was only right to keep feeding him the ball but the lack of ball movement and shots for the other guys seemed problematic from the start. A couple tweaks by GM Hari/Nishan could make them a strong contender next season! The Pistons will have a date with the Pacers which will be a battle of 2 MVP candidates in Kris and Akshay.
Final Score: Hornets 37 - 47 Pistons Player of the Game - KRISOTH GNANENTHRA 32pts/10rebs/2asts/2stls/1blk - 50% Shooting - 3 Triples
NUGGETS vs SIXERS: The Sixers are going to be a problem...they can run, pass, shoot, and defend...some teams can only do a couple of those things. They got matched up against a Nuggets team that was considerably bigger than them but it did not make a difference to them. GM Rahul set the tone early by hitting not 1 but 2 corner threes from almost the exact same spot! He had hit only 2 triples during the entire season so this was definitely a solid shot in the arm for the squad. The Nuggets had beaten the Sixers during the regular season by 3 points but Dylan was great in that one with 21 points and Flash struggled with only 4 points...but he made up for it in this game with a game high 24 on 50percent shooting while Dylan ended up with the single digits this time (7). The Nuggets reliance on Dylan was obvious as he was their lone 3pt threat and this is something GM Ray would have to address in the offseason which I am sure he is already thinking about. It seemed like the Nuggets ship was sinking ever since the New Year and there seemed to be too many holes to plug on the boat. The Sixers were missing Sarwar and only played 6 players but their energy level was good and they seemed really focused which is scary for the rest of the league. They held their own on the glass only getting outrebounded by 5 which is going to be the key for them during their playoff run. Can they all gang rebound and keep that margin as close as possible? They were 2nd worst in total rebounds for the regular season (Nuggets were the worst ironically) but they have plenty of other advantages over their opponents and so they have all the necessary skill and talent to make some noise this season.
Final Score: Nuggets 45 - 59 Sixers Player of the Game - NIROSAN PRABA 24pts/4asts/1to - 50% Shooting - 3 Triples
RAPTORS vs HEAT: This was another great entertaining game and so many people had picked the Raps to upset the Heat in this one. The Raps have one of the best shooters/scorers in Davy and one of the best passers in Louie but the key guy was Shawn Phillips who was tasked with trying to contain Mr. Milton Laidley. Milton shot an ETBL record 67.5% from the field in his first season and so even getting him under 60% would be an accomplishment...but Shawn had bigger plans and worked extremely hard to make it tough on the big man. He along with his teammates held him to 2 for 10 shooting and only 10 points in what should have been the main storyline. But unfortunately they had trouble controlling the glass because so much attention was paid to Milton and they allowed 17 offensive boards to the Heat! Davy also had some good looks which he normally makes that did not go down (he also looked to be battling some injuries). They came out the gate strong and held a 16 to 4 lead to start the game but GM Billal and the gang were able to make some adjustments and cut into the lead. They quickly tied it up at 18 a piece and eventually built a 41 to 32 lead in the second half. Ed was huge as he hit his patented midrange shots and led the team with 12 points! Glenn was terrific on defence especially against Davy and this was something the Heat desperately missed while he was off with an ankle injury. The Heat are definitely one of the oldest if not oldest team in the league but they showed alot of patience and experience early on as they kept it together and fought back. A very dissapointing end for the Raps as they lose another tough one and have yet to lose a game by more than 5 points all season! If they could add another big or another shooter they could definitely be a contender next season. The Heat get the defending champs in what should be a great game.
Final Score: Raptors 48 - 53 Heat Player of the Game - ED RUBIALES 12pts/1reb/1ast/1stl/1to - 50% Shooting
LAKERS vs SUNS: The final game of the Wildcard Round was between the gritty Lakers and the dynamic Suns. It was built as a matchup of offence vs defence and so it was going to be tough to call. Lakers jumped out to a 7-0 lead early on as Vinoth was showing off his defence and his tough on his midrange shots. The Sun responded with an 8-0 run to take the lead and it was Abdul who looked to make an impact early on both ends of the floor. Rogan showed off a couple nifty moves in the post and drained a turnaround as well as we did not know he had that in his bag. The Lakeshow held a 4pt lead at halftime but this game was neck and neck all the way down to crunch time. Usamah who was having an off night as he missed all eight his 2 point shots but managed to hit some big triples (4 of them) to keep his team in it. He unfortunately picked up his 5th foul on an offensive call which brought his night to an end with about 4minutes left in the game. The Lakers coulda mentally given up at this point but they still fought hard without their star player. Ragu took over ball handling duties and got by Umaraj on several ISO's which were extremely impressive. He got fouled a few times on those drives but unfortunately went 3 for 9 from the line in this game which really hurt the Lakers chances. With that being said this game still went into overtime as Uma tied the game up late in this one. The biggest play of the game in OT was by Zanoon who took it coast to coast on a beautiful drive as he got by Ragu with an in-and-out dribble and finished the layup. This gave them a 1 point lead with less than a minute to go. This was Somi Ravin's biggest opportunity to make a statement for his team without his best player and a chance to get to the Quarter-Finals...he gets a decent look at a 2 with Jasinthan closing hard...and misses...but Jenush gets the offensive board and kicks it out to Somi for an open 3...but Somi Bryant was not clutch. Zanoon hits 1 freethrow to push it to a 2pt game and the door is open again for Somi to either win it or push it to double OT. He gets the inbound near halfcourt and almost trips on his own to cause a backcourt violation but somehow steadies himself (not making this stuff up) and drives right after getting a great screen set by Ragu above the 3pt line on Zanoon...and then blows by Amar to the right of the freethrow area...Jas comes in last second and seems to get a hand on his body but Somi still had a great look at a layup to tie it up! Buzzer sounds after the miss and the Suns escape with a big time win. We talked about Zanoon being a huge x-factor all season and he showed why in this game with a game high 19. Somi and Usi combine to go 7 for 30 and it's going to be a long off season for them as they had very high expectations.
Final Score: Lakers 45 - 47 Suns Player of the Game - ZANOON ALI 19pts/6reb/2stl - 2 Triples
Written by: Kisho (Commissioner)