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Bulls win? Warriors in second round? Unpredictability has been hallmark of these playoffs

May 7, 2013, 7:59 AM EDT

Joakim Noah, Nate Robinson AP

Legendary baseball statistician Bill James once said the big problem with the NBA is that the best team usually wins in the playoffs.

He’s right, the NBA playoffs tend to follow form. And he’s right that we like unpredictability in the playoffs. Baseball has a long grind of a season, but in a seven game playoff series things get random and a hot bat or arm can win it. The NFL playoffs are one-and-done where upsets are common. Last year the eight-seed Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup. We love the randomness of 15 seeds winning a game in the NCAA Tournament, where the person whose system of picking teams is “my grandmother was from Wichita” can win the office pool.

But the NBA playoffs are more predictable. Before the season even starts we have a pretty good idea who the handful of title contenders are.

Bill James would have loved Monday night.

First the small-of-stature, giant-of-heart Nate Robinson led the Bulls to a road win over the heavily favorite, defending champion Heat.

Then an upstart six-seed Warriors team put a scare in — and frankly should have beat — San Antonio, the new favorites in the West (since the injury to Russell Westbrook changed the landscape).

These 2013 NBA playoffs have been unpredictable so far. Which has made these playoffs interesting.

Nobody gave the banged-up Bulls much of a chance against the Heat — our official preview at PBT predicted a sweep. Even Bulls writers such as’s Aggrey Sam were predicting the Heat in five.

But we also all knew those games would be close and hard-fought — the Bulls defend and can score inside, two things you have to do to have any success against the Heat. That strategy worked early — the Bulls led by 8 after an 11-3 run to end the first quarter. The game stayed close the entire way, no team leading by double digits.

But through it all we kept waiting for that patented Heat run where they just pull away and there is nothing the other team can do.

It never came. Rather it was the Bulls who closed the game on a 10-0 run behind Robinson to get the win.

The Warriors on the other hand did have a big lead, thanks to Stephen Curry having a seemingly unstoppable night. He finished it all with 44 points and 11 rebounds, hitting 6-of-14 from three and just being devastating.

The Warriors led by 16 in the fourth and it looked like Monday was the night of upsets, but then the Spurs had a late 15-0 run and after some traded buckets we were going to overtime. Then double overtime. And the Warriors led that with 4 seconds to go, but the Spurs did what the Spurs do and Manu Ginobili got wide open for a three and drained it to give the Sours the win.

Still, it was the best game of these playoffs. An amazing night that is just the latest in an amazing playoffs where the lower seed won in 3-of-8 first round series.

Sure, the odds of a Heat vs. Spurs finals is still far better than a Bulls vs. Warriors one. Everything may still follow form. But James goes on to say in his piece that because the NBA playoffs follow form so often the underdog will not try as hard — why dive for a loose ball or make the extra effort if you can’t win? There he misses the point — human nature is to struggle against long odds, at least for some. People do not give up. NBA teams and players do not give up.

We saw that Monday, a  sign of the uncertainty the NBA playoffs have found this year. And it’s fun to watch.

  1. 1heatedtoombrayduh - May 7, 2013 at 8:03 AM

    I had a feeling as soon as I knew we were playing the Bulls that they may win game 1. I’m not too worried that we will lose this series, but we def have to step our game up and one of the keys is limiting their offensive rebounding!

  2. mungman69 - May 7, 2013 at 8:12 AM

    The tired Bulls scored 35 points in the 4th quarter. That ain’t rust. The Heat in 5.

  3. jaerba - May 7, 2013 at 8:15 AM

    Awesome, awesome games by Noah and Butler. I just wonder how much longer the Heat will miss those 3’s and the refs will let them keep hammering each other (even though the Heat did a better job taking advantage of lax reffing last night, I think they’ll have an even easier time if the reffing tightens up.)

    Hope we get another close series.

  4. saint1997 - May 7, 2013 at 8:22 AM

    I totally agree that this unpredictability has made it so much more awesome. That’s why people like NCAA so much, the stakes are higher and the margin for error smaller. P.S. isn’t it fantastically ironic that it’s Steph Curry reminding us once again of the brilliance of the Cinderella team?

  5. inthearex - May 7, 2013 at 8:23 AM

    Wow dude. Heat in 5? If luol dent can get back from the spinal tap what a huge shot in the arm that would be for the bulls. You better be ready for a grind it out 7 game series. The heat can’t play the bully role against these guys. When the bull get punched they hit back twice as hard. Robinson gets 6 stitches at half and then steals the show in the fourth. Awesome game by Nate.

  6. bucrightoff - May 7, 2013 at 8:34 AM

    If the Bulls can pull this off, and its still unlikely, its right up there as greatest upset ever. No doubt though, if Miami thinks this is going to be easy they haven’t been paying attention. Bulls are the toughest team I’ve seen in recent memory.

  7. supremekingz - May 7, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    Anybody remember when the Bulls swept Miami after they just won their first championship with Wade and Shaq?

  8. yuwannano - May 7, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    Amazing game! Nathan is a BEAST!!! Even if we don’t win this series, we will definately send Miami to Indiana limping! Sorry Knicks.

  9. canehouse - May 7, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    The HEAT played like they were in a coma… gotta give some credit to the bulls here, they played a solid game of keeping Miami out of their game. Can’t wait for tomorrow night.

  10. loungefly74 - May 7, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    Its why we play the games! gotta love this.

  11. 16x8equal49ers - May 7, 2013 at 10:13 AM

    “We saw that Monday, a sign of the uncertainty the NBA playoffs have found this year. And it’s fun to watch.”

    Yeah but it happens few and far between times. That’s why I like NBA but love NFL. This is good. The NBA needs more upsets, this isn’t European soccer.

    • paleihe - May 7, 2013 at 11:50 AM

      The NBA doesn’t need upsets. Are they fun? Yeah, but it doesn’t “need” them.

      It’s a series to see who the best team is. Not who can get lucky and win. If there is an upset, that just means the Cinderella team was actually better.

  12. broncobeta - May 7, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    Don’t worry. The NBA will make sure it’s darlings reach the finals.

  13. iowahbr - May 7, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    the TNT analysts might have been caught off guard but it made for great viewing. I wonder what all three will have to say now as they didn’t eat much humble pie during half time of the Warriors Spurs game. Love it when Charles says something like “Some MVP” if I heard him correctly.

  14. itsonlyaspeedbump - May 7, 2013 at 12:51 PM

    Its funny that you bring up Bill James, because staunch metrics guys like him refuse to believe in things that can’t be measured ie ‘grit’ or ‘wanting it more’. Normally I dont buy into that stuff either, but its hard to explain what the Bulls do without throwing around those cliches.

    Im a huge Lebron fan since his Cleveland days and I think hes the best basketball player we’ve seen since MJ. Saying that, the Bulls present problems for him and the Heat that no one else in the NBA does: they never back down. And though there is no stat that quantifies that quality, there is no evidence I saw from last night that tells me the Bulls cant do it 3 more times in 6 tries.

    Even still, I’ll say Miami in a nail-biting 7 games.

    • comeonnowguys - May 7, 2013 at 1:06 PM

      To be fair, trying harder in baseball, James’ wheelhouse, rarely affects your performance in a positive manner. It’s different from the three other major sports in this regard. In the past week, the Bulls have been the example on why it’s harder to apply that line of thinking to basketball.

  15. edwardsro - May 7, 2013 at 1:27 PM

    Refs will help lebron win

  16. mungman69 - May 7, 2013 at 1:37 PM

    The NBA’s darlings? The Knicks won’t make the finals. Hell, they might not get past Indy.

  17. mungman69 - May 7, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    That game SHOULD be a wake up call for the Heat. They must run to win and run they will. No one can stop them.

  18. ch8878 - May 7, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    Looks like Lebron’s time in Miami is coming to an end, he’ll either be back in Cleveland or go to Dallas.

  19. klownboy - May 7, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    The Bulls are going to be one thought out for the Heat. Gotta give it up for Chicago and its heart.

  20. gmsingh - May 7, 2013 at 3:19 PM

    Unpredictability? Every higher seed in the East advanced except the Bulls. Does not compute.

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