Single elimination tournaments like the NCAA's or the NFL playoffs are great. The drama is high and each moment is significant and exciting. But a best of seven, like the NBA playoff format, is a war. It's a chess match where strategies change and advantages develop over the course of a week or two and, usually, the better team comes out on top. The games within the game that emerge may be the best part. We get to watch the same guys go at each other night after night and over the course of the series, those individual matchups can take on a life of their own.
So without further ado, here are the top individual first round matchups to watch:
Blake Griffin vs. Zach Randolph: This is one of the best individual matchup of the first round for a few reasons. First, both players are vital to their team's success. Memphis plays a half-court game and Z-bo needs to be a consistent force down on the block in order for the paint domination strategy to work. And the Clippers need to establish an interior half-court presence if they want to win the series and I doubt they'll run many plays for Deandre Jordan, so Blake is going to have to step up.
Second, these two have history. We all remember last year's phenomenal first round series between these two teams. LA had a huge comeback in the first game and eventually won in seven. Randolph and the Grizz want revenge after last year and and letting Z-Bo go to work against a younger and less experienced Griffin will help them control the pace and keep Griffin busy on defense.
And in case you haven't seen this, there's been a little physicality between the two forwards recently too.
Tim Duncan vs. Dwight Howard: Dwight has been a beast lately. He finally remembered that he's really big and strong and has forced his way to the basket, imposing his will and getting to the line 49 times in his last three games alone. But the Playoff version of Tim Duncan will hold him, pester him, push him, and whatever else it takes to make Dwight uncomfortable. The Big Fundamental averaged 30 minutes a game during the regular season but, just like they do year after year, Duncan and the Spurs are about to turn it on when the post season starts.
Expect these two to dictate how the series goes. The only way the Lakers compete in this series is if Dwight is able to expose Tim Duncan. If it gets to a game 5 or 6 and we start to see Duncan struggle to keep Dwight off the block, the Spurs are going to be in big trouble. But if the Spurs can keep Howard in check, the series shouldn't last long.
Carmelo Anthony vs. Paul Pierce: Maybe they should temporarily change the rules of basketball and just make it a 1-on-1 to decide who advances to round 2. I'd watch that. Carmelo has been on fire this year and can single-handedly carry the team. But we've seen Pierce do the same thing before in the playoffs Pierce only has 3 games of at least 30 points this season, but if he's able to match Carmelo's production for a few games, this series could get very interesting and fans certainly wouldn't mind watching the two of them go back and forth, matching each other shot for shot.
Monta Ellis vs. Dwyane Wade: Let's be honest, this series probably won't go down to the wire. For Milwaukee winning a game, or possibly even two, would be a huge accomplishment. And they certainly have the ability to win a game if they can find a way to score against Miami's suffocating defense. Monta Ellis is their best option to make that happen.
It will be Dwyane Wade's responsibility to ensure that the Bucks leading scorer doesn't give Milwaukee fans even a glimmer of hope. This season, in three games against Miami, Ellis has struggled big time. He's scored a total of 30 points in those three games a shot a dismal 28.8% from the field. But Ellis has tons of talent and he's the one guy on the Bucks that has the potential to make this an interesting series.
Houston's wing players vs. Oklahoma City's wing players: I know this is a little bit of a cop out because it's not actually an individual matchup. You'll have to forgive me for that. But with the way that these teams are dominated by their perimeter players, this matchup is going to be fast-paced and exciting to watch. The Rockets wings, including Jeremy Lin, James Harden, and Chandler Parsons, average a combined 53 points a game and the Thunder's Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Martin average 65 a night. Neither team runs many plays for their big men so the winner of this aspect of the matchup will certainly have the upper hand.
But the real draw is Harden going against his former team. Will he channel the power of the beard and show his former team what their missing out on? Or will Scott Brooks and the Thunder clamp down on Harden and force Lin and company to beat them?
Ty Lawson vs. Stephen Curry: My heart rate is speeding up just thinking about this one. Both point guards are going to have their teams sprinting up and down the court yet the two have very different and equally entertaining styles. The Nuggets attack the rim, scoring more points in the paint than any other team in the NBA and the Warriors love to launch transition jumpers. This series is sure to be high scoring and both point guards can get hot and rack up 10 points in the blink of an eye.
So which of these matchups are you looking forward to watching most?