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A soundtrack for a 1st Round for the ages

What more can be said about the most entertaining first round of the NBA Playoffs in recent history? Well, you’re asking the guy who previewed the playoffs a couple of weeks ago with a new song for each team. This means I’m running it back to recap Round 1′s brightest stars and biggest moments and even look ahead to Round 2 (so I can seek some redemption in my picks/predict wrong once again).

To further set the stage, here are some eye-opening stats of the playoffs so far…

- The 2014 Playoffs have tied the league record for Game 7′s in a single postseason (5). Again, this was just the 1st Round. No other round has had more than 3 Game 7s.
- There were 50 games played in the 1st Round, a new record. There were also 23 games decided by 5pts or fewer (a single round record).
- The first round featured 162 “clutch minutes”, destroying the previous record for a round by 47 minutes (visual context).
- There were 8 overtime games in the first round; the record for an entire playoffs is 10.
- The Memphis/OKC series featured 4 straight overtime games — a record for any series.
- The Hawks set new Playoffs records for 3s made in a series (79). Before you get impressed, they also set Playoff records for most 3s attempted in a game (44) and a series (230).
- There were 14 four-point plays in the entire first round. It felt like there was 13 in the whole season.
- The Bulls shot 11.7% from the field in the last 5 minutes of each game in their series vs. the Wizards. (jokes, kind of.)

So, let’s begin with the biggest moment… and the biggest song of the last 2 weeks.

Damian Lillard (and his series-clinching 3)
Lil Wayne “Believe Me” f/ Drake

We’ve all seen Lillard’s cold-blooded 3 by now, but did you catch the courtside Vine? This is definitely the type of shot I can watch on loop.

Fittingly enough, as Rockets-Blazers Game 6 was playing out towards that moment, Lil Wayne’s new single off The Carter V dropped, featuring Drake. “Believe Me”, it was right on cue.

I’m the only one that get the job done, I don’t know a n**** that can cover for me. Got some game from my daddy, so she might say she love me, she don’t love me like she say she love me. Believe me, believe me.  I’m the n**** boy they love me in the street. I’m not tryin’ to find nobody else to be. I’m the one they see because they all.. Believe me.

It’s a fun idea to believe that Lillard was reciting that Drake chorus in his head in the timeout before the 0.9 seconds, (you know, because he had the time to listen to the song on his favorite website gowherehiphop.com (unconfirmed) and memorize the chorus during the game), because “Believe Me” is the new self-confidence swag anthem of 2014.

I was finishing typing my full thoughts on the single just before Lillard’s 3 went in Friday night. After the excitement of seeing a thrilling buzzer beater like that, then my shrug of… “It’s #LillardTime, I’m not surprised, nor is he,” I went back to writing about the Carter V single and had a moment of, “Whoa! How closely connected are these two moments?”

Now, clearly basketball is a team game, and the Blazers wouldn’t even be in that position in a series so close (Total Points: Houston 672, Portland 670) without LaMarcus Aldridge’s performances in Games 1 and 2 and the contributions of various role players throughout. But when the game is in its final moments, isn’t Damian Lillard now in the top tier of guys you would want with the ball? After all, his buzzer beater 3 the other night is one of five series-ending, walk-off buzzer beaters since 1986.

The others? Ralph Sampson vs. the Lakers in ’86MJ in ’89 vs. the Cavs. MJ in ’93, again, vs. the Cavs (haaa!). And John Stockton vs… wait for it… the Rockets in ’97.

Sure enough, Lillard didn’t have Drake’s chorus in his mind with 0.9 seconds left… in fact, he probably was thinking of nothing. The secret to Lillard’s poise? As SLAM covered earlier this season, “Ten or so deep breaths, in and out. Then the second-year point guard closes his eyes, concentrating all of his energy on his inner center—either down at his navel, or within his forehead, right between the eyes. Focus hard enough on a specific spot, he was taught, and you can block out all feelings of fatigue, gaining an obvious advantage on your wind-sucking opponents in the process.”

So to get my Buddha on for a minute, “Rule your mind or it will rule you.” Teachings of the like are illustrated in moments like this. That only adds to the beauty… DAME

Troy Daniels
Hit-Boy “Grindin’ My Whole Life”

Earlier in the series, there was another cold-blooded game-winning 3. It left the hands of Rockets guard, Troy Daniels. …Wait, who? Now, I watch a lot of basketball. Yet, Troy Daniels somehow escaped my radar until the moment in overtime of Game 3 that Kevin McHale subbed him in for a fouled-out Chandler Parsons. He had previously played five NBA games and then found himself sinking the go-ahead 3 after a chaotic sequence to save the Rockets season (for a few more games anyway). “Watch him do something awesome,” my friend said when Daniels got subbed in…

Daniels, who spent most of the year playing with the Rockets’ D-League team, repeated his clutch performance in Game 4, sinking 3 free throws in overtime to give the Rockets one more chance, down 1. Those free throws… his first ever NBA free throws! He was a fun story to root for — this year’s came up from nothing/out of nowhere story that we as a society always get behind. The natural song choice for Daniels: the Justin Timberlake co-signed new single from Hit-Boy: “Grindin’ My Whole Life”.

Vince Carter’s buzzer-beating 3
The Roots “Tomorrow” f/ Raheem DeVaughn

We’re on a run of game winning 3s, so why stop now? And that’s exactly the mantra for former NBA superstar Vince Carter, who has redefined himself as a valuable role player the last couple of years with Dallas — no better illustrated than with this buzzer-beating 3 vs. the Spurs.

For me, the new preview of The Roots’ upcoming albumAnd Then You Shot Your Cousin, is the representation of Vinsanity. There’s still a “Tomorrow” for his career, and that of the Dirk-led Mavs, as the song is defined by Raheem DeVaughn’s vocals and a minimalist production that I liken to Vince accepting his role as a streaky scorer and spread-the-floor 3 point shooter. Though I’m not the biggest fan of the song, I appreciate the message and it still got me excited for The Roots’ upcoming album. And though there’s a “Tomorrow” for VC in Dallas, I’m excited for the chance he comes “home” to Toronto, haa!

Spurs defeat Mavs in 7 games
Mint Lab Astronauts “Conquest”

It was a conquest in every sense of the word. The Spurs were pushed to 7 games from the #8 seed Mavs who were certainly not an 8 seed in any sense of the definition. Though the Spurs didn’t look dominant, it was more a testament to how good the Mavs and Coach Rick Carlisle were. It wasn’t until Game 7 that the Spurs brought down the hammer and won with relative ease, reminding the rest of the Western Conference why they’re in this position this time every year. And as the Spurs silently proceed to the next round, once again, I apply the mantra of pak.one’s closing line below. Probably because I still believe they’ll be “making quantum leaps” towards a championship (on their way to a win over the Blazers that’ll go 6 games, max. Look out for Tiago on LMA.)

Fuck your power moves, we making quantum leaps!

Kevin Durant
DJ Khaled “They Don’t Love You No More” f/ Jay Z, Meek Mill, Rick Ross, & French Montana

As cool, calm, and collected as Kevin Durant is, you know how much that “Mr. Unreliable” headline in his hometown paper set him off right? Back-to-back 30 point games. So, what better and more timely motto to describe KD than the aggressive new DJ Khaled anthem that doubles as his first collaboration with Jay Z? Let’s just hope KD is more potent than Jay Z is by sub-dissing Drake as “soft as a lacrosse team” (which isn’t that soft actually… all the lacrosse dudes in high school were super bigger than me.)

I actually think KD will be on his A-game. Anyone not named Tony Allen will feel like a relief to him, even the tough Matt Barnes. In probably the most 50/50 series of the second round, I take OKC at home in Game 7 to combat an ailing Chris Paul-led Clippers team.


Makes this 4-point play… two days later… called “Mr. Unreliable”.

Runner-Up for “They Don’t Love You No More”: This Warriors fan.

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Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers
Kid Cudi “Hero” f/ Skylar Grey

No doubt the biggest story of the NBA Playoffs this year was unfortunately not the amazing round 1 of games. It was Donald Sterling’s racist remarks and subsequent lifetime ban from the NBA. I’m not here to pile on the breadth of takes you’ve either willfully or forcefully been consumed during the past week-plus. Instead, I’m here to applaud Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers for handling the situation with ongoing grace and toughness, exuded in their interviews with the press and even more clearly, in a tough Game 7 battle against the relentless, undermanned Warriors.

“I just thought this team really needed the game,” Rivers said. “I just wanted us to win the game. Not because of not winning last year, I just thought with all this stuff, this team just needed a win. My excitement was not for me at all, it was for everybody. I wanted the fans to get excited. They were almost sitting there in shock, and I just wanted them to get excited and exhale for a second.”

- From ESPN LA’s column on Doc & the Clips’ exhale

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Excited, Doc Rivers was. But flat out, this moment was awesome. And to Rivers and the Clips goes my favorite song of the past two months — Kid Cudi’s new collaboration with Skylar Grey “Hero”. Of course, the term hero gets tossed around quite a lot. I’m not going to go that direction with this comparison; instead, the depth of the song is what I think embodies the Clips.

“Hero” is about recognizing solitude, the journey, and an uncertain future, and then rising above the fear to proceed into that uncertain future. Skylar Grey’s amazingly powerful entrance halfway through the song is what propels that “rising above” and the song’s paralleled moment to the Clippers’ journey was Commissioner Silver’s emphatic stance to remove their owner. As Blake Griffin says, “There’s not a team that has gone through this.” We can all imagine just how taxing the uncertainty of the ongoing controversy was for the players and Clippers employees. Game 7 was a win that personified the resilience of the situation — and I feel like the high ratings were a testament to the casual fan rooting for the Clippers to root for triumph over adversity, and that same “rising above” feeling I get from the song. Kudos to the Clippers and their true leader, not the man who owned the team, but head coach Doc Rivers.

Warriors vs. Clippers
Jimmy Fallon vs. Emma Stone in a Lip Sync Battle

On a lighter note, the Warriors vs. the Clippers was like Jimmy Fallon vs. Emma Stone!

In case you missed the latest in a fantastic series of lip sync battles on Fallon’s Tonight Show, press play above. Even if you don’t like or really care for either, you may gain some new respect for them for the fun, and amazing performances they put forth.

It’s funny though, as I was watching Fallon vs. Stone, you knew Fallon was going to take the backseat and present Emma Stone the winner (even though Emma Stone’s “All I Can Do Is Win” was the weakest of the four total lip syncs, IMO). So I’m watching that from the start, thinking Stone’s going to win… just like I’m watching this Warriors/Clippers series from the start thinking the Clippers are going to win. Even when Game 7 hung in the balance in the last two minutes.

Why? The Warriors simply missed their best defender and only true center to combat DeAndre Jordan & Blake Griffin in Andrew Bogut. Especially in Game 7 as DeAndre and Blake went wild, also literally, as Blake even somersaulted.

One more time for Steph Curry though, we’re all going to miss Steph Curry NBA Jam Mode in the Playoffs. The Warriors run was too short; they just unfortunately ran into this fun and quality Clippers team.

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All of Steph Curry’s 5 1st-quarter 3s in Game 4.

Steph Curry counts to 4 for the 14th 4-point play in total for the NBA Playoffs.

Steph Curry counts to 4 for the 14th 4-point play in total for the NBA Playoffs.

Indiana Pacers
Lykke Li & A$AP Rocky “No Rest for the Wicked”

C’mon, you chuckled a little. “No Rest for the Wicked”, as the Pacers have certainly been depicted by the media and past NBA legends as “wicked” for their fascinating demise over the past couple of months. The Pacers will receive no rest after their Game 7 series against the Hawks (which unfortunately didn’t culminate in Pero Antic honoring a Dikembe) as they begin their second round series with the Wizards tonight.

Sadly, we only have this moment as a (bad) Photoshop

Sadly, we only have this moment as a (bad) Photoshop

The song itself is really about, as our own Lisa Lei put it, “why love fucking sucks sometimes.” so the comparison doesn’t fully connect beyond the song title. I just wanted to have a laugh and also find a way to point out A$AP’s quality feature on this. More on the Pacers in a sec…

Washington Wizards
Lewis Allen “Bruce Wayne”

Round 1 was a coming out party for the Washington Wizards — a well-balanced team featuring the young, Jalen Rose-coined “Hustle & Flow” backcourt of John Wall & Bradley Beal and veterans like Nene, Marcin Gortat, Trevor Ariza, and Andre Miller. Further amped by Gortat quoting 300 before games, the Wizards made quick work of the Bulls in five games. Even as a big of a Bulls fan that I am, it was clear who the better team was.

Later tonight, the Wizards have a chance to upset the #1 seed Pacers and on paper, the matchup can certainly go either way. Can the Wizards make their superhero jump as one of the NBA’s best up and coming teams with a series win over Indiana? Perhaps a “Bruce Wayne” jump?

Another artist I think is prime to make a jump is one that may not (yet) receiving the buzz or accolades of Artist X, but one that we’ve followed since his last rap name that wasn’t named Lewis Allen. “Bruce Wayne” is an example of Lewis, dark, brooding style and where he stands apart is through his artistic visuals. Press play and maybe you’ll get some positive 2013 Kanye vibes like I do.

And this isn’t even the most impressive visual from the young New Jersey artist. His new album, Black Autumn 1993, is delivered in a true visual experience in graphic novel fashion. You don’t see many artists anywhere put forth such depth and visuals into their project so for that reason alone, you should check it out. It’s free too, so really… click.

But back to the series, how can one pick the Pacers after their showing against the Hawks? That had to be the weakest a #1 seed has looked, yet still won. The Wizards aren’t a below .500 team relying on 3 pointers for victory. I like the chances of the Wiz (in 6), like I like the chances of Lewis Allen.

Chicago Bulls
Justin Timberlake “Not A Bad Thing”

I know avid-JT fan Nillz of @TheBullsShow approves of this pick — what I didn’t realize was JT’s sweet and sappy new single until I, for once, was browsing radio stations this weekend. I approved of the music video when it dropped, a creative take and suddenly captivating story of tracking down a couple. Now I can’t help but smile more at this comparison when JT’s “It’s not a bad thing to fall in love with me” repeats on the chorus. After all, this Bulls team once again embodied the hard-working spirit of Chicago, behind players like the DPOY Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Jimmy Butler and even though our title chances went out the window when Derrick Rose unfortunately went down for the season, the team rose (no pun intended) to a universally surprising 48 wins. Plus, there’s reason to be optimistic this offseason! I’ll let today’s Bulls Show take it from there…

Paul Pierce
The Boy Illinois “Dress Accordingly”

Keeping with the Chicago theme, it’s actually a little bit odd I chose a song from one of our city’s brightest up and comers to personify the play of one of our rivals: Paul Pierce. But “Dress Accordingly” really fits (sorry, no pun intended again) because, quite simply, Pierce is doing the remix in Brooklyn like Boy Illinois is providing the best remix I’ve heard of Schoolboy Q’s “Man of the Year”. It’s Pierce’s clutch play that stands out: yesterday’s Game 7 clinching block with a second to go, and “That’s why they got me here!” narrowly topping Damian Lillard’s reaction as the swaggiest clutch reaction of the Playoffs.

And now we get to see Pierce and Garnett go against LeBron and the Heat one more time… no complaints here. Actually, wait! This means no Drake and Drake’s lint roller in South Beach.

The GIF of the Playoffs?!

The GIF of the Playoffs?!

Or wait… maybe it does?

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Miami sweeps Charlotte
Kanye West listens to aspiring rapper freestyle

This video came out today just in time to make my 1st Round soundtrack (I know, you’re all so proud). I guess you can call it a track as TMZ cameras captured a young, aspiring rapper walking and freestyling next to Kanye & Kim as the two were about ready to call it a night at their SoHo apartment complex. And no, Kanye didn’t treat the kid. He actually held up at the door and let him finish freestyling. Perhaps this is the next Big Sean? Props to the kid who seemed like he could kick a good flow and some nice bars, especially in the heat of the moment: rapping and walking alongside Kanye West, perhaps knowing at any second Kanye could interrupt him and tell him to be gone. And props to Kanye for hearin’ ‘em out. For once, I’m happy the TMZ cameras were there to capture this undoubtedly cool moment.

…A moment that perfectly represents the Heat’s sweep of the upstart Bobcats-now-Hornets, especially the moment when Kanye tells the kid, “I’m about to go get some sleep.” Ha!

The well-rested Heat begin their second round series against Brooklyn tomorrow night and the stage is set for LeBron and KG/Pierce to renew their rivalry, especially after the Nets took all four of their matchups in the regular season. Of course, that doesn’t mean much now (we’re Bulls fans here, remember) and I expect the Heat to come out of the gate playing up to their competition. It won’t be easy, but I like the Heat in 6 with LeBron and Wade delivering a couple “remember me?” performances that will have the media talking about the Heat as title winners again. And isn’t that strange, by the way? That, the Heat and LeBron have become a forgotten story? I’m sure they’re thanking all of the above moments for not adding any pressure to their three-peat run. I sure am thankful too, but for different reasons.