Celtics, Hawks in Game 1 tonight
Between Kobe Bryant's last call and the Warriors' last win, the final night of the NBA season was party time.
Now, time to get down to business.
Overshadowed by the delirium of a memorable night in California, the postseason field was finally set after six of the eight matchups still weren't determined when play began.
Houston earned the only postseason spot that was available with a 116-81 victory over Sacramento, giving the Rockets the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, a playoff rematch with record-setting Golden State, and officially making Bryant's final game nothing more than a ceremony.
Utah would have finished eighth with a Rockets loss and a victory over the Lakers in Los Angeles, but the Jazz lost anyway when Bryant scored 60 points in a scintillating final performance before retirement.
So, goodbye Kobe.
Let's focus on the teams that will still be playing when the postseason opens with four games Saturday and four more Sunday.
No. 1 GOLDEN STATE (73-9) vs. No. 8 HOUSTON (41-41).
Houston earned a second shot at Golden State, a year after losing in five games to the eventual NBA champions in the Western Conference finals.
The Rockets then fired coach Kevin McHale early in a turbulent season, but regrouped and won their final three games to get the matchup against record-setting Stephen Curry and the winningest team in NBA history.
"We ... sat here at the beginning of the year thinking the playoffs wouldn't have been this big of a struggle, so we had expectations of making the playoffs," Rockets coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. "So, now we have to get busy."
No. 2 SAN ANTONIO (67-15) vs. No. 7 MEMPHIS (42-40).
The Grizzlies looked like they could finish fifth even after the crushing injuries to Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, but a four-game losing streak to end the season dropped them down to seventh and a much-tougher matchup with the Spurs.
Not an impossible, one. The Grizzlies beat even longer odds to oust the Spurs five years ago, when the Spurs were the No. 1 seed in the West and eighth-seeded Memphis stunned them in the opening round.
No. 3 OKLAHOMA CITY (55-27) vs. No. 6 DALLAS (42-40).
The Mavericks had a chance to finish fifth headed to the final night of the regular season but will settle for sixth after they could have dropped all the way to seventh. But they were spared another postseason matchup with the Spurs with the Grizzlies' loss at Golden State.
"All of the teams up there are incredibly good," the Mavs' Dirk Nowitzki said. "It's going to be an uphill battle whoever we face. But we're going to sure try, battle like we did the last few weeks and see what happens."
No. 4 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (53-29) vs. No. 5 PORTLAND (44-38).
Two of the hottest teams in the NBA heading to their first-round matchup, and the Clippers would have come in on an even bigger roll had they needed their game in Phoenix on Wednesday.
They didn't, so they left the stars home in a loss that snapped their six-game winning streak. Still, they won 10 of 12 games heading into the postseason.
"We were just having fun," the Clippers' Austin Rivers said. "Everybody was smiling and laughing. We deserve it. We had a good season. Now the season really starts."
No. 1 CLEVELAND (57-25) vs. No. 8 DETROIT (44-38).
The Pistons will start their first postseason since 2009 in the same place they ended the regular season. Detroit beat Cleveland 112-110 in overtime on Wednesday and won two of three meetings during the regular season.
Nothing could be taken from Wednesday, though, since LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out, as did key Pistons. Detroit won another matchup when Irving was recovering from injury.
"It's not enough of a sample size to say, 'Wow, why did you have so much success?"' Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We won two out of three. It's not like we won 20 out of 30."
No. 2 TORONTO (56-26) vs. No. 7 INDIANA (45-37).
The Raptors went 3-1 against the Pacers during their best regular season in franchise history, though Toronto coach Dwane Casey remembers that "they spanked us really good at their place," referring to a Pacers rout in December, and called Monta Ellis a "human scoring machine."
"So we have our work cut for us," Casey said. "I think it'll be an exciting series from both sides. I think we're prepared, they're prepared, so it's going to be an exciting series."
No. 3 MIAMI (48-34) vs. No. 6 CHARLOTTE (48-34).
The Heat ended up taking a detour to what looked like a simple path to the No. 3 seed.
Miami was cruising toward a victory in Boston, but the Heat were limited to five points in the third quarter and blew a 26-point lead in a 98-88 loss. Still, they finished third anyway by winning a four-way tiebreaker when Atlanta fell to Washington.
"Everything works in mysterious ways," Miami's Dwyane Wade said. "We ended up with the third seed and we're at home, but that guarantees nothing."
No. 4 ATLANTA (48-34) vs. No. 5 BOSTON (48-34).
The Hawks were one of the big losers of the final week of the regular season, dropping their final two games to fall out of the No. 3 seed. Boston joined the two other teams that tied them with its rally from 26 points to beat Miami 98-88.
"When you find out how that (Heat-Celtics) game went, I think it's natural to (think that) you could be the '3.' But I don't think it's something to dwell on or spend much time on," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I think it's time to kind of get ready for this weekend."
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