NBA Playoffs: Conference Finals – A Little Preview
Hey, for the third time!
So we’re pretty much one round away from Cavs-Warriors III. Both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors acted like Josh Brolin and treated their respective second round opponents like George Clooney to recreate that one scene from Hail, Caesar! With Golden State and Cleveland’s respective dominance, the lack of competition and unpredictability has contributed to a rather boring postseason overall.
Thankfully, we were still able to get a bit more from the other two series thanks to the overtime classic between the Wizards-Celtics in Game 2 (where Isaiah Thomas went nuclear with 53 points) and Game 5 between the Rockets-Spurs that went down to the final minute (where Manu GINOBILIII!!!! drank from the fountain of youth).
Now we’re down to the top 2 seeds of each conference dueling it out for a Finals berth, and we’ll talk about how things should play out. But before we do that, let’s look back at the teams that have fallen in Round 2.
Toronto Raptors: Masai Ujiri, president of the team, was able to acquire via trade two seasoned, defensive-minded players in Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker that could either help them get over the hump against Cleveland or battle them more effectively. The Raptors ended up getting swept. They did lose Kyle Lowry, their All-Star point guard, for games 3 and 4, but I doubt that even with Lowry healthy they would’ve stood a chance considering the way Cleveland was so dominant and Toronto was so disappointing.
I thought this series would make it to 6 games, similar to last year, but the Raptors weren’t up to par, and their iso-offence was too easy to see coming and was therefore neutralized. This embarrassing loss will arguably lead to the franchise’s most important offseason. With Lowry being a 31-year-old free agent with a history of getting hurt and not playing well in the playoffs, do you bring him back with a max-contract? Do you fire head coach, Dwane Casey, even though he’s had back-to-back 50-win campaigns but has led an unimaginative offense? Do you blow the team up, even though you have DeMar DeRozan who just signed a huge contract last year and doesn’t appear willing to go backward? Do you bring the whole gang back and remain in stasis? Ujiri has those questions, and a few more, to answer regarding this franchise.
Utah Jazz: Speaking of getting swept, even though the Jazz got walloped by the Warriors, their future is brighter than the Raptors. I was completely wrong as I had the Jazz pushing the Warriors to at least six games since I thought their stout defense and egalitarian offense would be a challenge. Turns out I forgot how terrifying Golden State + Kevin Durant truly is.
The Jazz are different from the Raps since they won 51 games, made back into the playoffs after years of being out, and won their first playoff series since 2010. Plus they have a system in place, an identity to bestow, a respected coach on top of one of the deeper teams containing promising, young talent. The problem is that they have some free agency questions to answer, chief among them being Gordon Hayward, their first-time All-Star, probably bolting to another team. Hayward’s in a good position as he’ll be coveted by contenders and teams flush with cash, but he can also stay with an up-and-coming team in Salt Lake City.
Washington Wizards: The Wiz fell short to the number 1 seeded Boston Celtics in the second round’s lone 7-game series. Their star backcourt, consisting of All-Star John Wall and Bradley Beal, did what they could to take their team over the top, but their coach’s questionable decisions and their lack of bench production were their downfalls as they couldn’t keep up with the Celtics’ depth and tough play.
The Wizards are in a weird position because while they possess one of the league’s best backcourts, they don’t necessarily have the assets to improve their team to make themselves a true contender. They’ll simply have to bank on internal improvement and good injury luck to keep up with Boston and Cleveland for the foreseeable future.
Houston Rockets: I thought Houston’s shooting would eventually overwhelm San Antonio, but like a dumbass, I underestimated Gregg Popovic’s peerless ability to adjust from game to game and prepare his team to outplay their opponent. I mean, he’s only been doing this for 20 fucking years. Come on, W…
I’ll just say that the Rockets’ showing in Game 6 was one of the most humiliating of the century, not just because it seemed like they quit from the opening tip, but because the Spurs were without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker, two of their best players, due to injury. And they were playing at home! And they lost by 39 points!! James Harden has to either have a spirited playoff run or win the championship, because he may never live this down.
It doesn’t matter if he flirts with a triple-double throughout the 2017-18 season, people will be asking if he’ll perform at an MVP-level night in and night out when May rolls around.
All right enough with the losers. On to the third round.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Boston Celtics (1) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (2)
Beantown has to be in a tizzy right now. On Monday they clinched their first conference finals berth since 2012, on Tuesday they won the NBA Draft Lottery, and on Wednesday they’ll be hosting Game 1 of said conference finals. Also, don’t be surprised to see the Celts steal the first game from the Cavs as they’re brimming with confidence and they’re going against a Cavaliers team coming off of 9 days of rest.
It’s weird to say that the first-seeded Celtics could “steal” a game ON THEIR OWN FLOOR, but that’s how it goes when you’re facing off against LeBron James, who’s on the cusp of maybe going to his 7th straight Finals appearance. A well rested, fresh and motivated James is a nightmare for all, and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens will use everything at his disposal to dethrone the King.
Nobody can stop LeBron, but at least the Celts have guys like Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown they can throw at him to try and slow LeBron down. Avery Bradley will be on Kyrie Irving duty, and he’s more than capable for the job as he’s one of the league’s better perimeter defenders. The Celtics will have to put a big body on Kevin Love, because if they go small with Crowder or Gerald Green at the 4, Love and the Cavs will exploit that matchup as they’ve done before in these playoffs.
Boston seems to have gotten better in the last month, but they don’t bring that A+ effort every game. It’s hard, but that’s what it’s going to take to defeat Cleveland. I believe the Cavaliers will take the Celtics more seriously than their previous opponent, but I’m pretty sure they feel they’re way better than Boston. The Celtics will compete and play the Cavaliers tough, but they sadly don’t stand much of a chance. Maybe Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball will help next year.
Cavaliers in 5.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Golden State Warriors (1) vs. San Antonio Spurs (2)
Watching the Spurs burst out of the gates in Game 1 to take a 20-point lead at Oracle Arena against the Warriors was not only remarkable, but it made you think even for a split second,”Could the Spurs realistically win this series if they steal this game??” And then, Zaza Pachulia stepped under Kawhi Leonard — who was torching the Dubs with 26 points on 7-13 shooting from the field and 11-11 from the free throw line — and Leonard sprained his ankle. The very same ankle he sprained a minute before Pachulia’s contest and the same ankle sprain that forced him out of Game 6 of the previous round.
The Warriors came back because no lead is safe and then Steph Curry turned into Chef Curry in the 3rd quarter, then Kevin Durant basically into “FINISH HIM!” mode in the closing quarter. (Again, THE WARRIORS HAVE STEPH CURRY AND KEVIN DURANT ON THE SAME DAMN TEAM!!) Then in Game 2, the Warriors blew the Spurs out to no one’s surprise as San Antonio were missing their best player, Kawhi Leonard.
The sad thing is that it would’ve been much harder for Golden State to complete their Game 1 comeback had Leonard never been injured. The Spurs caught the Dubs off guard, jumped on their throats early, and were en route to an impressive victory. In Game 2, it’s like you could tell from San Antonio’s body language that they knew they had no chance of winning.
The Warriors are the favorite because they’re that scary and that good, but it would’ve been a much more interesting series if Kawhi never went down as it appeared the Golden State had no answer for him and Kawhi was playing with supreme confidence. The Spurs might get a game because Coach Popovich is that good, but the Dubs’ antennas are up now. They’ve shaken off the rust and are ready to take care of business.
Warriors in 5.
Enjoy the conference finals!
written by The W