Celtics, Wizards, Raps and Cavs Move On: NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Recap and Round 2 Preview
The NBA’s first round matchups from the Eastern Conference have officially been settled. Naturally, this would pose a good time to reflect on what transpired and look ahead to the next round. The most predictable first round playoffs in major professional sport turned out as predictable as always. This time around each higher seed in the Eastern Conference moved on. Fortunately for us, these results didn’t come without some intrigue or interesting plotlines. Let’s get right into it:
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Chicago Bulls: 4-2 Celtics
This series felt like two completely different matchups in one. Early on, the Bulls were in the driver’s seat; Rajon Rondo was playing like throwback Celtics Rondo, and the #1 seed Celtics found themselves in a concerning 0-2 hole. Where this series took its turn is when the Bulls lost Rondo to a hand injury after game two, and that’s ultimately what did them in. The point guard options of Jerian Grant, Isaiah Canaan and Michael Carter-Williams, and even a little bit of old-man Dwyane Wade, aren’t exactly ideal in any situation. The Bulls just couldn’t manage to play enough efficient basketball without Rondo on the offensive end, exemplified by their team offensive ratings with Rondo (117.6) and without Rondo (100.0).
But you have to give the Celtics some credit, they got the job done and are marching forward following their “Newfie sweep” of the Bulls.
Of Note: You have to have a soft spot for Isaiah Thomas. The All-Star is leading his team to the next round following the tragic passing of his younger sister during the first round. Pretty inspirational stuff.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Indiana Pacers: 4-0 Cavaliers
Let’s get this straight: this may have been a sweep, but Paul George and the Pacers gave the Cavs a pretty big push in this series. The unfortunate issue for the Pacers (and essentially the entire NBA) is there’s this LeBron James guy…and he’s ridiculous. I was quite impressed by the Pacers though; they kept all four games within six points while displaying a well balanced offensive attack with five players averaging double-digit points during the series. But these Cavs are the champs. If you’re the #7 seed Pacers and coughing up a 25-point halftime lead (an NBA playoff record melt down), you probably aren’t going to find a way to win; let alone four times. The result of this series is what everyone expected, but the Pacers managed to make the Cavs look human.
Of Note: Following the Pacers 1-point loss in game 1 Paul George voiced his displeasure regarding C.J. Miles taking the potential game-winning shot. George was quoted in saying, “C.J. took it upon himself…in a situation like that, I’ve gotta get that”. Alright Paul, we get it, you’re good. But you’re actually the one that passed the ball to him. Soooo, Miles is open with 4 seconds left, what do you expect to happen?
(3) Toronto Raptors vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks: 4-2 Raptors
Well, this series was a little rockier than I thought it would be. But who am I kidding, these are the playoff Toronto Raptors. Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell (.743 True Shooting % !!) really gave this offense the support it needed in order to scrape out wins. The real turning point in this series was the decision to move Powell into the starting lineup and putting Jonas Valanciunas on the bench. It’ll be interesting to see how JV is utilized in the next round. The Bucks are clearly a solid young team who displayed their incredible length and versatility and just never seemed to be out of a game. Oh, and if I was ever in a life or death situation where someone would have to hit a three to keep me alive, I hope it’s Round 1 Tony Snell. That dude was money. Anyways, the Raptors at times looked like they had no business beating these young Bucks (pun intended), but the bottomline is, after that game 3 loss they haven’t looked back (Get it? Looked “back”? Because Kyle Lowry’s “back” is hurt and is always banged up in the playoffs? hahah…sh*t). Well, at least it was Raps in 6. Isn’t that right Bucks fans? http://rapsin6.com/ The offseason is that way ——>
Of Note: While this series was playing out, young Raptors Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Bruno Caboclo (I lost track of how many years away he is) were putting in work with the D-League Raptors 905. They took home the championship over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, with Siakam earning the finals MVP. Definitely encouraging.
(4) Washington Wizards vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks: 4-2 Wizards
This series was all about the guards. Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal stole the show, especially when it counted. This series had also seen some home court dominance as the first five games were won by the host teams. But, in a close out game on Atlanta’s home floor, the Wall/Beal backcourt duo showed why they deserve some love as best backcourt in the NBA by combining for a whopping 73 points. Atlanta’s point guard, Dennis Schroder, also deserves a shout out. He certainly did not back down from the intimidating challenge of facing John Wall and managed to emerge as a leader on the Hawks. By the way, Paul Millsap was great too. That guy doesn’t get enough love.
Of Note: In a post game press conference during this series, John Wall was asked if the Hawks and Wizards were developing a rivalry and he quickly laughed at the thought. His Instagram response to the Wizards’ elimination of the Hawks may suggest otherwise, especially considering what Dennis Schroder posted back in 2015.
Preview and Predictions
(1) Boston Celtics vs. (4) Washington Wizards (Season Series: 2-2)
I smell an upset. The Celtics are one of the weaker #1 seeds in recent years and I don’t know if they have the personnel to contain both John Wall and Bradley Beal. This is especially true considering that Isaiah Thomas, one the worst defensive point guards in the NBA (-3.4 DBPM), will be tasked with guarding one of them.
Wizards – Otto Porter: Porter was fairly quiet in the first round in the points category averaging nearly four points less than his regular season output. Wall and Beal will be looking to draw Celtics defenders and attack the basket, which will leave Porter with a good chance for open looks this series. He was a lethal three point shooter in the regular season (43.4%), so if he’s knocking them down, the Wiz are in good shape.
Celtics – Al Horford: Big Al is the most skilled big man in this series and it’s imperative for him to make his presence felt. His ability to space the floor and pass is key. He needs to be there for offensive support and to take advantage of his matchups against a thin Wizards big man core. The Celtics have to be hoping he causes some issues for Gortat and the boys.
Prediction: Wizards 4-2
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Toronto Raptors (Season Series: 3-1 Cavs)
Listen, I know the Raptors pushed the Cavs to 6 games last year and that they have the “best team they’ve ever assembled” this season after the trade deadline acquisitions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. But I just can’t see them pushing the Cavs further than they did last year. LeBron James makes the finals every year, just accept it. I certainly have. It pains me to say, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an entertaining series. The Raptors have executed their plan perfectly in order to set themselves up for their best shot at the champs. Time to give ‘em hell.
Cavaliers – Let’s go with Kevin Love. The third scoring option for a team in this league is always a very important piece. If he can get hot and knock down his shots, the Raps are in deep trouble. He will have a bit of a different task defensively this series in comparison to last year with the potential matchup of him guarding Serge Ibaka. It’ll be important to the Cavs for him to hold his own on the defensive end.
Raptors – Patrick Patterson/P.J. Tucker/DeMarre Carroll: You can’t stop him, but you can try and limit him. These are of course the likely candidates that will at one point or another be faced with the daunting task of having to guard King James. DeMarre Carroll struggled with this last season (but who wouldn’t), and this is the main reason that a guy like P.J. Tucker was brought in. It’ll be interesting to see the schemes Coach Dwane Casey uses on defense.
Prediction: Cavs 4-2