Halfway through the second round of the NBA Playoffs, it seems like a lock that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet one more time in the Finals to complete the trilogy.
The Cavs completed their second sweep of the Playoffs with their 11th consecutive post-season win over Toronto on Monday. While the Warriors on the other hand closed out their series with yet another wire-to-wire victory on Tuesday.
The two-remaining series – Boston vs Washington, tied 2-2, and San Antonio vs Houston, Spurs lead 3-2, will likely go the distance, giving their future opponents a one week rest before the Conference Finals.
Cleveland Completes Second Sweep
The Cavs had the Raptors number from the first quarter of Game 1 when LeBron James and Kyrie Irving combined for an All-Star Game quality alley-oop off the backboard. After that, a barrage of threes throughout the series left Toronto in the dust.
Cleveland made 34 more three-pointers than Toronto, with James being especially efficient from deep by shooting 48% from beyond the arc. Kyrie was fantastic too as he and LeBron combined to score or assist on 92 of Cleveland’s 109 points in Game 4. The manner in which Cleveland is playing, a 7-day rest heading into the Eastern Conference Finals makes them an extremely dangerous prospect for either Boston or Washington.
The Raptors were without point guard Kyle Lowry for the last two games after he went down with a sprained ankle, making it difficult for the Raptors to stop Irving, who had 27 points and nine assists in the series-clincher. DeMar DeRozan was valiant in defeat, scoring 37 and 22 in the last two games, one of the few highlights for the Raptors.
In the last couple of seasons Toronto’s front office has made moves, such as adding Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker. These inclusions appear to be tailor-made for competing with the Cavs. But after being eliminated by Cleveland for the second-straight season, a round earlier and without taking a game, no less, you have to wonder how much further this squad can go.
Warriors Keep On Rolling
The Warriors were completely dominant in their sweep over the Jazz, winning every game by double-digits with the scoring being shared amongst the team’s starters, causing the Jazz problems at every position. Even when the Splash Brothers, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, are ice cold like they were in Game 3, going a combined 7-29 from the field, the Jazz could only watch as Kevin Durant took over, dropping 38 points on 57.7% shooting along with 13 rebounds.
The Warriors closed out the series with their 121-95 win Tuesday and the Jazz could do nothing but watch as the Warriors shot 42% from deep. Curry scored 30 points and Draymond Green posted a triple-double of 17 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. Now Golden State have a week to rest and recuperate before facing either the Rockets or Spurs, who are likely to be coming off the back of a seven-game series.
The Jazz tried their utmost to stay with the Warriors but struggled immensely. Taking their first lead in the series late in the second quarter of Game 3, going wire-towire in consecutive fixtures ultimately cost them in Game 4 to end their campaign. Gordon Hayward did his best to keep the Jazz in it with 33 and 29 in Games 2 and 3, respectively, and 25 points in Game 4 on just 8-21 shooting.
The loss of George Hill, who had been out with a toe injury that has given him trouble all season, was crucial as his replacement. Shelvin Mack looked out of his depth until an 18-point performance in Game 4 but by that point, it was too little too late. Most of the conversation surrounding the Jazz in the off-season will surround the destination of Gordon Hayward, as he has a player option for one year in Salt Lake City but could choose to opt out and move to a contender. Many teams will be circling the young forward.
The Rockets and Spurs are going at it like heavyweights. Trading haymaker for haymaker. The Spurs hold a narrow 3-2 lead as each game has been decided by a large margin until Game 5, which the Spurs won in overtime.
The key to Houston’s wins in Game 1 and 4 was their three-point shooting. Going for 44% a clip in both fixtures, the Spurs were unable to contend with the Rockets spacing and depth of sharpshooters. James Harden has starred night after night, picking up double-doubles in three games including a 33-point triple-double in their Game 5 overtime loss, and dropping 43 points in the only game he didn’t, a losing Game 3 effort.
Nene played just two minutes in Game 4 before injuring his groin, ruling him out for the rest of the Playoffs and throwing a spanner into the Rockets’ frontcourt rotation as they lose one of their best rim protectors and now the responsibility falls on Ryan Anderson to defend the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol.
The Spurs took Games 2 and 3 mostly due to their defence as they were able to hold Houston under 100 points in on the bounce. Kawhi Leonard has been carrying the offence for San Antonio, leading the team in each of the first three. The rest of the load has been evenly spread, with big contributions coming from Aldridge, Jonathon Simmons and Tony Parker. Prior to the latter’s quad injury in Game 2, he had started to look like the Tony Parker of old. Now with the veteran out for the rest of the Playoffs, it’s up to Mills to take the reins against one of the most lethal backcourts in the NBA.
Fortunately for the franchise, he stepped up in the Spurs Game 5 overtime win. Starting for the first time in the Playoffs, Mills had 20 points and some great hustle plays late, winning the ball back. Manu Ginobili found some of his old form, replacing Kawhi Leonard who sat out the end of regulation and the entire overtime period after tweaking his ankle in the third quarter, with a couple big shots, a dunk (!!!), and a game-winning block on James Harden at the overtime buzzer.
Boston and Washington Scrapping It Out
The Celtics and Wizards are in the midst of the most entertaining series of the Playoffs thus far, with physicality reminiscent of the early 90s. The bad blood between the two teams started earlier in the season, needing to be kept apart as a precautionary measure after an especially heated encounter in January, followed by the Wizards arriving to their next meeting with the Celtics dressed in all black for the “funeral game”. The rivalry reached a crescendo in Game 3 after an illegal screen from Kelly Olynyk on Kelly Oubre Jr. resulted in Oubre’s ejection for his reaction and along with seven more technical fouls and two ejections.
Despite having to deal with the passing of his sister and multiple dental procedures after losing a tooth in Game 1, Isaiah Thomas has been monumental for Boston. His career-high 53 points in Game 2’s overtime win would be the highlight. In their defeats however, he was held to just 13 and 19 points in Game 3 and Game 4, respectively.
The Celtics two victories have seen solid contributions from the likes of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Al Horford but they have gone missing at times during their two road losses. Horford was the only starter other than Thomas to post double-digit scoring in their 19-point Game 4 loss. The Celtics need Thomas’ supporting cast to contribute more consistently if they’re to move on to the Conference finals.
The Wizards backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal have combined to trouble the Celtics, with Wall averaging 27.8 points per game for the series, including 40 points in their Game 2 loss. Beal has stepped up in timely situations, leading Washington in scoring with 29 points in their Game 4 win.
They have enjoyed solid contributions from the rest of the squad, with Otto Porter Jr, Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Bojan Bogdanovic each stepping up when called upon. They key to Washington’s wins have been getting the ball down low, controlling the paint and winning the rebounding battle against an undersized Celtics team. In their Game 3 and 4 wins, the Wizards had 25 more rebounds and 46 more points in the paint combined. They will likely look to continue to take advantage of their size and get the ball inside in Game 5 on Thursday.