The second round is over. Left in the conference finals are the teams that most people thought would be there at the beginning of the 2017-18 season. Of course, that was before the Celtics lost Hayward and Kyrie and before the Cavs were a four-seed that traded away expected All-Star Isaiah Thomas. But here we are. Before we get into a second round recap and a conference Finals preview, let’s take a look at where evryone stand in the Big Shot Bob Tourney.
What do we have here?
- First of all, Matt Kendall remains in first. And if both the Cavs and to Rockets win, then it might be impossible for anyone to catch him, regardless of who wins the Finals.
- On the other hand, we have some newcomers to to the top of the field in Jeff and Yioryos. They are neck and neck, and if the Warriors and Cavs meet in the Finals, the winner will come down to who correctly guessed the number of games.
- What about those Celtics–can anyone salvage their hopes by correctly guessing the Celtics advance to the Finals? The highest person with a Celtics ECF victory is Ben Lempert, but he’s too far behind for it to give him a chance.
- Finally, something I should have mentioned this last time when I showed the leaderboard: Jesse deserves credit for the clean leaderboard design that has the “look aheads” in the columns to the right. Where would I be without the Notorious JBG?
Onto the second round recap.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Raptors-Cavs: For the third straight year, these two teams met in the playoffs. For the third straight year, there was reason to believe–based on regular season performance–that the Raptors would compete with the Cavs. And for the third straight year, the Cavs prevailed in dominant fashion (it was the second consecutive sweep). Getting to the bottom of why the Cavs have the Raptors’ number–even in years like this one, where the Raptors are the supposed better team–is tricky. Some believe it’s an issue with mental toughness that falls on the Raptors’ star players Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Some believe it’s a function of “playoff LeBron” turning on his greatness after regular season complacency. Some believe it’s the fault of coach Dwane Casey, as evidence of him being sacked on Friday morning. What we do know: The Raptors lost two close games–the first at home in a Game 1 meltdown, when they went 3-18 from the field during the last four minutes of regulation and during OT, and the second when they lost on LeBron’s improbable buzzer-beater in Game 3. DeRozan couldn’t hit a three all series and was benched during the end of Game 3. Kevin Love came alive and the Cavs found a new lineup that works.
- Hero: LeBron James
- Goat: DeMar Derozan
Celtics-Sixers: The Sixers were the trendy pick. After all, they were coming off a dominant end to the regular season, a dominant first-round win over Miami, and Embiid was finally heathy. The Celtics were in the opposite situation, missing Hayward and Irving and coming off a grueling 7-game series in the first round against the Bucks. Left out of that analysis? What it means to have playoff heart and grit. The Celtics were somehow both feistier and calmer, never more evident in the closing sequence of regulation the Celtics’ Game 3 overtime win. After Game 1, where the C’s won by 16, and Game 2, where Ben Simmons has only 1-point, the Celtics’ victory seemed inevitable. Several close games could had tilted the Sixers’ way, but the Celtics’ wins weren’t mere luck; they were the result of better coaching and composure. Yes, the Sixers show worse than expected on their open threes, but the Celtics figured out how to guard Ben Simmons: Get on him early in transition and stick to his shooters. It’s no wonder Simmons, Redick, Covington, Ilyasova, and Belinelli had hellish series. On the Celtics’ side, Rozier, Horford, and Tatum continued to carry the team. Their consistent play, which seems invariant to defense or pressure, has been the feel-good story of the playoffs.
- Hero: Rozier, Horford, Tatum
- Goat: Ben Simmons
Western Conference Semifinals:
Rockets-Jazz: They say it’s not a series until the road team wins. Well, the Jazz stole Game 2 in Houston, but this was never a series, with the Rockets winning the other four games relatively easily. Utah was missing Ricky Rubio all series, who was out with a hamstring injury. While Rubio wasn’t even one of their top three players this year, he can be a difference maker on both ends of the floor. And the Jazz needed that kind of help, given that Rubio could help guard Paul/Harden and that he would relieve Mitchell and Ingles of playmaking duties. The Rockets right now have the a quality that I believe is the hallmark of great teams: they win easily even when it seems like they are playing badly. In some ways, the Trust The Process slogan applies to Houston as much as Philly, because whether or not their threes are falling, they come back for more. And eventually, they blow the game open. What else to make of this lopsided series devoid of close games? Well, first Donovan Mitchell will be a force for years to come. I mean, look at this play. Otherwise, the other storyline was Capela’s invigorated defense. The Suns are reportedly interested in making him a max offer. If he continues to protect the rim like this, then it’ll be worth it.
- Hero: Having three top-10 players…
- Goat: Not having three top-10 players…
Warriors-Pelicans: In what was the most star-powered series of the second round, the Warriors won handily in five games. Admittedly, I watched less of this series than any of the others, as it was often on late. Although no sane person picked the Pelicans to win, a number of people thought they’d put up more of a fight after a) the Pelicans’ first round sweep, b) Anthony Davis playing MVP-level basketball, and c) effects of Steph missing games or coming off injury. Sure enough, Anthony Davis continued his MVP-quality play; Jrue Holiday wasn’t shabby either. But then the Warriors go reminding you why they are one of the most dominant assemblies of talent in NBA history. The Dubs got blown out in Game 3 and Game 2 was close, but by and large this was the Golden State show. Having missed the entire playoffs through Game 1 due to injury, Curry returned in Game 2 and picked up where he left off with an easy 28 points in in 27 minutes. Otherwise, it was business as usual for the Warriors–KD was a flamethrower and Draymond averaged a triple-double. Klay was cold all series, but I’m not sure anyone even noticed.
- Hero: Kevin Durant, if forced choose
- Goat: The Pelicans’ supporting cast
Looking ahead to the Conference Finals
The Cavs face off against the Celtics, which means LeBron gets to go against one of the teams he’s faced off against the most in high-stakes basketball. Here are some of the questions I’m asking…
- Which Celtics will successfully guard LeBron? How much will Stevens choose to double-team him?
- Will Kevin Love be his all-star self? If not, will it be due to Al Horford shutting him down?
- Can “unproven” guys like Tatum, Rozier, and Brown continue to deliver as the stage gets bigger and brighter? Which Cavalier defenders will step up defensively to contain dribble penetration?
In the West, the Rockets and Warriors face off in what many see as the “real” NBA Finals, given that they’ve clearly been the best two teams all year. It’s a contrast in style, and it figures to be one of the best NBA series in years. Here are some things I’ll look out for…
- Between the irritant that is Chris Paul and their switchy style, can the Rockets successfully disrupt Curry?
- Both teams are unstoppable in transition–which team will take better care of the ball, thereby preventing transition baskets?
- The Rockets are comparatively predictable–what do they have up their sleeve if their isolationist style starts to fail them?
- Kerr started the “Hampton 5” lineup against the Pelicans. How much will he deploy his big men against the Rockets? Likewise, how much will Nene or Ryan Anderson play given the Warriors’ ability to run teams out of the building who play slow/unathletic bigs?
Who are your picks to win, both the playoffs and the BSB(R) tourney? Comment on the article or email us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and to like us on Facebook