The first round of the NBA playoffs is in the books and so far everything is status quo. If you read my NBA playoff preview article you will know that this is Cleveland’s conference to lose, and that hasn’t changed after the first round. All of the top four seeds in the East won their first round series. The first round of the NBA playoffs isn’t usually too dramatic when it comes to upsets. While it happens in the NHL every few years, there’s only been five instances where a #8 seed has beaten a #1 seed in the NBA. The second round of the playoffs is where the real action begins. Let’s take a look at the two Eastern Conference semifinals series to see how it will all shake out.
#1 Boston Celtics vs. #4 Washington Wizards
1st Round: Boston beat Chicago in 6 games, Washington beat Atlanta in 6 games.[the_ad id=”384″]No team has gone through more than Boston has in the last few weeks. On the eve of game one, Isaiah Thomas’ younger sister tragically passed away in a car crash. That devastating news hit Thomas and the Celtics hard. They were clearly affected by the tragedy and got beat in both games one and two at home. Brad Stevens knew something had to change as Amir Johnson in the starting lineup simply wasn’t working. Coach Stevens benched Johnson and inserted Gerald Green into the lineup. That change was huge and turned the series around 180 degrees. The Celtics won the next four games in dominating fashion and ended the series in game six with a 22 point win in Chicago.
During the series, Thomas said multiple times, “I’m not here mentally.” With the way, he’s played you wouldn’t be able to tell. Thomas averaged 23 PPG in the first round against Chicago. What he’s been able to do after losing a sibling is remarkable, but Thomas can’t do it on his own. Avery Bradley and Al Horford are going to have to continue to play at a high level to take some of the pressure off Thomas. Horford had a very productive series against Chicago averaging 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game. The Celtics need to keep running the offense through him to create open shots.
The Wizards were one of the few teams to have a consistent starting lineup this season. They’re lead by their star backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Each player averaged a career-high 23.1 PPG during the regular season and have combined for over 50 PPG so far in the playoffs. If the Wizards are going to win this series it will have to be on the strength of these two players, because their front court is uninspiring. The trio of Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat combined for less than 30 PPG in the first round against Atlanta. The Wizards’ bench is nothing special either, even after the trade deadline acquisition of Bojan Bogdanovic. If Wall or Beal struggle, this could end up being a short series.
Avery Bradley and Bradley Beal – With Thomas being a subpar defender, John Wall is going to get his. One of the keys for the Celtics is slowing down Washington’s other star guard Bradley Beal. Beal has become one of the best wing guards in the league and a potent threat from three-point range. He averaged career highs in points (23.1 per game), three-pointers (2.9 per game), and field goal percentage (48.2%) this season. Bradley has long been considered one of the best defenders in the league. After a slow start to the Chicago series, he really upped his game on the defensive end making life hard for Jimmy Butler. To slow down Beal, he’s going to have to bring that same intensity for the entire series.
Prediction: Boston wins in 6 Games
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #3 Toronto Raptors
1st Round: Cleveland swept Indiana in 4 games, Toronto beat Milwaukee in 6 games.[the_ad id=”693″]This is going to be a competitive series, but man, I was really hoping for a duel between LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to like about this Cleveland/Toronto match-up. Of course, we must start with James. He’s still the best player on the planet and is seeking his seventh straight trip to the NBA finals. After sleepwalking through most of the end of the regular season, James has entered his dominating playoff mode. In the four-game sweep of Indiana, James averaged 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 3.0 steals, and 2.0 blocks per game. Kyrie Irving might be the “point guard,” but this offense runs through James. So many open shots get created when he drives to the lane. And when you have Kevin Love, Irving, J.R. Smith, and Kyle Korver waiting in the wings, a lot of shots are going to be made.
For the Raptors to win this series they’re going to have to defend the three and capitalize in the paint. Cleveland doesn’t have a rim protector and Love is a defensive liability most nights who just doesn’t seem to care defensively. Toronto should be able to exploit in this series. The Raptors are a slashing team that likes to play in the paint instead of settling for the three. They’re dead last so far in the playoffs in three-pointers attempted. It’s just not their style. DeMar DeRozan is one of the most explosive wing players in the league. Look for him to drive with regularity and get to the rim. He could very well be the highest scorer in this series. A big series from Serge Ibaka would go a long way too. His paint presence could slow James at the rim and force him to kick the ball out.
Kyle Lowry and Kyrie Irving – The point guard battle in this series should be a great show. Both Irving and Lowry are two of the most explosive guards in the league with. Each has the ability to take over a game offensively for long stretches. The question is, which one can slow down the other? Lowry is a darn good player, but the edge here has to go to Irving. If Irving continues to lay at a high level, he should win this match-up and propel the Cavs into the Eastern Conference finals.
Prediction: Cleveland wins in 6 games