We are almost one week into round 1 of the NBA playoffs for the 2016-2017 NBA season, and while some match-ups are carrying on as planned, there have been some interesting developments that will change the landscape of the NBA for the remainder of the post-season. After making some bold predictions last week, I’ve put together some initial reactions as we cross the halfway point in round 1.
Boston Celtics (1) vs Chicago Bulls (8)
Before I begin, I’d like to say how sorry I am to hear about the tragic death of Isaiah Thomas’ sister. This situation has clearly had a profound impact on the team, and they’re floundering without Thomas at full strength as their leader. However, I never imagined that the Celtics would have such a difficult time with the Bulls even in the midst of this horrible time. I’m disappointed that no one else on the team has really stepped up to shoulder the leadership burden in Thomas’ partial absence. It’s true that these players are very young, but I would expect players like Al Horford, Jae Crowder, and Avery Bradley to be ready to carry the team into at least the second round. The Celtics dropped the first two home games, and now they’re heading out on the road to take on the Bulls on their home court.
However, give credit to the Bulls for being ready to play out of the gate. We all know that Dwyane Wade is very experienced at getting a team ready for the playoffs and his leadership has helped. The Celtics ran out of gas in Game 1 with a late-game 8-0 run by the Bulls who ultimately came away with the win, and Rondo was one rebound away from a triple-double in Game 2. Unfortunately, Rondo is out indefinitely with a broken thumb so that may give the Celtics a chance to get their composure and capture a road win.
Toronto Raptors (3) vs Milwaukee Bucks (6)
I’m not surprised by this series, but I definitely am happy to see Milwaukee performing well against the Raptors. I did predict that the Raptors would take the series in 6 games, but after the Raptors’ performance in Game 3, I’m not so sure. The Bucks’ two wins were captured at a fairly high point differential, and their one loss was a fairly close one. In Game 1, the Bucks outscored the Raptors by 19 in the second half. Then in Game 3, the Bucks limited the Raptors to 33.8% shooting taking away the win by 27 points.
I’ve thought this for a while now, but the Raptors are missing a key component on their team to really put an edge on some of the amazing talent they have. It seems they are crumbling under the pressure of the playoffs against the tricky Bucks who have Giannis Antetokounmpo in their arsenal of talent. Giannis is nearly impossible to guard, and the Raptors defense isn’t exactly stellar to begin with so I think this might be a pretty tough series for the Raptors to take.
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs Utah Jazz (5)
As I imagined, this match-up is already showing to be very interesting. Neither team has broken 100 points in the first two games, and the scores have been excruciatingly close complete with a buzzer beater win in Game 1 from the Jazz. The Jazz lost by 8 in Game 2 due to painfully bad rebounding, among other things, but 8 points isn’t much considering the Clippers outrebounded the Jazz 60-38. Unfortunately for the Jazz, they will be without Rudy Gobert yet again in Game 3. Gobert went down 17 seconds into Game 1 with a knee injury and his timetable for return is still unknown. The Jazz will miss his defensive presence as Gobert is up for Defensive Player of the Year, but luckily, they have a (very) deep bench to help pick up the slack.
The Clippers have played well on the defensive end, but their three-point game needs to improve if they want a chance at moving on in the Western Conference. They shot only 30% from distance in Game 2, and with a 22-rebound differential their second game they definitely missed some major scoring opportunities. Game 3 takes place Friday night at 10pm ET so grab your popcorn because this might be the most interesting series of the first-round.
Houston Rockets (3) Oklahoma City Thunder (6)
If anyone was wondering what the Oklahoma City Thunder would be like without Russell Westbrook, I believe this series has presented us with a clear picture. The Rockets lead the series 2-0, and the Thunder don’t seem to have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this series. In fact, they may not even get one win. I will reiterate how much I hate James Harden’s game as I don’t believe he’s a basketball player, but rather he operates by playing hat tricks on his opponents. But, regardless of how annoying his method is, it works for him. I simply can’t watch the games because his style of play is so frustrating to follow.
However, the Thunder have not really made it hard on the Rockets either. They fumbled Game 1 with a 31-point loss, and they’ve begun resembling the Carmelo Anthony/DeMarcus Cousins/Anthony Davis regimes. Westbrook put up a ridiculous line in Game 2, and the Thunder still were unable to capture the win. Westbrook is openly frustrated with the Thunder’s current situation, and when asked about how he felt about his rockstar stat line, he retorted that he doesn’t care about his line if the team lost. (Minus some colorful language.) If you feel so inclined, you can watch the video here. The Thunder will have home court advantage for the next two games, so we will see if Thunder nation can get their team in gear.
Overall, it’s shaping up to be a very fun post-season for the NBA this year. If you’re like me, you are excited to see San Antonio match-up against the Golden State Warriors. I truly believe we will see the Spurs as the Western Conference champs heading into the Finals. However, I will change my earlier prediction to say that I’m no longer confident that Boston will take the Eastern Conference championship this year. Anything is possible, but it’s looking like we may see the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals to defend their title once again.