With round one in the books we have some answers and even more questions. Here is what I took away from each series.
Pelicans Sweep the Blazers
Pelicans Win 4-0
Looking back it is this series that I most expected to go seven games. Anthony Davis and his sexy uni-brow pose a threat to any opponent but the team around him just seemed like pile of scrap thrown together in desperation. Even the signing of Jrue Holiday's max contract this summer was a head scratcher at the time considering injury and prior performance. It turns out Holiday's value is more than evident now. When it matters most the Pelican's clear number 2 has come to play. His incredible defense and more than significant scoring have been a pleasant surprise to most and the fact that he outshined both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum speaks volumes. This brings us to the darker side of the conversation surrounding this series.
If you're anywhere near basketball twitter you'll know the internet is roasting the often outspoken Dame D.O.L.L.A.. Fans have latched on to the Portland guard this season as he's experienced the highest highs and this devastating low. Nobody's expectations of Dame are higher than his own but when you set them as ambitiously as he does you can expect the online vitriol to rain down when you fall short. Lillard is in consideration for 1st team all NBA selection after his remarkable season but after putting up a dud in this first round sweep, fans have begun to sour. This, however, is nothing new. For all of NBA eternity fans will love, then hate, then love anything or anyone on any given day.
Rockets Tame the Wolves
Rockets Win 4-1
It may as well have been a sweep. One thing I learned from watching this series is that even when they're bad, the Rockets are good. Due to the sheer amount of long range tries Houston is always capable of a huge run or apparently a 50 point quarter.
With last years second round collapse still fresh in our minds its important to notice just how different the Rockets look in 2018. Harden has a squad now. Chris Paul, Mbah A Moute, P.J. Tucker have all played huge rolls in Houston's success and added a depth that they just didn't have last year. Chris Paul's presence alone is enough to transform the identity of any team. Harden doesn't have to do it all and that's what will help them to the conference finals.
Looking at the Minnesota Timberwolves is a different story all together. For instance the fact that Derrick Rose shone the way that he did indicates to me that the players who we expected and who the Wolves needed to show up, just didn't. Karl Anthony Towns was a ghost for the first half of the series, their best player, invisible. Maybe the bright lights of the playoffs were too much for their young stars and a full year with a healthy Jimmy Buckets will mean a different team. Facing the high powered Rockets in the first round doesn't help and after having ended a 14 year drought I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully next year they finish higher on the totem pole and face an easier first round opponent, maybe then they'll figure it out and find enough success to convince Jimmy to stay.
Final Note: Can Thibs just focus on coaching? The Coach/GM thing doesn't work.
Golden State is Still Number One
Warriors Win 4-1
Well, it wasn't a sweep but at the same time it kind of was. The Spurs managed to scrape together a win for Coach Pop after the passing of his wife and his subsequent absence from the bench. The devastating news came after game 2 of the series and set a respectful tone over the remainder of the match up. The Spurs played their game but it just wasn't enough.
Why wasn't it enough? Apparently the Spurs were missing a pretty good player. I actually didn't know that. Haven't heard anything about that. It doesn't look like anything to me, moving on.
The Warriors, it turns out, were missing a pretty good player too. Steph Curry missed the entire first round with an injured knee. It's obvious at this point that it is in their best interest to rest one of the best players in the world and let him heal while the other best player in the world carries a team of pretty damn good players into the second round. That being said, Golden State needs the chef to compete for the title. The Warriors offense is great, don't get me wrong but with Curry on the floor its a whole other beast.
In his absence Playoff Klay has been pretty incredible. While shooting over 50% from the field Klay has averaged 23.3 points and hit half of his long distance tries. The dude is on fire.
Their round two match up with the Pelicans is looking like a fun one but with one game in the books we are reminded that the Trailblazers are not the Warriors, not even close. If New Orleans had any kind of bench they may have a chance against the declining depth of Golden State but since that isn't the case we may as well be writing about their inevitable appearance in the conference finals.
Mitchell's Jazz Take Care of the Thunder
Jazz win 4-2
First things first, Donovan f**king Mitchell! The kid is balling out of control, looking like a young Dwyane Wade and finishing at the rim with incredible poise. Watching this guy play is a treat, watching him in the playoffs is a whole other thing. The Jazz absolutely stole him in the draft and their future is brighter for it.
On the other end of this dramatic spectrum Oklahoma City seems doomed. Carmelo could opt in and Paul George could walk. That, is damn bleak. Sure they still have the walking triple double but many believe Russ, despite his incredible ability, is not a part of a championship team. I happen to agree. While he is one of the best players in the league his style of fast paced ball dominant attack is not a great pairing with most of the second option stars in the association. Although their season was a huge disappointment it's time we give credit where it's due.
Utah played like a well oiled machine. Coach Quin Snyder and the anchor that is Rudy Gobert have this Jazz team playing the best defense in the league. Their identity is unmistakable. Everybody is engaged on that end of the floor, which means that all it takes is an on game from someone like Ingles or Rubio for this team to slow down an opponent enough to get the 100 or fewer points needed for a win.
Also, would the real Carmelo please stand up! Nevermind, sit your ass back on that benched, you're washed.
Shorthanded Celtics Top the Bucks
Celtics Win in 7
It blows my mind that a team with injuries to players like Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and the god that is Daniel Theis can be so good. It also blows my mind that a team with a player like Giannis can't beat that team in a seven game series. Is it more impressive for the Celtics or more depressing for the Bucks? Why not both? There is no doubt in my mind that Giannis has another level but the rest of his squad simply doesn't.
The whole Bledsoe/Rozier thing was such a joke. Scary Terry mispoke and called him Drew and Mr. Bledsoe proceeded to pump up the petty by pretending he didn't know the name of the dude who was hanging his sorry ass from the flag pole by his underwear. Dude, thats a bad bad look.
As rough as the future of Milwaukee looks the Celtics have to be over the moon with the performances of their young kids. Brown is amazing, I'm in love. Tatum is better than Fultz and Scary Terry made a special place in my heart after this series. Sure he'll likely get over paid by another team unless Ainge trades him for Anthony Davis straight up but the kid is great.
What the Bucks need is a total reset. Keep that Greek guy and chuck the rest. Find some wings, an athletic big and maybe a point guard who isn't a dumb little baby, add that to a coach who doesn't do his taxes in suspenders while saying "yup" after every slurp is shitty coffee and this could work.
...Yikes, I guess I'm butt hurt about the Bucks.
The Heat Can't Handle the Process
Sixers win 4-1
Has anyone seen Whiteside on a milk carton yet? $23,775,506 in 2017/18. That's all I'm going to say.
It was all over when Wade started singing their praises after game 4. He was more than happy to give props to the young team that had taken a 3-1 lead over his beloved Heat after he thought about starting his summer vacation and possible retirement a few days early. But maybe that's just the way of Wade.
Maybe it was all over before that. It's possible it was all over when Embiid returned and the generational talent of Ben Simmons decided it was done. This tandem is heavenly and the NBA is going to be theirs in 3 years if not sooner. Saric is good, Redick is good, the Sixers are good! You like Bellinelli? You like Irsan? Me too. The Sixers are good. I'm hanging on the the hype train for dear life but it's moving fast. I'm so sold that I'm telling anyone who asks that watching them get swept in the finals is almost a sure thing. Seriosuly though, they're coming out of the east and at this rate they'll be there next year too.
Burnt Out Lebron Carries the Cavaliers
Cavaliers Win in 7
Lebron is tired. So maybe he's human. I still don't think he's a human but like, there's hope right? Lebron being tired is not something that's going to help the Raptors sleep at night but the fact that the team around him is worse than any other helps. Kevin Love is banged up and Tristan Thompson just used the only double double he had in game 7. Anything short of that TT performance and this may have been the Pacers series.
Indiana has been my favourite Cindarella story of the season and although Oladipo wasn't as consistent in the playoffs he has been an absolute stud. The fact that they brought Lebron's Cavs to seven is a testament to the performances they got out of players we wouldn't have expected. Bogdonovic, Thad Young, Sabonis and Collison all had a big impact and can't go unnoticed. Myles Turner had a great series but went quiet when it mattered and Lance Stephenson was the almost Kryptonite that he always is.
Raptors Take Care of Business in Six
Raptors Win 4-2
Yes, the Raptors won the series in 6 but it was a shaky series at best. Toronto depends heavily on their bench strength to out duel the opposition's reserves, unfortunately that isn't as critical in the playoffs when teams shorten their rotation to a key 8 or 9 players. Solid play from Delon Wright proved key in clinching this series as his battle with Kelly Oubre became a talking point to no one but them. Fred VanVleet missed most of the series with an injury and is seen by many as the key to Toronto's bench success. It's possible that his return makes the difference in their upcoming series against Cleveland but it's more likely that the young guard will struggle in his first full playoff series despite their weak opponent.
The Raptors showed that their culture change hasn't fully permeated the minds of it's roster as DeRozan found himself trending back towards an ISO heavy style near the end of games. Going away from what works when it matters is an alarming sign of just how little the team trusts the change.
As for the Wiz, I'm going to be that guy. It's time to blow it up. John Wall's contract is going to start looking bad soon and until they have a real threat at the center position this team is going to continue to tread water in the lower tear of eastern conference playoff teams.
The second round is under way and the match ups are only getting better. Can Lebron continue to carry the Cavs? Does Philly have what it takes to upset the East? We’re about to find out.