Cavs and Warriors anticipation builds

Devon Greene

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We’re about two weeks into the NBA playoffs and two series are already over. Yet, there is excitement on the horizon as multiple close series are heading into the Game 6 and 7 territory. Let’s break down each matchup of the first round. We’ll start with the series that have already ended.

Heading to the East, there has been one sweep, and of course it won’t surprise you who completed it: the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers. Although it may not look that great upon first glance, with the Pacers failing to win a single game, this series was quite entertaining. The Cavs only averaged a 4-point a game win margin against the scrappy Indiana Pacers. We saw two of the most entertaining games of the playoffs so far in this series. Game 1 ended in dramatic fashion with Pacers’ forward CJ Miles bricking the final shot with a chance to win the game. Game 4 was the story of LeBron’s dominance. The Cavaliers put together one of the greatest comebacks in NBA playoff history, overcoming a 26-point deficit to win by five. A stat that you probably have already heard, but is still ridiculously hard to comprehend: LeBron James has not lost a first-round playoff game in five years. Playoff LeBron is here and he is unstoppable. His last loss came against the New York Knicks in 2012. For the Pacers, trouble may be looming on the horizon. Trade rumors were rampant in Indiana this season, and with Paul George’s contract running out quickly, the future of the Pacers’ superstar is cloudy. It was very apparent that George became increasingly frustrated as they continued to lose and eventually be swept in the playoffs. When questioned about his future with the Pacers, George replied with an empty answer that neither ensures nor denies his future with the organization.

The second series that ended in a sweep occurred in the West, and once again, it won’t surprise you who completed it: the Golden State Warriors. The only time this series was close was through three quarters in Game 1. Opening the series, it looked like the Trailblazers may actually put some pressure on the stacked Warriors team. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum began the game scorching hot and looked as if they might be able to will the Blazers to a victory. Then Golden State stepped on the gas pedal and it was over. Two major concerns for the Warriors sprung up in this series: Kevin Durant’s lingering injuries and the potential absence of Steve Kerr for the remainder of the playoffs. The Warriors were fine without KD in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different animal. With the lack of depth that the Dubs have this season, KD is essential for their championship hopes. Steve Kerr is also a huge loss. Kerr’s system has maximized the potential of this spectacular offensive team, and without him, there could be a major drop-off in productivity. Golden State will almost certainly make it to the finals, but how will they fair without their coach?

In one of the most anticipated matchups of the playoffs, Houston has taken a stranglehold on the Oklahoma City Thunder. The biggest storyline of this series was the duel between MVP frontrunners James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Harden has pulled together a spectacular series averaging 33 points and 7.8 assists a game. The most relentless player in the league, Russell Westbrook has continued his heroics and maintained his triple-double average from the regular season. In Game 4, he had a triple-double before halftime, recording the fastest in playoff history. Yet, he also had one of the worst fourth quarters in playoff history. In a game that looks very impressive on paper, Westbrook put up a staggering 51 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds. But Russell lost control in the fourth quarter and shot an abysmal 4-18 from the field on the way to a 111-115 loss in Game 2. The Thunder is simply outmatched and not even the future MVP can save them.

The Boston Celtics playoff run began in tragedy. Chyna Thomas, sister of Celtics superstar Isaiah Thomas, was killed in a single car accident the day before Game 1. In a testament to Thomas’ strength, he played Game 1 and dominated, but they would drop the first two games of the series at home. With the struggles against the Bulls, many in the NBA community were asking if the Boston organization made a mistake not trading for Jimmy Butler, who was shredding them in the series. Then the Celtics’ break came. Rajon Rondo fractured his thumb. An immediate turn came and the Celtics were able to pull off two straight wins on the road in Chicago. Who would’ve thought that Rondo would make this big of an impact on this Bulls team? But without their main defender for Thomas, Chicago looks like they’re in trouble.

The Clippers and Utah Jazz have put together an entertaining series, and the playoff curse for the LA-based organization continues with the injury of Blake Griffin leaving him out for the remainder of the playoffs. With the series tied up at 2-2, it remains to be seen if Chris Paul can lead his team to the first-round win without his second superstar.

One of the biggest surprises of the playoffs so far has been the Memphis Grizzlies standing their ground against the San Antonio Spurs. After losing two straight games to the Spurs, the Grizzlies were looking for some fire. Head coach David Fizdale provided the sun in response with his rant after Game 2.

“We don’t get the respect that these guys deserve because Mike Conley doesn’t go crazy, Fizdale said. “He has class, and he just plays the game, but I’m not going to let them treat us that way. I know Pop has pedigree and I’m a young rookie, but they’re not going to ‘rook’ us. That’s unacceptable; that was unprofessional. My guys dug in that game and earned to be in that game, but they did not even give us a chance. Take that for data.”

Mike Conley has put the world on notice, showing just how underrated the Grizzlies point guard is. The silent superstar led Memphis to two straight wins to tie the series up on their way back to San Antonio.

Toronto and Milwaukee has been a wildly entertaining series. The rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo is here. Antetokounmpo has had a breakout season, and it’s continued in the playoffs. However, the Bucks are young and just don’t have enough firepower with the absence of Jabari Parker to play second fiddle to the Greek Freak; the Raptors combination of Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry is just too much. The Raptors lead 3-2 in the series.

The final series is Washington and Atlanta. John Wall has had a coming-out party in this series. He’s averaged 28.8 points, 10 assists and 4.3 rebounds a game, but even with the stellar stat-line, the Wizards find themselves tied up at 2-2 with the Hawks. The Hawks have been a shining example of how a system and teamwork can supersede individual talent. They have proved that this year with their star player being an old Dwight Howard who is a shell of what he once was. This run by Atlanta has been impressive, but the Wizards are just too much for the team without a superstar.

There are a few things that have become apparent through the first round. The NBA playoffs are a magnificent, the Warriors are a monster and will encounter very few obstacles on their way to their third straight finals and a LeBron James team is once again going to destroy the East. We have about a month and a half of playoff basketball remaining, so clear up your schedule. Twitter: LewAicindor

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