It’s finally the best time of the year. No, not because of Cinco De Mayo, Memorial Day, or my birthday, though those are monumental occasions. It’s NBA playoff time baby, and things are finally heating up!
After a snore-fest of a first round, the second round of the playoffs has been mostly delightful.
Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers nearly burned the entire city of Atlanta to the ground in their four game sweep of the Atlanta Hawks. Over those four games, the Cavs laid the pipe, particularly from the three point line, hitting an NBA record 77 three-pointers. In game two, they also made an unbelievable 25 three-pointers in a single game, with 18 of those coming in the first half. Lebron James looks unstoppable, Kyrie Irving is playing as well as ever, and the Cavs finally seem to have overcome the rumored “chemistry problems” they’ve faced all year. It’s been beautiful to watch and it adds some intrigue to their likely finals matchup against any of the remaining Western Conference teams.
On the other hand, the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors have slogged through their series. Neither team is particularly good, and it shows. The pacing on both sides has made the games nearly unwatchable, as the teams are averaging 91.7 possessions per 48 minutes, which is slower than any team in the regular season. As a result, the games feel less like a battle between two teams and more like one between the audience and the slow crawl towards death’s warm embrace. However, Dwyane Wade has been an absolute delight in his resurgence. He’s everywhere and he refuses to let his team down. He’s hitting threes, cutting through the lane with ease, and making the Raptors look like they’re a college team. That being said, the series sits at 3-2 in favor of Toronto and they will have a chance to put this series out of its misery in game six.
The Western Conference series has provided the real joy, particularly the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder matchup. After being absolutely and systematically demolished at the hands of Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs in game one, it looked like the Thunder might be dead in the water. It’s typically difficult to recover from having your entire organization ripped into shreds and then lit on fire, but the Thunder managed to do it, winning game two on an absurd inbounds play that the NBA has admitted contained five missed calls. The win was huge, and has given the Thunder new life. Despite dropping a contested game three, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led the team to a big game four victory to tie the series at 2-2. The Spurs have been unable to keep up with the Steven Adams/Enes Kanter front court, which has the speed and athleticism to torch them on offense while also having the rebounding prowess to punish them on both ends. That’s going to be a problem Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is going to need to solve, as after a 95-91 victory in game five, the Thunder will have the chance to close out the series and by the time this is published, we may have seen Tim Duncan’s final game in the NBA.
Last but certainly not least, the “David and Goliath” of this round has supplied some unexpected intrigue. Unanimous league Most Valuable Player Steph Curry injured his knee during the first round, leaving him shelved for the early games in this series, giving the Portland Trailblazers the chance to steal the series from the presumptive finals favorite Golden State Warriors. Despite missing their best player, the Warriors handled their business in games one and two, pulling out to a two game lead against the Blazers before Damian Lillard and crew became an inferno in game three, shooting nearly 57-percent from three-point range with Lillard dropping 40 to bring the series to 2-1. It looked like the Blazers had a chance in the series despite the long odds. That is, until Steph Curry was declared available to play in game four. After a two week injury hiatus, Curry looked mortal for three quarters before re emerging as the destroyer of worlds the NBA has grown accustomed to. In his first game back, Curry dropped 40 off the bench, including an NBA record 17 points in overtime to personally destroy the hopes of all of Portland and give the Warriors the 3-1 series lead. Following that letdown loss, the series travelled back to Oakland and Curry once again led his team to a contested victory, hitting a ridiculous dagger three to end Portland’s season with less than a minute remaining.
Going forward, it’s still tough to see anyone beating the Warriors. The Thunder could possibly do it if they get past the Spurs, given that they have a lot of roster flexibility, athleticism, and can give the Warriors fits by going either big or small. If the Spurs manage to come back and topple Durant and the Thunder, it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to keep up with the Warriors athletically, and that matchup may end up not being close, despite the Spurs having the second best record in the regular season. In the Eastern Conference, it’s tough to believe anyone but the Cavaliers will reach the finals. The Cavaliers could put up a strong fight against the Warriors, especially if their shooting stays as hot as it has been throughout the playoffs. My guess? Cavaliers-Warriors rematch in the finals, Cavaliers in 6 games.