NBA playoffs ramp up leading to finals

With the semifinals underway, the bubble has stood the test of months of play without a single COVID-19 case. The bubble has even expanded to allow players to bring in certain family members that will fill the capacity that losing teams opened as they left. 

Speaking of losers, the playoff picture has changed dramatically as only four teams remain from each conference. The Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers have all already been eliminated in the Eastern Conference. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers have also been eliminated in the Western Conference. 

Eastern Conference semifinals

The first seed Milwaukee Buckshave already lost 1-4 to the fifth seed Miami Heat. The Heat tore apart the defense of the Bucks and even stifled the reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic averaged 20 or more points against the Bucks, and both Jae Crowder and Tyler Herro torched the Bucks defense from the 3-point line at 42% per game. 

The Bucks could only look to survive after Antetokounmpo went down with an ankle injury in game three. He tried to play through that injury in game four only to re-injure that ankle and miss the final game five. Khris Middleton was key to any chances the Bucks had, whether or not Giannis played, as he was averaging 26 points per game during that series.   

The second seed Toronto Raptors fell 3-4 to the third seed Boston Celtics. The Celtics looked to be dominating the series early until a game winning three point shot from OG Anunoby saved the Raptors from going down 3-0. The Raptors won two straight only to fall in embarrassing fashion in game five and then winning game six in double overtime. 

The Raptors hedged their bets on the performance of their defense, which has struggled at times in this series, and the play of their stars Kyle Lowery, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. The trio has averaged 19, 18 and 16 respectively and looked to take home a game seven victory.

The Celtics continued to ask their main trio of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown to score the offensive load. They are averaging 22, 20 and 18 respectively and had more or less scored with ease against the Raptors defense until the later games of the series. 

The Celtics trio showed themselves to be stronger, defeating the Raptors in a close game 7 where Jason Tatum scored 29 points. 

Western Conference semifinals: 

The Houston Rockets lost 1-4 to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Rockets dominated Game 1, only to drop four straight games and go on to lose the series. Rockets secondary star Russell Westbrook was poor most of the series, shooting 26% from three and 42% from the field despite averaging about 20 points per game. James Harden left little to be desired about his play. He averaged about 29 points per game against the Lakers while shooting 50% from the field and 38% from the three point line. James Harden, however, couldn’t carry the Rockets to another win the entire series. 

The Lakers managed to dominate the remainder of the series after game one with the surprising performance of Markkief Morris, who made four straight three pointers in the first quarter of game two, and the return of Rajon Rondo. Stars Lebron James and Anthoney Davis also did as they always do, both averaging about 25 points, and securing the victory for the Lakers.

The third seed Denver Nuggets have completed the ultimate comeback, winning three straight games to beat the second seed Los Angeles Clippers 4-3 in game seven. The Nuggets got crushed in game one after making an incredible comeback from down 3-1 against the Utah Jazz. They channeled the energy from their previous series to roar back to life once the Clippers cornered them. 

Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray lead the Nuggets in scoring, averaging 24 and 22 points per game respectively in the series against the Clippers. Jokic also leads the team in rebounds with 13 on the series. The Nuggets gambled with their chances, hedging bets on Jamal Murray’s sudden superstardom and Micheal Porter Jr.’s emergence as a great player, and they came out on top. 

The Clippers were the best team in this series, but they stopped doing anything to prove it after game four. Paul George was actually living up to his Playoff-P moniker before dropping off the map in game seven and shooting 25% from the field. Kawhi Leanord showed he was the best player in the series, averaging 24 points per game while leading the Clippers team in points, blocks, rebounds, blocks and assists. Despite his play all series, he too dropped the ball in game seven and The Clippers choked because of it. 

Predictions: 

The Conference Finals are finally here. 

In the East, the Miami Heat will face the Boston Celtics while in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers will face the Los Angeles Clippers. 

For the Eastern Conference Finals, I’m going with the Boston Celtics. 

The C’s defense has been stout all playoffs, only allowing their opponents to score over 100 five times in eleven post season games. 

The Heat, on the other hand, have only allowed under 100 points twice in their nine postseason games. 

The Celtics also have a more capable trio in Jason Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker. All three of them have averaged about 20 points or more with Tatum leading the team at 25 points.

The Heat only have Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic averaging 20 or more points per game with both averaging 21 points. 

Despite the Heat taking game one with a spectacular overtime block by Bam Adabeyo as well as taking game two off of an implosion by the Celtics, I’m still taking the C’s. 

Prediction: Celtics beat Heat 4-3

In the Western Conference Finals, the Denver Nuggets will have to contend with the Los Angeles Lakers. Denver has about four more games played this postseason than LeBron on the Lakers do. The fatigue will eventually catch up to them, even in the conference finals. 

With that in mind, it’s hard not to pick the Lakers who have just about dominated the last two series they’ve participated in. LeBron James and Anthoney Davis have been a power duo that most teams can only dream of with both averaging about 27 points per game this postseason. 

It’ll be up to Murray to continue his historically great playoff run and Jokic’s play as the best center in the league for the Nuggets to have a chance.  

Prediction: Lakers beat Nuggets 4-2