The Cleveland Cavaliers were the first team to advance to the Conference Finals after sweeping the Atlanta Hawks. The other six teams remaining, however, will continue to battle it out to inch one step closer to the NBA Finals. While the Cavs now get some rest, (a scary thought for their next opponent) the other three series are far from over. Here is the NBA Conference Semifinals at a glance.
The Cavs cruise past the Hawks
Not only did the Cavaliers sweep the Hawks, they did it with quite the display from long distance. Cleveland hit an NBA record for most three-pointers in a four-game series with 77 against Atlanta. The Cavs shot 35% from beyond the arc in the regular seasons and are now scorching the nets at 42%. The trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have been great. James averaged 23.8 points per game against the Hawks with Irving scoring 22.3 points per game and Love adding 19 points per game. Love also led the three-point barrage with 19, including eight in the closeout game. Cleveland is now 8-0 in the playoffs this year and will now have time to rest up and game plan for either the Toronto Raptors or Miami Heat. Over the past month, the Cavs have really dialed in and played complete team basketball on both ends of the floor. The spacing they get due to the drive and kick mentality of James and Irving lead to a bunch of wide open shots. James has assisted on 42 three-pointers this postseason. That is something that is easier said than done to defend. Everyone is getting involved and Irving and Love are both heathy this postseason.
Which big man loss will prove to be more detrimental?
The Raptors and Heat have put on an exciting series thus far, with the first two games going to overtime. Toronto was able to take a 2-1 series lead after splitting in Toronto and winning Game 3 in Miami. That game could prove to be the difference maker going forward and not in terms of who has the series lead. Both teams suffered losses to their big men, Jonas Valanciunas of the Raptors and Hassan Whiteside of the Heat. Valanciunas, who will miss the remainder of the series with a sprained ankle, was giving Whiteside fits down in the post and getting to the rim with ease against the league’s top shot blocker.
Without Whiteside, the Heat lose their rim protector, but that might not be an issue as Toronto loses the luxury of the screens Valanciunas sets for the guards to make something happen. With both big men out, the guard play for both teams has to pick up the slack. Can Kyle Lowry have a second-consecutive game where he leads the team to a win? That is a big question mark as he struggled mightily in the first two games of the series. DeMar DeRozan showed glimpses of his regular season self, but the duo has not contributed what they have been all season long. Dwyane Wade has the ability to take this series over, and I expect him to do just that starting in Game 4. Wade and company should be up 3-0 in the series, but blew leads in all three games late in the fourth quarter. Both of these teams will be without their key big men, which will ultimately decide this series.
The Spurs and Thunder are all tied up
It is a shame that this matchup is happening in the second round, but that’s what happens when you play in a stacked conference. The series is all knotted up at two apiece as both teams were able to win a game on the road. In Game 1 we saw the Spurs just manhandle Oklahoma City in a 124-92 rout. Naturally, way too many people declared the series over, but that was far from the case. OKC responded by taking Game 2 in San Antonio, 99-98. In those two games, LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 38 and 41 points respectively. Game 3 was another close affair as the Spurs took that game 100-96.
Game 4 saw the Kevin Durant Show. He exploded for 41 points, matching a career-playoff best. Russell Westbrook didn’t shoot well in that game, but he did contribute 15 assists. Westbrook gets too much flak when he is off, which isn’t the same criticism Durant receives. The duo has combined to score nearly 50 points per game through the first four games. The Spurs are slowly transitioning from the Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili era to the Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard era. Leonard has averaged 22.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in the first four games. For the first time in his brilliant NBA career, Duncan was held scoreless. Who would have ever thought that would happen? Certainly not me. I see this series going the distance with the two teams continuing to trade games.
When will Steph Curry play?
The Golden State Warriors have been without Steph Curry since Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the first round. The Warriors have demonstrated that they can win without the likely league MVP. His team has jumped out to a 2-1 series lead with Game 4 coming Monday night in Portland. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have been carrying the load for the Dubs, with Thompson averaging 33 points per game on 46% shooting and Green averaging 25.7 points, 12 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game. To counteract that, Damian Lillard – who is a bad dude – has led Portland with 31.7 points and 7 assists per game on 41% shooting. His backcourt running mate C.J. McCollum has averaged 18.7 points per game on 40% shooting. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has said Curry is doubtful for Game 4 but is on the verge of returning to the lineup. In my opinion, if the Warriors are able to win Game 4 and head back home with a 3-1 series lead, Curry should remain sidelined and continue to rest. If Portland is able to hold home court, Curry should play in Game 5.
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