There are only 4 teams left in the NBA playoffs. But from the looks of it, two clear favorites. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. When we last visited the Sweeps and Creeps, both teams were 8-0 in the postseason after each completing sweeps through the first two rounds. If that sounds wild it’s because that had never happened before. Now, we are in the Conference Finals so let’s check in on these creeps who just keep on winning.
San Antonio Spurs vs Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are currently up 2-0 in the best of 7 series. Making Golden State 10-0 so far this playoffs. Game 1 had the Spurs up early only to see the lead melt away as the Warriors stormed back. And to make matters worse, Kawhi Leonard was injured. Game 2. Spurs without Leonard got straight worked. Final score 136-100. Steph Curry and company were fire in their home building and they look very tough to beat. The series now shifts to San Antonio where a huge game 3 looms. If the Spurs lose this one, it’s likely sweep city. No word yet if Kawhi will be available for the contest. Look for the Spurs (with or without Kawhi) to show up in game 3 and make it close. Unfortunately, I still see the Warriors winning.
On a related note, Alex made a terrible bet with me saying this series would go to game 7. That will not happen. What should I spend Alex’s money on? Sexy underwear, some Italian subs or maybe a nice bottle of Malbec?
Boston Celtics vs Cleveland Cavaliers
First a tip of the cap to Boston backup center Kelly Olynyk who had 26 points on 10 of 14 shooting coming off the bench in the game 7 win over the Wizards. This effort helped push Boston to the next round. If you’ve forgotten, the Celtics are the 1 seed and will host the first two games. As expected, Cavs win game 1 on the road after another heroic performance by LeBron James. We get it, you’re real good. Maybe let someone else get to the Finals for once. The Cavaliers are now 9-0 in the postseason. Being undefeated in the playoffs is just ridiculous. Game 2 is Friday and Boston better bring it before this thing moves to Believeland or you know what will happen. Sweep, sweep, sweep.
I’d like to take this space to offer Alex or anyone else a bet. I’ll take the Cavs in almost any action you want to dream up. Get at me. Just think, if you won, you could spend that money on a cheap blender, some vintage pogs or maybe a few deep dish pizzas.
The Boston Celtics now have the #1 pick in upcoming NBA Draft. Which is odd because they are one of the few teams still playing. That let’s you know this probably isn’t a normal occurrence. The Draft should be the focus of the franchises who missed out on the dance not the ones still grooving. The pick was acquired from the Brooklyn Nets when they traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. What a nice parting gift Pierce bestows on the Celtics the year he retires.
And look what I leave behind for the Celts on my way out #1 pick😂👌🏾🙏🔥
Thank you for accepting the challenge, for fighting through matchup after matchup, for weathering the injuries, for your patience in times of mental and physical turmoil, for balling like some ballers, and for winning the Eastern Conference Finals.
Needless to say, it’s been a long road. Yes, at this time last year we were advancing to the finals, but without Kyrie who went down in overtime, never to return in the 2014-15 NBA post season. Not to mention Kevin Love who endured a debilitating shoulder injury against Boston in round one. But the limited bench showed up and put on a performance that inspired the hungry Cleveland crowd, and even won two games in the finals. By the way, those finals wins were a first in Cavs history. Pushing, scraping, and Dellying our way to a game six, our luck and our energy finally ran out when Golden State took home the trophy.
It was a slow start to the 2015-16 season. Kyrie was still recovering. The wins were there, but not as fruitful as your typical cornucopia. It took a while before Stella Got Her Groove Back. But everything comes in cycles. As we lost Anderson Varejao to a torn achilles right before Christmas last year, we were gifted with a healthy yet rusty Kyrie as the holidays approached. With the New Year came new beginnings – and I’m talking big changes, as head Coach David Blatt was let go and Tyronn Lue went from highest paid associate to top diggity dog (but not the highest paid head coach of course). Could he live up to the challenge we asked? Or would LeBron be doing most of the coaching?
Some say Tyronn has stood his ground. And it’s undeniable that LeBron has had a significant impact on how the team has arrived to where they are today. I’m sure it was a little of this, a little of that. A lot of healthy eating, a lot of hard work, and a little partying in between – hence LeBron’s Prince Halloween costume. RIP Prince.
But after witnessing the heartwarming energy of the fans last year and hearing those echoes of hope continue to ring throughout The Land and across the country this year, I am sure that our faith has not faded. Our trust in our team is strong. We believe we can win because we’ve seen it, and we’ve seen it done well. We’ve also witnessed how a fan base can truly uplift or deflate their hometown heroes or sworn enemies depending on who’s turf we’re meeting on. And when we say ALL IN, it’s not because basketball is all we have, it’s because we’re giving one hundred percent just like our guys.
It’s an energy, connection, and love that breaks borders, boundaries, and bloodlines. But what we have in common is where we’re from and who we are playing for. We have pride in our team and our team embodies the spirit of our city. A city that we love and a city that deserves a championship. After all, we are all fans. Even LeBron is a fan. And he knows the power of the fandom, united. He even acknowledged the power of the Toronto fan base – which included Drake giving high fives at the end of the game. Not sure Lowry cared about Drake…But don’t feel sorry for Toronto. They played well. They still have hockey, sort of.
It was great to see Mr. Cavalier, aka Austin Carr, stand with the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers to hoist that Eastern Conference Championship trophy above their heads. He’s been there since the beginning. He’s almost seen many a championship. But something tells me that this year is history in the making and I’m so happy he’s a part of it.
Whether it’s OKC or Golden State, I believe we are ready to take on either team. My dad, aka @SirFranksnBacon, aka the Dean of Cleveland Sports, Greg Brinda, recently quoted sworn Starfleet enemy, Khan, on his post game show, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” But if we play OKC we’ll have home court advantage, which means our fans will have a say in these first two games. Don’t worry. We won’t underestimate either opponent. We’ll have to make adjustments accordingly, but there’s a sense of calm and confidence that eases my fears. I’m not used to that feeling, and I’m not even sure of what to think about that right now, but I’ll take it.
Just like the original Goonie, Mikey, preaches to his team from the depths of the Oregon coast, “Don’t you realize? The next time you see sky, it’ll be over another town. The next time you take a test, it’ll be in some other school. Our parents, they want the best of stuff for us. But right now, they got to do what’s right for them. Because it’s their time. Their time! Up there! Down here, it’s our time. It’s our time down here. That’s all over the second we ride up Troy’s bucket.”
And we’re not riding up Troy’s bucket until we have a championship.
Here we are, smack dab in the middle of a couple of exciting and jaw-dropping NBA Conference Finals series. There have been blowouts, big shots, big fouls and enough big surprises to make this round of the NBA Playoffs exponentially more exciting than any of the preceding ones. We are left with four very talented teams, any of which could win their respective series and advance to the NBA Finals. Let’s take a look at each series and talk about why any of these teams could potentially be headed to the Finals.
Western Conference Finals:
The Western Conference Finals features the record-setting Golden State Warriors against the Oklahoma City Thunder. This series is not going according to plan for one of the teams, and the Thunder are currently up 3-1, but it is far from over. Let’s check out the teams.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are sitting in a deep 3-1 hole right now and seem to be in some serious trouble, but that doesn’t mean that they are done just yet. This is still a team that won 73 games in the regular season and one that has the reigning two-time MVP. They just need to find their groove again. After that game 3 loss we were pretty sure that the Warriors couldn’t possibly play worse than that. Then they did in game 4. In order to come back from what seems like an insurmountable deficit, they need to calm down and take it one game at a time. Scratch that, one shot at a time. Game 5 is at home and if they can get a much needed boost from that Oakland crowd and take that one, then they might just have a shot at it. They’ve proven that they can rattle off a ridiculous amount of consecutive wins already this year. If they can do it again, they can win.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder have beaten the defending champions by 20+ points in two straight games. That’s something that hasn’t happened since 1984. Russell Westbrook has been on fire in this series and has really taken it to the Warriors, posting a triple-double in game 4. In order for the Thunder to close out this series and head to the NBA Finals they just need to keep doing what they’ve been doing. They need to continue to stifle the defending champs with their defense, hold them to uncharacteristically low shooting percentages, create turnovers and out-rebound the Warriors. If they do that, then they’ll be headed to play the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Eastern Conference Finals
At first, the Eastern Conference Championship seemed like it was going to be another cakewalk for the the Cleveland Cavaliers. They won the first two games against the Toronto Raptors and looked to be on their way to sweeping a third consecutive series. Luckily for basketball fans, things have changed quite drastically and the series now sits tied at two games a piece. Essentially it’s a whole new best-of-three series. Let’s see why either of these two teams could take it.
Up until the last two games, the Cavaliers have looked dominant throughout the NBA Playoffs, and they had yet to lose a single game. They definitely aren’t sitting in the same kind of hole as the defending champs, but they have finally gotten a little taste of what adversity is like. That being said, they are still the favorites to win the series and they still have LeBron James, as well as a healthy supporting cast and Kyrie Irving has shown up in a big way this year. It’s because King James finally has some help that the chances of a championship in the city of Cleveland are starting to seem much more feasible than any of LeBron’s other attempts to win it all in his home town. If they can get back to owning the paint and can improve their 3-point shooting marginally then they should win the next two games and advance to the NBA Finals.
In these last two matchups, the Toronto Raptors have Bismack’d the Cleveland Cavaliers. Center, Bismack Biyombo has kept LeBron James & Co from scoring at the rim in the same way that they were accustomed to in these playoffs. After spending the first two games of the series worrying about defending the three and paying little mind to points in the paint in losing efforts, the Raptors have owned that area of the floor over the last two games. And it has led to wins. The Raptors have adjusted to the speed of the Cavs, after looking visibly shaken by it in the first games of the series. With Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozen scoring big points Cleveland hasn’t been able to push the tempo. If they can continue to keep up the pace and stay in a rhythm on both sides of the floor then there is a chance that they can shock the world and head to their first ever NBA Finals. They’ve proven they can beat the Cavaliers, now they just need to do it two more times.
You may have read my Western Conference Finals preview, highlighting three reasons the Thunder will beat the Warriors, and three reasons the Warriors will beat the Thunder. I’m obviously a man of clear, concise opinions. Well this one is going to be a little different. With my apologies to Drake, I just don’t think the Raptors have a realistic shot to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers. I know, Toronto fans feel like they get no respect. They’re playing up in Canada with no nationally televised games and no one is taking them seriously, even with second best record in the Eastern Conference.
But the fact is, you’re going up against a team that has LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Your answer to that is DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Jonas Valanciunas, who’s out for game one and doubtful for game two. Don’t get me wrong, those are good players, but Cleveland has great players. You’re running into a Cavs team that’s playing their best ball since bringing LeBron back to Cleveland and assembling their big three. The Cavs swept their way through the first two rounds with ease, while out-Warriors-ing the Warriors by shooting a ridiculous 46.2% from beyond the arc while knocking down 16.8 three-pointers per game.
There’s always one big question for any team preparing for a series against LeBron James: Who’s going to guard him? Toronto’s big offseason free agent acquisition, DeMarre Carroll, will likely take the bulk of this task, as he did as a member of the Hawks last season when they were swept by the Cavs. LeBron averaged 30.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 9.3 assists in that series (not too shabby). Carroll is an underrated player, and he’s capable of playing the lockdown defender role at times, but that tends to change when the man you’re trying to lock down is LeBron James.
I’m not trying to bring you down, Raptors fans. I just see two teams that are on completely different levels right now. Is it possible that the Raptors could knock off the Cavaliers and advance to the NBA Finals? Sure. But a lot of crazy stuff would have to happen to lead to that result. So here it is…
3 Improbable ways the Raptors can beat the Cavs:
1. LeBron retires
LeBron James never really runs into serious injuries, so it might be more likely that he retires before, or during, the Eastern Conference Finals. Maybe he pulls a Michael Jordan and wants to try another sport while he still has some good years left in his body. There’s always been talk that he could play in the NFL. OTAs start in about a week for most teams, so if he wants to take a shot at a football career, now is the time. Or maybe he decides he wants to leave Cleveland again and go back to Miami, but he wants to get it over with before Cavs fans get their championship and become that much more attached. If, by some unforeseen circumstance, LeBron James doesn’t end up playing in the series, the Raptors would have a pretty good shot. Unfortunately, they will likely be facing a Cavaliers team that will feature LeBron James playing a lot of minutes in every game and doing a lot of incredible LeBron James things. This means Cleveland will likely be coasting back into the NBA Finals. Unless…
2. The Cavs get Bismack’d!
Ok, I’ll admit, I just wanted to work Bismack’d into an article… But the Raptors backup center, Bismack Biyombo, will actually be a key factor in this series. Not only does he feature one of the best names in the NBA, but he proved he can be a force down low against Miami. When starting center, Jonas Valanciunas, went down in game three with a sprained ankle, Biyombo stepped in admirably. Starting the final four games of the series, Biyombo averaged 11.0 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game.
Biyombo has shown he’s up for the challenge before. In the 22 games he started in the regular season, he averaged 12.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. He also led the league in Bismacks, but apparently that’s still not an official NBA statistic. He’s an athletic, high energy big man who can rebound on both sides of the court, swat shots, and find ways to get points down low. Sure, it may be overly optimistic to think Bismack Biyombo could be the secret weapon that gives Toronto an edge against Cleveland. But with Valanciunas expected to miss the first game, and likely more, the Raptors will need to rely heavily on their Congolese big man. I’m just hoping he plays well enough to keep his name relevant so I can keep saying Bismack Biyombo. Try it: Bismack Biyombo… Watch out Cleveland, or you might just get Bismack’d!
3. The Raptors make the Cavs a one-man show
I’ll admit it, the odds of LeBron James retiring in the middle of the conference finals are very slim. The odds of Bismack Biyombo putting the Raptors on his shoulders and leading them to a major upset over Cleveland might be even slimmer, regardless of how cool his name is. Unless the Raptors are counting on a series of shocking misfortunes to strike the Cavaliers, much like the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team faced, causing Mr. Burns to lose all of his MLB ringers leading up to their big game against Shelbyvillle, Toronto will have to find a way to limit the effectiveness of as many Cavs as possible.
They’re not going to stop LeBron, but they can do their best to tempt him into shooting instead of letting him drive to the hole, draw fouls, get dunks and lay-ups, and make amazing passes to open shooters. If they clog up driving and passing lanes and limit LeBron’s ability to rack up assists, he’ll still do some damage in other ways, but it will at least help take guys like J.R. Smith and Channing Frye out of the game. It will also force Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to create offense on their own instead of relying on LeBron’s playmaking abilities.
Kyle Lowry can potentially outplay Irving and win the point guard battle, and Love can be mentally taken out of games when he gets frustrated. Bottom line, the Raptors need to do a much better job limiting the production of Cleveland’s ensemble cast (we’ll call them the LeBronnettes) than the Hawks did, and they are certainly capable of doing that. But even if Toronto does turn Cleveland into a one-man show, that one man is still LeBron freaking James! Remember, when Springfield lost all their ringers, they still had one left: Darryl Strawberry. That one man was still able to lead them to victory (I know, Mr. Burns pinch-hit Homer for Strawberry and Homer got beaned with the bases loaded to score the winning run, but that totally ruins my analogy).