Just over one week into the NBA Playoff season, let’s take a look at the first round series from around the league. Very few of them have been particularly competitive, which hopefully just means that rounds two and three will be. Today, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference.
True to Atlanta
The Hawks are going to end up beating the Nets, and while it was not necessary for Atlanta to pull off the sweep, it would have been nice. That’s particularly true considering that two of the other three Eastern Conference teams advancing have already managed to pull off the sweep.
Even in the two games they did win, it was closer than it probably should have been. The Nets have gotten good production from Thad Young (except game 2), Brook Lopez, and Jarrett Jack off the bench in games one and two. Jack passed the torch to Bojan Bogdanovic in game three though. Bogdanovic replaced Markel Brown in the starting lineup for games two and three. Probably a good call considering he responded with 19 points in the game 3 victory.
It also needs to be mentioned that the rapid decline of Deron Williams ranks in the top five most depressing first round storylines. He was an assist away from a bizarre double-double in game two with 2 points, 10 boards, and 9 assists.
Atlanta needs to get this series over with quickly, because the Wizards, despite being the current epitome of the “Clogged Toilet” offense, are actually starting to look a little scary. One last thought: I know that it is politically correct to say that you can’t take your first round opponent lightly, but it’s almost insulting to our (the fans) intelligence for the Hawks players to try to convince us that Brooklyn is good.
Cleveland Sweeps C’s
As I wrote in my preview, the Celtics overachieved considerably this season. That being said, they just were no match for the Cavs. The Cavs have been playing exceptionally well in the last few months. However, the Bulls have looked good against the Bucks, despite losing on Saturday night, and Cleveland could potentially be entering round two short-staffed with Kevin Love suffering a dislocated shoulder and J.R. Smith potentially facing a suspension.
Boston has some decent pieces going forward, and two first round picks in the upcoming draft. The one thing they lack is a legitimate star. If they can acquire one via trade or free agency in the next few years, then they will once again become one of the contenders in the East. If and when that time comes, the playoff experience that this group got this season may prove valuable.
Milwaukee stole game four on a buzzer beater, but Chicago has looked extremely dangerous so far in the playoffs. Admittedly, I saw none of game four, because I was fortunate enough to attend game four of the Pelicans-Warriors series. Defensively, Chicago is more than capable of hanging with Cleveland in a seven game series, and at times their offense has looked great. However, they will need to play more consistently on that end of the floor if they want to knock off the Cavs.
The Bulls need to thank the Bucks whenever this series ends, assuming that they end up winning, because this was the perfect first round opponent to prepare them for Cleveland. Milwaukee is a great defensive team, which is exactly where Chicago needed work. They have had several key pieces miss significant time this year and a first round match-up against a team like the Bucks is a perfect way to get some offensive chemistry back against solid competition. Also, Milwaukee was a good transition team, which is good for any team preparing to play LeBron and company. (See below).
Milwaukee won its first playoff game in five years on Saturday afternoon, which is a great accomplishment for a team that has had very little to cheer about recently. Jason Kidd has done a great job with this group. If Jabari Parker can return from injury and become the player that most believe he can be, then Milwaukee has a promising foundation going forward.
This series has easily been the most surprising of the first round. The predictions for this series were highly variable, but almost nobody predicted a sweep. Furthermore, any who did probably would have picked the Raptors to do so, because they were the higher seed, had homecourt, and Washington did not play particularly well to close out the regular season.
The Raptors have got to feel cursed after being the four seed two consecutive years, and coming up short against the 5 seed both times. Last year, they lost in seven to Brooklyn, but getting swept by the Wizards has to hurt. Part of the reason the Raptors are going home early is the performance of Kyle Lowry. He had a good Game 4, but that was about it. He is one of the better point guards in the league, which is really saying something given the plethora of good PGs around the NBA. But, he wasn’t at his best in this series.
Paul Pierce’s leadership proved to be a valuable commodity for the Wizards, particularly in the first two road games. He also stepped up big on the court. He scored 20 points in Game 1, including 5 in overtime. Then, in Game 3 he hit a dagger three with 16.3 seconds left to put the Wiz up 3-0 in the series. Final note: The quotes coming out of the Wizards’ locker room are significantly more confidence-inspiring than that of the aforementioned Hawks’ locker room.
Check back tomorrow for the Western Conference update!