Welcome to the Conference Finals
Happy Mother's Day! Shoutout to all Mom Dukes out there holding their own. I’m not sure where you are, but most mothers in Takoma Park are focused on the Conference Finals. Whether your mom loves flowers or her mini-van, she'll at least appreciate these venues. Let's huddle up.
I won’t go VMA-Kanye, but I need to get something off of my chest first. Straight up, Brad Stevens deserves to be coach of the year. The award is attributed to a coaches’ vote, but the fact that he attracted NO votes from his peers is disrespectful and discredits the ballot. I’d actually place the winner, Dwane Casey, third on the list, between Utah’s Quin Snyder and Indiana’s Nate McMillan.
Disregard the hype of the after-timeout sideline-out. While his team walked on crutches, Stevens still put together a season marked with consistency and success. This year, the Raptors boasted strong bones, tendons and ligaments. Out of a 13-man playoff roster, Boston had six who played at least 69 games. Toronto toted 11, most in the league. Easily.
Besides losing all-stars Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to season-ending injuries, Boston played without Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart for almost half the season. The young core in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier have set the Eastern Conference on fire, and the return of Smart has reminded us of the tone, the level of grit they like to play with. After a tough seven game series with Milwaukee, many thought the marred Celtics wouldn’t leave Philadelphia triumphant. All they needed was five games.
The basketball gods will humble you, though. Ask Coach Casey. I’m sure he’d trade that honor for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals -- or even a game five -- in a heartbeat. Instead, it’s the Cavs and the replacements, led by a gifted young coach, who does more in a 20-second timeout than Clark Kent does in a phonebooth.
In the NBA’s Metropolis, Superman’s cape is an arm sleeve and the ‘S’ is a ‘23’. Not only does LeBron lead his team in five statistical categories, he’s first in points, second in minutes, and third in assists among all playoff leaders. After an exhausting seven game tug-of-war with the Indiana Pacers, he swept the first seeded Raptors with spring-cleaning urgency.
This series’ outcome relies on two factors, and both are tales of inexperience. Most of Cleveland’s rotation have never played in May, and that inexperience has their superman with his hands on his shorts, panting for air. A tired LeBron is still an all-world player, but Boston’s youth accompanies a naiveté that shields them from fear and reluctance.
Whoever wins the ECF will be playing in the junior Finals. West of the Mississippi lies the NBA’s best two teams, and the matchup’s anticipation rivaled Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy.
Monday night, Chris Paul will introduce himself to some Conference Finals for the first time in his career. It’s been refreshing to watch him play on a team that runs the pick-and-roll a little less than every possession. They can’t parallel the defending champs’ depth, but with Paul and James Harden, the Rockets have two guys on payroll who can command a game’s tempo or momentum for stretches -- at any given moment. Playing either as point guard gives Mike D’Antoni, the most diabolical offensive coach in NBA history, a malleable lineup that miiiiight be able to douse the Warriors’ fountain of talent.
After getting Steph Curry back, Oakland’s finest is scoring more, shooting better, and the bench is #littyagain...I had to, Meek’s home. Without Curry, the team was good, but lacked the electricity that became synonymous with Warriors basketball. The viewing eye had forgotten how demoralizing and imposing his talent really is. In four games back, he’s averaging 24.5 PPG, shooting 48% from the field and 44% from deep. In three regular season matchups against Houston, he’s averaging 23 PPG, shooting 41% from the floor and 35% from three. The drop in points is small in significance, but the dip in shooting percentages will have you (or me...probably me) watching Houston’s defense with a magnifying glass.
Now that’s NOT an implication that a bunch of defense will be played. This is 2018, and these are the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. In short, this series is about who can score the most the fastest. Houston’s home-court advantage almost equalizes the two titans. Still, I think it’ll be Warriors in seven. In the East, where defense is a thing, that inexperience I mentioned make this a toss-up. Even with their balance and coaching, I think Cleveland grows up and wins in another seven games.
I just really like game sevens, but I’m definitely more credible than those coaches. GO CAPS.
Catch up with us this Wednesday night, LIVE on HYPE Radio Show, airing from 10-11pm on 94.3 FM or takomaradio.com
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