The Thunder season is over (more to come on OKC from WTLC), but the 2018 playoffs move on. I, like many of you, am still an NBA junkie so I’ll be taking in as many games as my schedule allows, and I think it still worth while to both chronicle what’s going on as well as give us a space to discuss things outside of the travesty that is the Thunder season. We also want you all to continue enjoying the playoffs with us, so this will serve as a general forum for discussing each series.
I’m sure this will evolve over the weeks to come and I’ll probably get some help, but let’s get started.
1. LeBron moves on
The facts: LeBron James led his Cleveland Cavaliers to a 4-3 series win over the Indiana Pacers. James finished with a 45-9-7 on 16-25 shooting to help his team surpass the undaunted Pacers squad. Former Thunder Victor Oladipo did his best to keep the Pacers in the game, finishing with 30-12-6.
The reaction: If you didn’t see Cleveland’s game 7 against the Pacers coming, then you haven’t really been paying attention for the past 10 years. Two things were for certain: James would come out firing, as he always looks to put opposing teams on their heels in big games, and his orbit would consume just about everything, from his team, his teammates, on down the line.
The tough love side of me hopes Carmelo would take note. This man — Lebron — is not your peer, no matter how much it made sense at one time in each man’s respective career.
The Pacers learned a thing or two in dealing with LeBron in round 1. It is extremely hard, borderline impossible (if history is an indicator) at closing out his team in the Eastern Conference. Dipo showed up, but still had a few down moments, notably a 5-20 shooting in game 4 and a 2-15 for only 12 points in game 5, both winnable games where Indy lost by 4 and 3, respectively. Sabonas was steady. He’s going to be a fantastic player in 3-4 years.
The facts: Fueled by James Harden’s 41-8-7, Houston crushed the Jazz in game 1. Due in large part to a crushing 64-39 edge in the first half, the Jazz played catch-up for the rest of the outing. There were a few fleeting moments late in the game where Utah might have made a move, but the task was too great and they again suffered a game 1 loss in the series.
The reaction: Utah’s defense probably suffered a bit of whiplash in remembering what it feels like to have to guard an actual offense for four quarters. I think the Jazz will recover in game 2 and be competitive in the entire series (maybe not win, but be competitive), and game 1 will be an anomaly, but there is much room for improvement on both ends.
Of particular note — if a team is going to let the smaller and slighter Rockets team win the rebounding battle, which only tips the calculated Morey-ball metrics even further in their favor, it is going to be a long, er short, series.
The facts: The Warriors reminded everyone what they can do when clicking, outscoring the Pelicans in the 2nd quarter 41-21, pushing the lead still further in the 3rd to coast to an easy win, even without Stephen Curry. While Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson led the way offensively with 26 and 27 respectively, it was the Warriors’ defense that knocked the Pelicans around, repeatedly denying their guards good passing angles to Anthony Davis.
The reaction: This one surprised me a bit. The Warriors are still clearly the superior team from top to bottom, but without Curry, they are essentially running an offense with Durant as the de facto point guard. There is great risk in this due to Durant’s weaknesses as a primary ball handler, but New Orleans failed to capitalize.
One of the big reasons why the Pels smoked the Trail Blazers was in their guards’ ability to completely outplay their counterparts. Even without Curry, this did not manifest, but instead Rajon Rondo and Jru Holiday struggled to an 8-24 combined shooting night for only 20 points. If their guards can’t do a significantly better job individually, they’ll never be able to clear out enough space for Anthony Davis who, despite his bountiful talent, is still reliant on guards setting him up to flourish.
4. Boston moves past Giannis
The facts: The Celtics, sans Kyrie Irving, crushed the Bucks on their home court. In a series where Milwaukee should have figured out how to overcome the short-handed team from Boston, their players once again proved they have a resiliency unmatched this season as Terry Rozier, Al Horford, and Jayson Tatum finished with 26, 26, and 20, respectively.
The reaction: Out of respect to my Celtics fan friends and of course our very own Chris Grenham, the Celtics probably aren’t going to go much further in this post-season, but given what we saw this year in OKC, I can only offer my appreciation for a team who knows exactly who and what it is.