As the playoffs move forward, things turn bloody for several players, while other teams continue to befuddle us with their inconsistencies. Here are the questions the WTLC team is mulling over prior to tonight’s one game.
1. Can we trust the Celtics? Like, ever?
Reid Belew: No.
Dom Flaim: Never trust a team who’s locker room leader is a flat earther.
Ben Mertens: Trust them to do what? They aren’t going to dominate the way people predicted at the start of the year, but if you shake off the weight of preseason expectations, this is a team that is now in a best of 5 series, with 3 games at home to come, against the best regular season team in the league. They have one of the best Giannis-stoppers in the league in Al Horford, and they’ve forced the Bucks to change their defensive scheme after just 1 game in the series. Winning one of the first 2 games of this series is the best they could have hoped for.
Do I trust them? Not completely, but I don’t trust the Bucks completely either.
J.A. Sherman: One of the big things with Boston is a two-step dance that goes thus. 1) They go through a horrid shooting stretch where nobody can hit anything; and 2) Every guy starts trying to take shots as if their point value is based on degree of difficulty. This is basically what happened in Game 7 of the ECF last year when they absolutely should have beaten LeBron and the Cavs, and it happened again in the 3rd quarter where the Bucks trashed them thoroughly. They either learn to manage these bad stretches and grind out series after series, or they don’t, and will fall to a team they have nearly beaten.
2. Who is the bigger wild card in the Sixers-Raptors series - Siakam or Butler? (or someone else?)
Reid: I really love Siakam, and I think he really gives teams fits with matchups. But “wildcard” sort of insinuates something unexpected, which Siakam is not. I really wonder if it’s Marc Gasol. In Game 1, he had the largest +- for Toronto, and in Game 2, he had the second biggest. Coming off the bench, Gasol is extremely valuable. Maybe he does more as the series goes on and can be an at least better option for guarding Embiid.
Dom: Between these two I’d definitely be leaning Siakam. I expect Butler to be James Butler when it comes down to it, the guy just always is a gamer, Siakam seemed to be held down a bit more in game two and for me that ended up being the difference. Though I will throw Ben Simmons into the hat as another guy given his defensive assignment is one of the most important.
Ben: Tobias Harris feels like the real wild card to me. He’s been stymied offensively, shooting 32% and averaging less points per game than James Ennis. The Sixers paid a big price to get Harris at the trade deadline in the hopes he would push them over the top, and they need more fro him. he’s also a key defensively- the Sixers had Joel Embiid guard Pascal Siakam in game 2, which left Harris guarding Marc Gasol. That feels like something Toronto should try to exploit more going forward.
Sherman: I’m going with Butler, but I just don’t trust his late-game shot selection. He’ll make some really difficult shots, but then I ask myself, “Why is he always taking difficult shots with the game on the line?” And furthermore, with Joel Embiid not really functional late in games, and with Ben Simmons essentially afraid to touch the ball because he can’t shoot or make foul shots, it really comes down to “Literally Jimmy.”
3. Does a player from either the Rockets or Warriors start losing limbs in this series, a la the Black Knight from Monty Python?
Reid: Oh yeah. We’re teetering on the edge now. Klay and Steph’s ankles are screaming for mercy, James Harden channeled his inner double pinkeye Bob Costas (hey Bill Barr looks like an overweight Bob Costas. And also, please Google Bob Costas with double pinkeye. Most heroic sports moment I’ve ever seen live), Chris Paul is an injury king, and Clint Capela has had troubles too. I’m rooting for this. Nothing would please me more than seeing Kenneth Farried, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, and Nene go toe-to-toe with Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook Andrew Bogut, Jonas Jerebko, and Shaun Livingston in a game 7 triple OT.
Dom: Part of me wonders if anyone on Houston thinks Green’s hit to Harden’s eye was a cheap shot (it wasn’t) if they retaliate. Granted I don’t think that ends well and the most likely limb loss is from CP3 flailing his arms looking for a foul. I wish Cousins were healthy just for a reenactment:
Ben: Daryl Morey has no doubt already sent another thesis paper to the league about how uncalled fouls have increased the chance of limb loss by 12.3751%. When will the league take action?!?
Sherman: The funniest thing to me about all this physical contact is how over-sold how good the refs were, how they didn’t want to be complainers on the court, etc. That’s fine — it might last for a game, right up until Chris Paul wedges himself underneath Kevin Durant and takes away his legs. Then we’ll be back to the complaining deathball featured in game 1.
4. Is Denver in trouble?
Reid: Not yet. I still think they win this series. If Portland wins again on Friday, maybe I raise an eyebrow. Ultimately, if Portland goes to the WCF, I’ll be pretty pumped because: 1) Portland is cool and Dame doesn’t get the respect he deserves; and 2) because it will be really easy for me to create pro-Thunder propaganda around how great the Blazers were that year, and how “really, only the Warriors could’ve beat them,” to deflect attention from our first round exit.
Dom: I mean they’re certainly not in perfect shape, having lost home court. That said I fully expect this to be 2-2 going back to Denver and despite this being the undercard on the weak side of the bracket is a really close and fun matchup. Per Matt Moore’s Twitter, Denver shot 2-14 on unguarded catch and shoot attempts, 3-21 on catch and shoot overall, 14-34 at the rim on non post-ups, and 6-17 on putbacks. They had a significant offensive rebounding advantage and just shot...well they shot like the Thunder. They’re actually a solid shooting team though, so if Craig and Murray are alright, I think they’re in an OK spot to at least win 1 in Portland. I think this is a long series and could go either way.
Sherman: What is most alarming to me is how difficult a time they’re having scoring points. They were a top 5 offense this season and with a bottom 5 pace. This tells me in part that they relied on all their guys doing the right things nearly all the time, which resulted in open looks galore from everyone. But in this series, so much of the time it is Nikola Jokic doing something while everyone kind of watches while kind of wondering if they are supposed to do something different in the playoffs.
I was quite impressed with how the Trail Blazers led nearly throughout, and that was with a pretty poor game from Damian Lillard, and a mediocre game from nearly everyone else. But who saw Enes Kanter coming once again, holding his own against Jokic? Nobody has really suggested this yet, but...maybe Kanter just got a little bit better defensively, so he’s not so easily exposed? Do it once, it’s luck. But do it twice???