The tumultuous first round of the NBA playoffs saw a bunch of series that were extremely competitive. The Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder went to 6 games, as did the Toronto Raptors vs the Washington Wizards. The Cleveland Cavaliers were pushed to the brink by the Indiana Pacers over 7 games and the injury-riddled Celtics struggled to put away the Bucks over 7 games as well.
The 2nd round has certainly been less exciting (and almost over). Taking stock of where we are today.
76ers vs Celtics
Celtics leading 3-0
With the 76ers beating out the Heat, they suddenly had a realistic path to the Eastern Conference finals, which would be an incredible result after the years to toiling among the bottom teams in the league. All they had to do was beat the Celtics, who barely squeaked past the Bucks and are still missing two of their best players. The 76ers, who were starting a comparatively young team, seemed to have the talent advantage with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Of course, as has become the norm, the Celtics have overcome their injuries and somehow have taken a 3-0 lead against the 76ers. A sweep is a real possibility. Al Horford has absolutely dominated Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons has struggled, and the young Celtics have been incredible. The Celtics are the envy of all the league right now. Their main problem is that they have too many good players and will be unable to find time for them all in the future. For the 76ers, this playoff series is still a great experience. Their coronation may just be a little early.
Raptors vs Cavaliers
Cavs leading 3-0
The other supposed competitive series is also heading towards a sweep. The Raptors seemed like they were finally ready to take on LeBron. The Cavs did not look good in their series against the Pacers and the new-look Raptors with the focus on ball movement and stocked with a strong bench were ready-made to topple the King.
While two of the games have come down to the wire, there has been no answer for LeBron James. Somehow, with a team whose 2nd and 3rd best player has been an up-and-down Kevin Love and either 37-year-old Kyle Korver or long-time NBA journeyman Jeff Green, LeBron is on the path to take this team to the Finals once again.
We say this every year, but yet again LeBron has elevated his play in the playoffs to a level thought impossible at this continuous rate. This playoffs, he is averaging 34.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game. In Game 2 against the Raptors he was in another zone and basically spend the 4th quarter taking ridiculous fadeaway shots just because he could. In Game 3, he ended the game with this buzzer beater.
It is quite possible James is having his best playoffs since 2008-2009, Almost a decade later, it is incredible he can rise to this level yet again.
Jazz vs Rockets
Rockets leading 3-1
The Western Conference series were always going to be less competitive. The Rockets and the Warriors have been a class above everyone else in the league all year and that is proving out in the playoffs. While the Jazz were able to steal a game, they just are unable to contain the Rockets on offense and do not have the talent to be able to keep up, particularly when Ricky Rubio has been out all series. Similarly to how Clint Capela took Karl-Anthony Towns out of his game, Rudy Gobert has been outplayed by Capela for most of the series.
The Jazz have been one of the most exciting stories of the season, but it looks like their road ends here. It will be exciting to see where they go next.
Pelicans vs Warriors
Warriors leading 3-1
This was always going to be an impossible series with Steph Curry returning to the Warriors from injury. The Pelicans, while they played extremely well against the Blazers, are like almost every other team in the NBA in that cannot matchup against the Warriors. The Pelicans actually have been able to pull out one victory, but the Warriors now hold a 3-1 lead and look to end the series in short fashion. The real matchup will happen in the next round when the Warriors take on the Rockets.
What the Pelicans have done is staved off the discussions about whether or not they should rebuild. The latter half of the regular season and the postseason have shown what a shooting-oriented team could look like around Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday has taken his game to another level. The Pelicans will certainly have an extremely interesting off-season as they decide what to do with DeMarcus Cousins, but at least they will have more confidence in moving forward.