Our prediction for the first round was pretty spot on. We exactly got the Raptors over the Wizards in six, The Sixers over Miami in five, and the Warriors over the Spurs in five. We pretty had it correct when we said the Celtics over the Bucks in six games, the Cavs over the Pacers in six, and the Rockets over the Timberwolves in a sweep.
The one’s were off were on the Pelicans and the Jazz. We took the correct winner, the Pelicans, in the New Orleans-Portland series, just not by a landslide, and we did not see Donovan Mitchell taking down the Thunder’s Big Three.
Let’s see if I can pick who advances in the Eastern Semis:
Raptors (1) vs Cavaliers (4)
As this piece was being written, the Raptors blew a golden opportunity because of closers, or lack of it.
They took off on a hot start in Game One but blew an early first quarter lead to be ahead just by one at halftime. They were still clinging to that edge and nursed through the fourth.
They were still up by seven with some five minutes left. But they cannot stop Lebron James, JR Smith and Kevin Love from connecting clutch hits while none of their players can manufacture the shot they badly need.
The Cavs forced overtime. They eventually lost in extra period to yield homecourt advantage.
This is the thing with the Raptors.
They were rumored for years that to have been picked by a team to be the preferred opponent because they were supposed to be the easier target.
True or untrue, the Raptors did nothing to change that narrative.
During existence of the DeMar Derozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas trio, they seem to have difficulty instilling fear on their opponents in the playoffs and they could not establish their go-to-guy. You know, the one who a team gives the ball to when they need a basket and expect him to deliver it to them.
I remember Greivis Vasquez, then a Raptor guard, saying in a post-game interview that they lack a “Paul Pierce” after Toronto, the fourth seed, yielded the 2015 first round series to the then 5th seeded Wizards by a sweep.
It was because Pierce, then a Wizard, opined that the Raptors didn’t scare him because they didn’t have “It”.
This seems that’s what always hurt them, how to deal with a closer, both of their own and of the opposition.
In their last four playoff series losses, they would fall to an excellent playoff closer. Pierce and James.
They were always hanging around in the games, seldom getting blown out.
Thing is they could not close games. They could not stop these two from producing in the clutch nor they have somebody to rely on when they are bleeding for points.
Just like in game one of this series, they could not protect a lead because they couldn’t buy a basket when the going gets tough. And everybody, including the coaches, seems to be afraid to putting the ball in somebody’s hands and let everyone else get out of the way to let him manufacture the basket.
Pundits often say its hero ball. Maybe it is. But it’s why we saw and appreciate a Larry Bird, a Michael Jordan, a Kobe Bryant, a Stephen Curry, among others
These Raptors are again showing they don’t have it, as Pierce put it three years ago.
Meanwhile, the playoff veteran James is showing why seedings and homecourt advantage are somewhat overrated when it comes to the Raptors.
He just got out of a 0-1, 1-2 hole against his nenesis this year, Indiana.
Now, he’s the one holding the lead against a team that the Cavs got their number.
Upset alert, if you could really call it one.
With the improvements that the Raptors did in their bench, I doubt if this will end in a sweep, but…
Pierce used an unusual excuse to finish the Raptors in that 2015 series in four games saying he doesn’t like to go back to Canada because “he doesn’t want to go through customs”.
I’m sure Lebron is going to be at least thinking of the same excuse to end it in six games with the culminating game at home.
Celtics (2) vs Sixers (3)
A lot have doubted the Celtics because of their injuries.
Before the playoffs, a lot said Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks will upset the Celtics because their starters are young and inexperienced, they were led by “B-rated” players, and Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are unavailable.
They were wrong.
Before the start of this semis match-up, majority have the “more talent-filled” Sixers over Boston. Even after the Celtics blow them out in game one, some of them remain favoring the Sixers. Former Celtic Antoine Walker sees the Sixers in five!
I think they are wrong.
They Celtics squad maybe young, but they were put to test early. Hayward bowed out just five minutes into the season, allowing Tatum and Brown to be elevated to play more minutes.
Irving exited late March, allowing Terry Rozier to adapt into become their first option at point, and Shane Larkin at back-up point.
Except for Tatum, they were playoff battle tested.
Jaylen Brown went up against Lebron in the Eastern Conference Finals last year. They were buried in a 0-2 hole against Chicago in the first round. He knows how it feels to be in a bind and climb out of it.
Terry Rozier was watching from the bench as it unfolds.
The Celtics are better ran and better coach.
Danny Ainge stopped following other teams’ blue prints of accumulating big names.
He instead got the personnel that could help the team advance in the playoffs.
How he found Terry Rozier was amazing. Nobody thought Rozier was this good in orchestrating a team offense.
Brown was a surprise third pick two years ago, as there were more talent that are supposed to be better drafted than him.
He was willing to trade this year’s first overall pick down because he can get their guy using the third pick.
He was willing to trade Boston icons and favorites away.
Brad Stevens, on the other hand, know how to make these pieces work.
He is a genius in preparing his team. He exploits mismatches and opponent weaknesses. He knows where to position personnel for them to succeed individually and team-wise.
He knows how to plug holes when relevant pieces are removed from their roles.
He made journeyman Isaiah Thomas think he is worth a truckload of money when he is clearly not.
Both men simply knew what would and wouldn’t work for them.
Meanwhile, the Sixers are the ones young and inexperienced. They may possess more talent but they are not ready for these playoffs.
The Heat were a bad match-up for them. It was not a surprise they beat them as we predicted.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are rare NBA talent finds but Boston got fair defenders in Aaron Banes and the Tatum/Brown combination to take care of their length. We should not forget Marcus Smart who showed us what he can do against the also lengthy Antetokounmpo.
After them, who else?
JJ Redick and Marco Belinilli are great shooters, but they cannot create their own shot. They have to be set up. Something that Boston has proven they can take away.
And they were defensive liabilities that the Celtics readily attacked on their offensive side in the first game.
Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Ersan Ilyasova are long and have range.
But the Celtics just finished taking care of Kris Middleton, Jabari Parker, and Thon Maker, who have similar skill set.
And they are not as quick as their Celtics counterparts.
This is a mismatch. In favor of the Celtics.
For the Sixers to win this series, they have to force their height advantage against the smaller Celtics and hope their outside snipping comes back to life.
I admit I maybe a little bit Celtics-homer here but I think I will be spot on of my choice.
These supposed to be “no-name” Celtics will be victorious in this series. They should do it in six, even less.
By: ARMANDO BOLISLIS