NBA Playoffs 2018

Photo Credit: Michael Tipton

Photo Credit: Michael Tipton

Anthony Peterman, Writer

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For the past three years, the NBA Finals have featured the Golden State Warriors (based in Oakland) and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last year, the Warriors were widely acclaimed to be the best NBA team ever, having added Kevin Durant to their already stacked lineup, heightening the rivalry between the two teams. This year, it appears to feature the same teams again, even though neither the Warriors nor the Cavs had as epic of a season as they have each had in the past.

At the top of the Western Conference sat the Houston Rockets, led by James Harden, the obvious choice for the 2018 MVP award. The Warriors, led by Kevin Durant, had the second-best record in the West, mainly because two-time MVP Steph Curry was sidelined by a knee injury at the end of the season. Those two were the remaining two teams in the playoffs competing for a spot in the NBA Finals.

In the first round, the Rockets beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Warriors beat the San Antonio Spurs; both won their series easily. The Spurs used to be a powerhouse when Tim Duncan led the team, but the franchise has lately descended into mediocrity.

In the second round, the Rockets beat the Utah Jazz handily in five games, the same amount of games it took the Warriors to beat the New Orleans Pelicans (the sixth seed). Nevertheless, the Pelicans, led by Anthony Davis, improved very much this season; they were the only team in the first round to sweep their opponent.

The matchup between the Rockets and the Warriors started on Monday, May 14. With Steph Curry back and the Warriors’ offense back into gear, they look almost unstoppable. But if there is one team that can knock off the reigning champs, it is the Rockets. However, to do it will require stellar play by James Harden (who has a history of wilting under playoff pressure), Chris Paul, and the rest of the Rockets’ squad. The series might be close, but the Warriors will most likely overpower the Rockets based on their talent and cohesion.  

In the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers played the Boston Celtics on Sunday, May 13. However, this is not a matchup between the first and second seeds. The Cavaliers were seeded fourth after a very poor season compared to their last couple seasons when they had the best record in the East, while the Celtics ranked second in the Eastern Conference with a record of 55-27. However, Boston has lost their best two players to injuries; Gordon Hayward broke his leg in the very first game of the season (coincidentally against the Cavs), and Kyrie Irving cannot play after surgery on his left knee; both will not be able to return.

Nevertheless, the young Celtics roster has been playing like veterans, including budding stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They struggled against the Milwaukee Bucks, but prevailed in the end four games to three. Next, they ended the Philadelphia 76’ers’ season in five games to reach the Eastern Conference Championship against the Cavs. Many of their games were close all the way to the end, but the young players found a way to make clutch shots. They have made it to the Championship through playing solid and team-oriented basketball.

The Cavaliers road was filled with dominating moments by LeBron James. Their first contender was the Indiana Pacers. Like the Celtics in round one, they struggled but eventually prevailed in seven games, thanks to last-second heroics of LeBron. In game 2, he scored 42 points. In game 4, the total was 32. In game 5, he scored 44 points, the last three of which were a buzzer-beating fadeaway three-pointer to win the game. Overall the game was a brilliant performance by LeBron and proof of how dominant of a player he is. In Game 7, he scored an astounding 45 points to lead his team to victory and to the next round of the playoffs to challenge the Toronto Raptors.

The past two years, the Raptors had been knocked out of the playoffs by LeBron’s Cavs; the Cavs had won the past 6 matchups. But this year was different- the Raptors were the number one seed and looked unstoppable at the end of the season. Nevertheless, LeBron led the Cavs to a four-game sweep of the Raptors to end their season for the third year in a row and to stretch his winning streak against them to 10 straight games. This repeat of disappointing losses to The King has left the Raptors with the hopeless realization that they will never beat LeBron James.

In game 2 of the series, LeBron scored 43 points in an eighteen point rout of the Raptors in Toronto to begin the series. After the Cavs beat the Raptor for the second time in Toronto, the series moved to Cleveland. In game 3, LeBron scored 38 with yet another playoff buzzer-beater. The Raptors had crawled out of a seventeen point deficit, and made a three pointer with five seconds left to tie the game. They thought they were going to overtime, but they were proven wrong. In five seconds, LeBron drove through the whole Raptors defence and hit a fade-away one-handed bank shot as time expired to win the game. Yet again LeBron showed the Raptors and the whole basketball community how dominant and unstoppable he is. In game 4, the Cavs completed the sweep, with LeBron making an astounding nine seemingly impossible fade-away jumpers. Over the eleven game span of the first two rounds of the playoffs, LeBron averaged over 34 points per game. These playoffs have showed how good LeBron is pressure situations. Because of how dominant LeBron is in the playoffs, the Celtics (no matter how good their young players are) will not be able to beat The King.

As in the past three years, the best players will reach the NBA Finals: the Cavs led by LeBron and Kevin Love, and the Warriors led by Curry and Durant. However, Kyrie Irving, who played an instrumental role in the Cavs’ 2016 NBA Championship, left for Boston. The Cavs just do not have the talent that the Warriors have and thus do not have a chance to beat them.

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