Just like the weather out there, the NBA Playoffs are getting hotter. Most of us NBA experts predicted this final 4 before the season started. That was before Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving went down. A testament to the Celtics coach and winning culture is the fact that Boston still made it this far and fares a decent chance of making the 22nd Finals appearance in franchise history (17-4 record). Cavs fans may not wish to be reminded of the last time Boston beat Cleveland in the playoffs: the 2010 conference semis featuring the infamous “LeBron Quit” game and the slightly less widely talked about “Damnit Delonte, You Ruined Everything” game.
In the West, the Rockets boast the league’s best overall record and home court advantage while simultaneously finding themselves as severe underdogs to Golden State. And rightfully so. But still, you could say this is the “true” NBA title series. These are the 2 best teams in the game by far. And although Houston’s chances to win are slim to none, they’re the only team that even has a chance of beating the Warriors in a best of 7 series. Here’s a preview and predictions for how these conference finals play out. And now seems like a good time to mention yours truly correctly picked 14 of the 16 playoff teams back in October before the season started.
#1 Houston v. #2 Golden State - The Rockets got what they wanted when they traded for Chris Paul. They got one of the best performing point guards in postseason history and Paul finally broke through past the 2nd round for the first time on a team worthy of his Point Godness. But that doesn’t change the fact that Kevin Durant still signed with Golden State in 2016. And even with likely MVP James Harden, Houston will need nearly everything to fall in their favor to even have a chance. They’ll need to hit near record 3’s at near record percentages and still hope for Golden State to have a few off nights shooting wise. (and this will be their strategy, especially’ the ‘3’s’ part) Even then, that’s a tall order against the highest rated defense in the playoffs. For the sake of an interesting Finals and a better chance of a Cavs victory, we should all root for the Rockets. But playing these Warriors have always led to inevitable disappointment. Pick: Warriors in 6.
#2 Boston v. #4 Cleveland - The playoffs have been a bit of a roller coaster for the Cavs and their fans. What’s new? Nearly losing in the first round to the Indiana Pacers, then sweeping the number 1 seed Raptors have folks as confused as they’ve been all season. Which Cavs team will show up in the Finals? Boston’s a nice story, having gone to game 7 against the more talented Bucks in round 1 and really taking advantage of Philadelphia’s inexperience to handily win their 2nd round series. They’re playing really good basketball right now and all after losing Kyrie Irving who’s seen his current and former teams both make the conference finals without him. Not sure what more proof there is that the Earth is round. I don’t care what they didn’t tell us in school.
The extent to which Brad Stevens is superior to Ty Lue as a basketball coach might only be surpassed by the extent to which LeBron James will be better than every other basketball player in this series. Al Horford may be having nightmares about his time in Atlanta facing James teams. Boston is playing better as a team, has more solid contributors, and is playing better defense but they’re not playing inexperienced Bucks or Sixers teams. The Cavs have been here before and they’re relying on their experience. That will be enough to outlast a Celtics team without Kyrie Irving. It’s hard to buy right back into the Cavs so quickly after they nearly lost in the first round while the Celtics and Brad Stevens are clearly making their mark this postseason, but it’s pretty easy to bet on history and LeBron James’ 8-1 record in the Conference Finals. Pick: Cavs in 6.