The second round of the playoffs has concluded, in what was easily the most dramatic round of the playoffs so far. No series ended in less than six games, and it never felt like one team had the series in hand coming in. Let’s recap:
#2 Celtics vs #3 Bucks
This a series that will go down as one for the ages. The seven-game series ended with a 19-point Celtics win at home, as Grant Williams nailed seven 3s, a Celtics Game Seven record. Jayson Tatum had a cool 23 points, and Payton Pritchard nailed four 3s off the bench. Three-point shooting was clearly why the Celtics won, as while the Celtics shot 40% from 3, the Bucks shot 4 for 33, or 12.1%. This is where the absence of All-Star slasher Khris Middleton really hurt the Bucks.
There were so many iconic moments during this series. The Game Five Jrue Holiday block and steal on Marcus Smart. Jayson Tatum‘s incredible 4th quarter stretch to lead the Celtics to a win in Milwaukee (he finished with 46). Al Horford‘s ridiculous Game Four with 30 points and 8 rebounds to tie the series 2-2.
How often do we get to see the two best defensive guards in the NBA go head-to-head while two of the best scorers this decade go at it? Never. There’s a reason why this series was so amazing to watch. It will truly go down as one of the greats.
My prediction for this series was Celtics in Seven, which was exactly what happened. I don’t know if the Celtics could have pulled this off if Middleton was playing, but what matters is that they did. There was definitely a feel that whoever won this series would end up in the NBA Finals.
#1 Heat vs #4 76ers
I really wanted the Philadelphia 76ers to win this series. While I’m not a Philly fan, I’ve seen Joel Embiid carry this team on his back for years, and never make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Embiid only played the final four games of the series, but by then the Heat already had momentum from wins at home. James Harden (unfortunately) lived up to his nickname of “Small Game James,” as he averaged 18.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game. At times, Tyrese Maxey, a star on the rise, looked better than Harden! Harden’s best scoring performance was 31 points, which I already talked about as being labeled vintage. In a must-win Game Five, he had 14 points in 37 minutes, while shooting 38.5% from the field. In Game Six, Harden only had 11. Now, Philadelphia has some tough decisions to make this offseason.
Miami, on the other hand, looked like a cohesive unit, a different player stepping up every night. In Game One, it was Bam Adebayo with 24 points and 12 rebounds; in Game Two, Jimmy Butler had 22 points and 12 assists; in Game Three it was Butler again with 33 points and 10 rebounds; in Game Four, Adebayo and Butler combined for 61 points and 10 rebounds; in Game Five it was Max Strus with 19, Gabe Vincent with 15, and P.J. Tucker with 10. You get the picture. In the closeout Game Six, Butler had 32, while Strus put up 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Then, after Game Six concluded, we had Jimmy Butler yelling, “Tobias Harris over me?!?!” Butler’s mentality is amazing, and I love the energy he brings to the game. It’s one of the reasons that I originally picked the Heat to win in Five, and I was only one game off.
#2 Warriors vs #3 Grizzlies
The Golden State Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in six games, as expected. However, this series was extremely intense, and had a lot more drama than expected. Game One came down to a Ja Morant layup at the buzzer. Unsurprisingly, Draymond Green got ejected, twice. Dillon Brooks got ejected too, because he injured Gary Payton II. Ja Morant‘s knee was injured, and the claimed cause was that Jordan Poole grabbed his knee. If that was, indeed, the case, and Poole did hurt Morant’s knee, then unfortunately, Morant has worse knees then Greg Oden. This clearly isn’t the case, and there’s a reason Morant deleted this tweet:
Game Five was a ridiculous blowout in favor of the Grizzlies. We saw in Game Six Klay Thompson come to life with five 3-pointers in the second half. The matchup between the Warriors and the Grizzlies represented the struggle between new, young teams trying to claim the throne and older teams telling them to wait their turn.
“Man that was hard. That was so hard. I have nothing but respect for those guys.”Draymond Green about the Grizzlies on The Draymond Green Show
Stephen Curry‘s shooting was a little off during this series, 41.3% from the field and 32.9% from 3. However, I think he’ll improve in the conference finals against the Mavericks; I can’t count the amount of times we’ve thought Curry has nothing left, and then he comes back and shocks us all. My original prediction was Warriors in Five, but it was actually six games. Still, not too bad.
#1 Suns vs #4 Mavericks
Wow. When I originally predicted this series, I said Suns in Seven, because I thought Luka Doncic would make the series incredibly difficult. However, I had no clue that in a Game Seven elimination game, Chris Paul would have only 1-point in the first half, and Doncic had as many points as the entire Suns team in the first half. I knew Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie were good, but I didn’t know guys like Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith would rise so high to the challenge. My deepest apologies for underestimating these Mavericks, and my deepest apologies to Paul and Devin Booker for having a crappy owner who won’t resign Deandre Ayton in the offseason.
Now, here are my Conference Finals Predictions, starting with the Eastern Conference:
#1 Heat vs #2 Celtics
I am so excited for this series, as we have a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from the bubble in 2020. The Heat has a new, deeper roster, although they’re currently without Kyle Lowry. Tyler Herro was on another level in the bubble, as he averaged 19.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists on 52.3% from the field and 35% from 3; however, his production has dipped since then, and while he is the 2022 6th Man of the Year, the Celtics defense has improved significantly. The Celtics look amazing, and if they are able to beat the Heat, then they may have one of the toughest paths to the Finals (and an NBA Championship?!?!) ever. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the first round, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday in the second round, and Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Pat Riley, and Eric Spolestra in the third round.
The Celtics are a much better team then when they played the Heat in the bubble. Their defense is able to contain and rattle MVPs, while different players have stepped up at crucial moments. Unfortunately, they will be without Marcus Smart and Al Horford for Game One, and if they don’t have Smart back for even a few games, it’ll really hurt. This series is going to be a slugfest, with two very defensive-minded teams.
Every time the Heat has made the conference finals this decade, they’ve also advanced to the NBA Finals. But I think that’ll change this time around. Celtics in Six.
Note: Since I initially wrote this, the Miami Heat won game one by 11 points. My prediction remains unchanged.
#3 Warriors vs #4 Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks are a scary team in the Western Conference because no one expected them to be here. The Mavericks are chillin’, just having fun playing basketball. The Warriors, on the other hand, are trying to extend a dynasty, and win another championship or two before Curry, Thompson, and Green fade off into the sunset and let Jonathan Kuminga, Jordan Poole, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and James Wiseman take over.
Despite the extra pressure Golden State faces, they also have home court advantage. Plus, they’re battle tested. As long as Curry plays like the MVP he is, I think this series will end with Game 6 Klay torching the Mavericks. Warriors in Six.
What do you think of my predictions? Let me know in the comments below, don’t forget to follow the NBA Blog, and as always, have an awesome day!