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The First Round of the Western NBA Playoffs, an Overview

Elijah Weston-Capulong and Luke O'Connell, Sports Editors

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Even before Damian Lillard’s heroics and trash talk over twitter, this 3 vs. 6 match-up was one of the most exciting series’ in the first round. And, the duo matchup of Westbrook and George versus Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, did not disappoint. The Blazer’s started strong at home with Lillard (32 ppg) and McCollum (22.5 ppg) leading the Blazers to a 2-0 lead and all the momentum going to Oklahoma City. Portland scored an average of 109 points per game, while only allowing 96.5, setting the tone for their strong, game-winning, offensive performances later on in the series. With a 0-2 deficit giving the OKC Thunder a rebellious tone, OKC went into their the first home game of the playoffs as favorites. This turned out to be accurate, as a convincing offensive, and overall performance led many to believe that this series had the potential to go to seven games. But, after the Thunder gave up a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter, allowing the Blazers to regain momentum with only one game needed to win the series. Then came Lillard, eventually leading the NBA in round one playoffs made, Lillard went OFF for 50 points on 17-33 shooting with 10 threes, including his infamous 37-foot, step-back, to clinch the series. As the Blazers continue on to face the Nuggets in the second round, NBA fans will hope for more historic moments from Damian Lillard, as he proves himself as one of the best point-guards in the league.

Via Wikimedia Commons

The first series in this year’s playoffs to go to seven games, Nuggets vs. Spurs proved to be one of the most exciting match-ups of the first round. After both teams emerged 2-2 going into the fifth game in Denver, both teams made use of their home advantage, each winning on their courts to tie the series 3-3. Finally, after a heavily contested game, the Nuggets held on in the fourth to win the game (90-86), and clinch the series. Next up for the Nuggets, are the Blazers, and with this non-convincing win against the seven seed, they will have to improve on both ends of the floor in order to compete with Lillard and Portland.

 

Warriors vs Clippers, a one versus eight matchup that many disregarded due to Golden State’s obvious superiority. After a convincing win in the first game, with Curry dropping 38 points and grabbing 15 rebounds, leading the Warriors to a 17-point win. But, in the second game, Lou Williams (36 points, 11 assists), Montrezl Harrell  (25 points, 10 rebounds), overcame a 31 point deficit to shock the Warriors at Oracle, showing their ability to compete. As the series progressed, Golden State developed a 3-1 lead going into a game five in Oakland. Even if, a 45-point night from Kevin Durant and home court advantage, could not hold off the Clippers, who forced a game six in Los Angeles. The Warriors, embarrassed by their failure to live up to their standards, went into game six with a must-win attitude, which proved to be enough to finally finish off the Clippers. Overall, even with an, to say the least, unconvincing win against the Clippers and Demarcus Cousins out for the rest of the season

 

The least surprising series of them all, Houston vs. Utah turned out how most had expected, with James Harden and the Rockets encountering a minimal amount of resistance, easily progressing into the second round. The only possible noteworthy thing, being the fact that Donovan Mitchell is not yet up there with the League’s point guards, good but not great. The Rockets will play a struggling Warriors team in the second round.

 

Outlook: With the top four seeds in the west all making it through the first round, a in store for NBA fans, is a fantastic, heavily contested second round, featuring four teams who could all give any Eastern Conference team, a run for its money in the NBA Finals.

IN THE EAST…

In an unsurprising turnout, the Pistons are headed home after 4 games. After barely making it into the playoffs, beating out the nine seed Hornets by only two games, most people were expecting a sweep. Along with that, the Pistons lost Blake Griffin, who pretty much carried them to the finish, to a left knee injury which knocked him out of game one. After winning both home games, the Bucks stole two on the road, sending the Pistons home. For me this series didn’t say much about the Bucks. We get it, you can beat up on lower seed teams with ease and bank on Giannis just in case it gets close. The Bucks are set to play the Celtics in the second round, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Celtics beat them in five games. The Bucks don’t have enough depth to take on a young Celtics team, even with Giannis, an MVP candidate.

 

Celtics-Pacers

Though this series was a sweep, it had a decent amount of competition compared to some of the other rounds we’ve seen so far. The C’s won Game One by ten points, and Marcus Morris showed up off the bench with 20 points  and 7 rebounds in 29 minutes. In Game Two, Jayson Tatum went for 26 points and Kyrie Irving had 37. The Pacers scored only 12 points in the fourth quarter, and the Celtics capitalized on that to finish them off. The Celtics had five players with more than ten points, and stole Game 3 due to a strong defensive gameplan in the second half for the third time in the series. In Game Four the Celtics finished off the Pacers, and are headed into the second round. With Marcus Smart out for a few games and the Bucks coming off a sweep in the first round, the second round may be a tough one for the C’s.

 

76ers-Nets

D’Angelo Russell really stepped up for the Nets in Game One, which was the Nets’ one and only victory over the Sixers this series. The Nets took a lead late in the first quarter of Game One, and never looked back, beating the Sixers 111-102 . With six players scoring in double digits, it looked like the 6th seed Nets might have stood a chance in the series. Game Two and Three were both blowout Sixers wins, with Simmons and Embiid both doing very well. The Nets had a lead for most of Game Four, but lost it in the fourth and couldn’t recover. Down 3-1, the Nets didn’t really have much left to play for going into Game Five, and it showed. The Sixers, though only Embiid scored more than twenty points, held a lead the entire game, and sent the Nets home after beating them 122-100. One thing I noticed from this series is the ability for different players on the Sixers to step up when needed. The young duo of Embiid and Simmons, along with the talented yet inconsistent Butler, and quality players like Harris, have a good shot at making it to the Finals this year. If they want to do that they’re going to have to beat the Raptors, which doesn’t seem too tough, and either the Bucks or the Celtics. To do that, I think Butler needs to step up more and be more consistent with his point scoring.

 

Raptors-Magic

In this series, Kawhi Leonard and his Raptors sent the Magic home after five games. Like the Sixers, the Raptors lost Game One, but continued on to win the next four games. In Game One, Kawhi Leonard and Paskal Siakam combined for 49 points while Kyle Lowry had a measly 0. After going 0 for 6 from the field, it’s safe to say that if Lowry had scored just a bit more, the Raptors could have been moving on after four games. In Game Two, the Raps blew out the Sixers by 21 points. Lowry scored 22 and Leonard scored 37, along with Siakam scoring 19. This game shows how much of a difference Lowry can make on a game. In Game Three, the Raptors held a steady lead for most of the game, and almost lost it late in the fourth quarter, but finished the game beating the Magic 98-93. The Raptors won Game Four by 22 and Game 5 by 19, with strong performances from Kawhi in both. This round could have been better for the Raptors if Lowry could be more consistent. If the Raptors want to beat the Sixers, Lowry needs to help Leonard and Siakam on offense so that Kawhi will have more energy to hustle on defense.

 

Outlook: With two star studded series coming up, NBA fans should be excited for the second round in the East. It will be interesting to see if Giannis and the Bucks can step it up against Kyrie and the young Celtics. A big deciding factor for that series will be if the Celtics can contain Giannis, and it may be tough for them to do that until Smart comes back. In the Raptors-76ers series, the deciding factor will be Lowry’s consistency, because Leonard and Siakam may not have enough left in the tank to carry the Raps past the Sixers.

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Hellgate Lance
The First Round of the Western NBA Playoffs, an Overview