Welcome to Sports Roundup. This series will offers analysis of professional sports from members of the Chronicle Sports staff.
Four teams remain standing in the NBA playoffs: The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers represent the East while the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets will battle it out to determine the finest team in the West. Our analysts answer the pressing questions.
The Boston Celtics have been a surprise, defeating the heavily favored Philadelphia 76ers despite being an injury-ravaged team held down by youngsters. How far do they go?
I think that they will take Cleveland to seven games but will ultimately fall to the Cleveland Cavaliers. No one in the Eastern Conference has the offensive firepower to beat the Cavs four times. The Celtics play with toughness and determination, but they do not have the star power that Cleveland has. LeBron’s playoff stat line is ridiculous; 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game with 55% shooting from the field. As far as this Boston team should be concerned, he is unguardable. He is too strong for sophomore Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford and Marcus Morris do not have the speed to successfully guard him on the perimeter.
The rest of this Cavs team is also very talented. When Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver are on, the Cavs create a lot of space for LeBron to work inside. With so many scoring options surrounding him, it becomes nearly impossible to double team LeBron due to his superb court vision. The Cavs have been averaging 121.5 points per 100 offensive possessions, by far the best out of any playoff team this year.
This isn’t to say that this Celtics team isn’t any good. This team lost their two best players (Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving) before the playoffs began and somehow knocked off both Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks and the up-and-coming 76ers. They have gotten 25 point games from Brown, Tatum, Horford and Terry Rozier. With Hayward’s recovery going smoothly and plenty of time in the offseason for Irving to rest, the Celtics should be the Eastern Conference favorite next year. But right now, they just aren’t good enough to beat the King.
The Cavs are now in a really good position in the east, having swept the raptors and facing a ravaged Celtics team in the Eastern Conference Final. If they beat the Celtics, they’ll take on the winner of what should be a grueling Western Conference Finals. If the Warriors or Rockets are tired, can the Cavs win it all?
While I think Lebron and the Cavaliers will overcome Brad Stevens and his group of overachievers, they simply do not have the firepower to defeat the Rockets or the Warriors. The Western Conference finals is looking to be the championship series for all intents and purposes. However, the NBA playoffs format is still heavily flawed so we get the two best teams playing each other before the Finals. If the team that gets out of the Western Conference is remains healthy and not fatigued, they should win in 5 games. However, a lot can go wrong in (let’s assume) seven games. Coming off nearly missing over a month due to injury, Stephen Curry may be prone to injury and as we’ve seen, the Warriors become significantly less efficient without him. Their 2016 finals collapse was largely due to Curry not being at 100%. Meanwhile, the Rockets system is almost entirely dependent on James Harden. If he were to get injured or fatigued to the point where he is no longer effective, the Rockets would fall apart and Lebron and Co. could snag Cleveland’s second championship title.
Warriors/Rockets. Who ya got?
The Warriors. No matter how good James Harden has been all season and how dominant the Rockets are from behind the arc, it is nearly impossible to out-shoot this Warriors team in the last three minutes. No lead under 15 points is safe and I don’t see the Rockets having a fourth quarter lead that big four different times. Steph Curry has returned to his early season form, averaging 24.5 points per game in his four games since coming back from an injury. The Warriors have three different players averaging over 20 points per game during these playoffs (Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson) and the Rockets simply don’t have enough defenders to guard all of them. Add in a pesky, hard-nosed Draymond Green and a bench that runs deep, and the Warriors are unbeatable in a seven game series. Warriors in 6.
I think this series will go to the distance to a game 7 with the Warriors ultimately prevailing. With good defenders and 3-point shooters up and down the roster, the Rockets have been engineered to beat the Warriors at their own game. Even though Daryl Morey did a great job stockpiling weapons this past offseason in Chris Paul, PJ Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute, it still will not be enough to beat the Rockets. Having star-power becomes more important during the playoffs. The Warriors have four all-stars to the the Rockets’ two and the Hamptons five is by far and away the best unit in the league until proven otherwise. Additionally, the Warriors have a clear experience-advantage having been to 3 straight NBA finals. The Rockets’ two-headed monster of James Harden and Chris Paul, on the other hand, have a track record of choking in the playoffs. When the chips are down, count on the more talented, more experienced team to come out on top.