2017 NBA Conference Finals Preview

 

The NBA Western Conference Finals turned out to be a coronation of sorts. The Golden State Warriors had no trouble dominating the San Antonio Spurs in 4 games. Golden State goes into the NBA Finals with an unblemished post-season record.

While Golden State looks every bit like a championship contender, the Cleveland Cavaliers must pick it up after their stunning 108 to 111 loss to the Boston Celtics at Quicken Loans Arena. Up until the almost inexplicable loss, the Cavs were, like the Warriors, undefeated in the 2017 NBA Playoffs.

2017 NBA Conference Finals Preview

Cleveland and Boston play Game 4 on Tuesday, May 23. Will the Cavaliers bounce back with a win? Or, will Boston add doubt to the Cavs and their fans?

NBA Western Conference Finals
** Records and stats as of May 23

1 Golden State Warriors vs 2 San Antonio Spurs
Warriors win NBA Western Conference Finals 4 to 0

Game 1: Sunday, May 14
Golden State Warriors 113 vs San Antonio Spurs 111

Game 2: Tuesday, May 16
Golden State Warriors 136 vs San Antonio Spurs 100

Game 3: Saturday, May 20
Golden State Warriors 120 at San Antonio Spurs 108

Game 4: Monday, May 22
Golden State Warriors 129 at San Antonio Spurs 115

Analysis: Game 1 was the turning point. When San Antonio Spurs’ fans look back on this series, the image of Zaza Pachulia coming down on Kawhi Leonard’s ankle is the image that will forever be etched in their minds. Before Zaza blatantly came down on Leonard’s ankle, his hurt ankle FYI, the Spurs were up by 23 points. Leonard had scored an awesome 26 points in less than 25 minutes.

To me, it looks like Zaza isn’t even trying to block Kawhi’s shot. No matter. The NBA did nothing about it. They didn’t suspend Zaza for any other games. Even if they had, it wouldn’t have mattered because without the brilliant Leonard, the Spurs were done.

Steph Curry led an amazing second half Warriors surge. Golden State beat the San Antonio Spurs 113 to 111. Steph’s stat line in Game 1 impressed: 40 points, 3 steals, 7 boards, and 3 assists. Kevin Durant was almost as impressive. KD scored 34 points. He grabbed 5 boards and had 4 assists.

But, as well as Curry and Durant played in Game 1, if Leonard had remained healthy who knows what may have happened? Kawhi’s ankle caused the NBA MVP candidate to miss the remaining games in the series.

Unfortunately for Spurs fans, Kawhi didn’t spend too much time on the Spurs bench in street clothes.

The Warriors beat the Spurs by 36 points in Game 2. The problem that San Antonio had throughout the series is that no other superstars stepped up. Kawhi Leonard is San Antonio’s superstar. LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t.

We could pretty much sum up what happened to the Spurs by simply looking at Aldridge’s stat lines. Let’s be honest. Spurs fans are happy when Jonathan Simmons scores 22 points, like he did in Game 3. They’re also ecstatic when a player like Pau Gasol garners a double-double, which he did in Game 3.

Spurs fans are amazed when Manu Ginobili picks it up like he did in Game 4 with 15 points and 7 assists. But the Spurs organization and their fans expected more from LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge scored 28 points in Game 1. He scored 18 points in Game 3. He scored only 8 points in Game 4. Aldridge is a great player when Kawhi Leonard is on the court. When Kawhi isn’t, Aldridge can’t pick it up by himself.

Rumors are swirling that San Antonio is looking to move LaMarcus this off-season. I don’t believe they should. I think what they really need is a true point-guard to take Tony Parker’s place. Leonard is a good enough player to pick up the slack when Parker went down with an injury during the playoffs.

But, Leonard is one of only two other players this season, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are the other two, that can win the 2017 NBA MVP Award. San Antonio can’t expect Aldridge to be an MVP candidate.

Aldridge is what he’s supposed to be, a great forward that is best suited playing with exceptional players. That’s every other forward in the NBA not named LeBron James.

NBA Eastern Conference Finals Update
** Records and stats as of May 23

1 Boston Celtics vs 2 Cleveland Cavaliers
Cavaliers lead the Eastern Conference Finals 2 games to 1

Game 1: Wednesday, May 17
Cleveland Cavaliers 117 at Boston Celtics 104

Game 2: Friday, May 19
Cleveland Cavaliers 130 at Boston Celtics 86

Game 3: Sunday, May 21
Boston Celtics 111 at Cleveland Cavaliers 108

Game 4: Tuesday, May 23
Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5: Thursday, May 25
Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics

Game 6: Saturday, May 27
Boston Celtics at Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7: Monday, May 29
Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics

Analysis and 2017 NBA Conference Finals Preview: Cleveland appeared on their way to a sweep over the Boston Celtics before Game 3. Boston’s best player, point-guard Isaiah Thomas, got a nagging hip injury in the Celtics 115 to 105 Game 7 win over the Washington Wizards in the NBA Conference Semifinals. Thomas played hurt in Game 1. He played hurt in the first half in Game 2. He couldn’t play in Game 2 second half.

What did the Celtics do in Game 3? Coach Brad Stevens started Marcus Smart in Game 3. He responded with 27 points 5 boards, and 7 assists. Avery Bradley responded with 20 points, 4 assists, and 3 boards. Both Bradley and Smart were great. But, so were other Celtics.

Jae Crowder scored 14 points. Crowder grabbed 11 boards. Kelly Olynyk, Boston’s Game 7 hero versus Washington, scored 15 points, had 3 boards, and had 2 assists. Al Horford was good for 16 points. He also dished 6 assists. Jonas Jerebko scored 10 points and had 5 boards.

Even with so many Celtic players stepping it up, the Cavaliers could have beaten Boston. They didn’t. The reason is because LeBron James had arguably the worst game of his entire NBA career.

King James scored 11 points. He dished 6 assists. He had an uncharacteristic 6 turnovers. What’s more alarming if you’re a Cleveland Cavaliers fan is that LeBron played over 45 minutes. That’s the stat that makes it difficult for me to determine how the rest of the series will go.

Yes, I know that Tristan Thompson was great in Game 3 with 13 points and 10 boards. Hey, I get that Kyrie scored 29 points and 7 assists. I know that K-Love was fantastic when he dropped 28 points and got a double-double with 10 boards.

But, LeBron played over 45 minutes and he had a terrible stat line.

Could ESPN write Henry Abbott be correct? In a story that Abbott published on April 24, he said that LeBron looked tired. He wrote about how this could be the beginning of the end for LeBron.

If Abbott is correct, and he might be, the Celtics could climb back into this series. Game 4 on Tuesday night is where the climb back must start. If LeBron only had played 25 minutes in Game 3 and had come out of the game with the terrible stat line, I’d write no problem.

But, James played over 45 minutes. The battle was only two games ago. How dominant is LeBron going to be in Game 3?

I’m not so sure. If LeBron doesn’t lead the Cavaliers to a win over the Celtics in Game 3, expect this series to go 7 games. If LeBron does bounce back with a crazy good effort, I think the series goes 6 games. King James, Kyrie, and K-Love might find it difficult to step it up in Game 5 on Thursday at the TD Garden in Boston. Saturday’s Game 6 is the most likely final game of this series.

That’s what I’m going with, Cleveland over Boston in 6 games