2017 NBA Conference Finals Preview

 

The 2017 NBA Conference Finals are underway. Golden State battles San Antonio in Game 2 on Tuesday, May 16, from Oracle Arena. Already, the Warriors are up 1 to 0 over San Antonio. By the time you read this, we’ll know if San Antonio heads home to the Great State of Texas down 0 to 2 or tied 1 to 1.

The Boston Celtics used a gargantuan effort from bench player Kelly Olynyk to bury the Washington Wizards in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal Series. Olynyk scored 14 of his 26 points within the first 9 minutes of the fourth quarter of Boston’s 115 to 105 win over Washington on Monday, May 15. The Celtics now move on to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals to battle the well-rested Cleveland Cavaliers.

Does Boston have any shot against Cleveland? Will San Antonio climb back into the NBA Western Conference Finals versus the Warriors? Check out my preview for both NBA Conference Finals Series!

2017 NBA Conference Finals Preview

NBA Western Conference Finals Preview
** Records and stats as of May 15

1 Golden State Warriors vs 2 San Antonio Spurs
Game 1: Sunday, May 14

Golden State 113 vs San Antonio 111

Zaza Pachulia, Golden State’s center, stepped into Kawhi Leonard, and that’s the reason that Leonard left Game 1. Before leaving, Kawhi had led to the Spurs to a huge lead. Kawhi’s ankle had kept him out of Game 6 versus the Houston Rockets in San Antonio’s brilliant 39-point win.

Before exiting with the ankle injury Leonard had been brilliant against Golden State. In only 23 minutes and 54 seconds, Leonard had scored 26 points. He had gone 7 of 13 from the field and 1 of 4 from three. He had also hit all 11 of his free throw shots. He had dished 3 assists while grabbing 8 boards. How big of a loss was Leonard to the Spurs on Sunday?

Leonard’s point differential was +21. What it means is that when Kawhi wasn’t on the floor, the Warriors outscored San Antonio by 21 points. That’s how Golden State got back into the game. By halftime, San Antonio had an awesome 62 to 24 lead. The Spurs had outscored the Warriors 30 to 16 in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Spurs had outscored the Warriors 32 to 26.

But, then, Pachulia slid onto Kawhi’s ankle, in what I think was a blatant dirty play, and Kawhi had to exit the game. Why do I feel it was a blatant dirty play? Check out the video from the Los Angeles Times.

Notice how Pachulia immediately turns his back and slyly sticks his left leg towards where Kawhi’s foot is going land? Then, Pachulia immediately protests about being called for a foul. That’s a sign that Pachulia knew exactly what he was doing. Say what you want, but from the signs I see in the video, Zaza meant to hurt Kawhi’s.

At the time of Zaza’s dirty play, the Spurs were up 78 to 55. Yeah, I get it. The Warriors’ two best players, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, were brilliant. Curry scored 40 while KD dropped 34. Sure, Zaza scored 11.

I also understand that you shouldn’t give up a 23-point lead even though your best player goes down with an injury. But, Pachulia played dirty pool here. I’m with Pop on this one. If Zaza doesn’t slyly put Kawhi out of the game, the Spurs win it.

Golden State Warriors vs San Antonio Spurs Remaining Games

Game 2: Tuesday, May 16
San Antonio at Golden State

Game 3: Saturday, May 20
Golden State at San Antonio

Game 4: Monday, May 22
Golden State at San Antonio

Analysis: San Antonio must play Game 2 without Kawhi Leonard. The Warriors are a huge -13.5 home favorites to put a beat down on San Antonio in Game 2. What’s strange about Game 2 is that although Leonard won’t play, 72% of NBA handicappers are all over the Spurs to cover the spread.

That’s a huge percentage of bettors who believe San Antonio keep it closer than 13.5 points. I’m with those bettors. With David Lee on the floor, the Spurs were +15 in point differential in Game 1 even though Lee didn’t score a single point. Lee could make life difficult for his former team, the Warriors, on Tuesday night.

Let’s say that Golden State does win Game 2 even if Lee goes off. Does that mean the Warriors win the NBA Western Conference Finals? I’m not so sure. Even if Golden State goes up 2 to 0 over the Spurs, I’ve got the feeling that San Antonio wins the series.

I just don’t think Golden State matches up as well with the Spurs on the defensive end as San Antonio matches up with the Warriors on the defensive end. Golden State committed 19 turnovers in Game 1. San Antonio did commit 17 turnovers. But, you know as well as I that Pop is going to make the necessary adjustments to cut down on the turnovers.

Plus, Spurs point-guard Patty Mills, filling in for the injured Tony Parker, went 1 for 8 from the field and 0 for 6 from 3. It’s hard to see Mills shooting that badly in any other game during this series.

What really convinces me that the Spurs win the series is that Game 3 isn’t until this Saturday, March 20. Kawhi’s ankle shouldn’t be a problem by then. Not only that, but Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich will have had another game to figure out what adjustments to make during the rest of the series.

It’s hard for me to pick against San Antonio. I think the Spurs win both Game 3 and Game 4 no matter what happens in Game 2.

NBA Eastern Conference Finals Preview
** Records and stats as of May 15

1 Boston Celtics vs 2 Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 1: Wednesday, May 17
Cleveland at Boston

Game 2: Friday, May 19
Cleveland at Boston

Game 3: Sunday, May 21
Boston at Cleveland

Game 4: Wednesday, May 17
Boston at Cleveland

Analysis: Cleveland is a huge favorite to punish the Boston Celtics in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. Since the Eastern Conference Finals don’t start until Wednesday, May 17, the Cavaliers will have spent 13 straight days without playing competitively.

Is that going to be a problem? Not at all. LeBron James might be the greatest basketball player to ever live. He probably won’t catch Michael Jordan with 6 championships. But, no player in the history of the NBA has done more for his team that James.

He’s also never had the supporting cast that MJ, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird had during their careers. That’s how good of a player LeBron is. He’s going to be on fire during this series. So, the real question is whether the Celtics can beat the Cavaliers with a well-rested LeBron. In that respect, no, I don’t believe the Celtics can.

Before getting into why I love the Cavaliers in this series, I want to go over the regular season battles between these 2 teams.

On Nov. 3, Cleveland beat Boston 128 to 122. On Dec. 29, the Cavaliers punished the Celtics 124 to 118. The Celtics got revenge on March 1 when they beat the Cavs 103 to 99. But, on April 5, in the final regular season game between these 2 teams, Cleveland demolished Boston 114 to 91.

Boston battled Cleveland at home in the 23-point beat down. I believe that’s the key game to study when determining the winner of this series. The reason is because Cleveland’s defense, like it’s done throughout the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs, shut down Boston’s offense.

The Cavs held the Celtics to 40.7% from the field, 33 for 81, and 21.2% from three, 7 out of 33. In 4 games, Boston could only beat Cleveland once. 4 to 1 is what’s most likely to happen in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals because Boston just doesn’t match up well with Cleveland.

Underdog role or not, the Celtics are going to have to change the way they play significantly to have any shot of upsetting the Cleveland Cavaliers. I don’t think they’re capable of doing that.

I see Cleveland beating Boston either 4 to 0 or 4 to 1. The NBA Eastern Conference Playoff Series shouldn’t go more than 5 games, is my prediction.