Oh, Toronto. The Raptors appear to have finally found their postseason comfort zone fourteen playoff games later as they beat the Heat, and the Thunder have it rolling heading into tonight’s Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.
Toronto Raptors (Eastern Conference No.2) vs Miami Heat (Eastern Conference No. 3) – Raptors Win 4-3
The Raptors finally look like the team that won 56 regular season games. It took 14 playoff games, but they’re peaking at the right time heading into a conference final showdown with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
We learned that Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan can be the anchors of an NBA title contender. In Sunday’s Game 7, Lowry had 35, DeRozan had 28, and Bismack Biyombo added 17 points to go along with his 16 rebounds.
With the All-Star backcourt hitting their shots again, it opens up the floor for guys like Biyombo to dominate in the paint, and it creates breathing room for other wings like DeMarre Carroll, who hit both of his three-pointers on Sunday.
We learned that the Raptors need Jonas Valanciunas. Against Miami, his injury was mitigated by Hassan Whiteside’s injury. Against Cleveland, Toronto will face the likes of Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, and Timofey Mozgov down low. While Biyombo was able to dominate the glass against Miami’s thin front line of Luol Deng, Justise Winslow, Amar’e Stoudemire, Josh McRoberts, and Udonis Haslam. Dang and Winslow are wings, Stoudemire is aging rapidly, McRoberts isn’t that aggressive when rebounding, and Haslam is undersized. Cleveland’s bigs are thick and relentlessly aggressive.
Toronto will need to have either Biyombo or Valanciunas in the game at all times against the Cavaliers to prevent being mugged on the boards. However, Valanciunas won’t play in Game 1 and is listed as doubtful for game time with the ankle sprain. If he can’t come back before Game 3, don’t be surprised if the Cavaliers sweep the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
San Antonio Spurs (Western Conference No. 2) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (Western Conference No. 3) –Thunder Win 4-2
We learned that the Spurs didn’t have any scoring outside of LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard. Tony Parker couldn’t get past his defender, which eliminated the drive- and- kick possibility, which had a trickle-down effect that caused Danny Green’s offensive impact to be severely hindered. Also, Tim Duncan is 40.
We learned that Billy Donovan can actually coach. He won two national championships at Florida, but he struggled at the beginning of the season. He learned that he could structure his substitution patterns so that either Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant is in the game at all times. Donovan’s newest crunch- time lineup with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter in the game ended the Spurs season. Adams is a defensive-minded seven-footer whose offense needs work. Kanter is an offensive-minded seven-footer whose postup game is strong, but he lacks defensive acumen. When both centers are on the floor together, the Thunder have a size advantage over everyone in the NBA that allows them to get a ton of rebounds and close- off the paint on defense. The Thunder’s defense powered them to victory against the Spurs, and they will need more of the same to dethrone the defending champs.
On To Round 3
Cleveland Cavaliers (Eastern Conference No. 1) vs Toronto Raptors (Eastern Conference No. 2) – 0-0
The Cleveland Cavaliers have finally become a team that plays like a team. The ball is moving, and the threes are falling. They scored a record-setting 25 threes in Game 2, and power forward Kevin Love is shooting three-pointers better than he is two pointers.
Even though DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry caught fire against Miami, with guys like Iman Shumpert and LeBron James guarding them, their scoring opportunities will dry up.
Even with Toronto’s scoring guards, the Raptors just don’t have the depth down low. Cleveland will punish them on the glass, and Toronto just doesn’t have the bodies to stay fresh on defense against a team with Lebron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love since Jonas Valanciunas’ injury.
Expect the Cavaliers to either sweep or win in five games.
Golden State Warriors (Western Conference No. 1) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (Western Conference No. 3) – 0-0
This series will come down to whoever has the ball last. Both of these teams score a ton of points, and both teams match up with each other well. The Warriors will most likely guard Westbrook with Klay Thompson, and they will probably guard Durant with Draymond Green. On the flip side, the Warriors will probably use Andre Roberson to hinder Stephen Curry, and they will probably use Harrison Barnes to guard Klay Thompson.
In the end, it’s not the All-Stars who will determine who wins this series – i. It will be the role players. If Andre Roberson can cash in on his looks from downtown like he did in Game 6 of their series against the Spurs, with Adams and Kanter combining to lead the Thunder to a rebounding edge over the Warriors, Oklahoma City could very well win this series.
However, if the Warriors bring their A-game, nobody in the NBA can stop them. They have an arsenal of three-pointing shooting (even outside of Stephen Curry) and their roster is perfectly built. They have the league MVP, the All-Star Three Point Contest Champion, the Defensive Player of the Year Runner Up, and a host of bench players who have previously been starters on other teams like Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala.
Plus, the Thunder can be very turnover-prone, committing unforced errors in key moments, as they’ve blown numerous fourth quarter leads all season, including three in all three of their regular season match ups with the Warriors.
Expect this series to go down to the wire, but the Warriors will advance.
Featured image source: Chris Covatta, Getty Images