Eastern Conference Semifinals
Milwaukee Bucks vs Boston Celtics
Both teams dispatched their opponent in four games but the two series were far from being the same.
The Bucks made short, rather easy work, of the Detroit Pistons who were without Blake Griffin in the first two games. Even when pressed in both games in Detroit, Milwaukee showed why they were the number one seed, pulling away in both.
The Celtics’ sweep was a little different. The Pacers were competitive in every game but, eventually, would go on severe scoring droughts that would allow Boston to get the upper hand.
In this series, it could be the role players that decide the game. For Boston, Al Horford’s defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo. Horford has had the ability to come up big in playoff games, especially on the defensive end. He will need summon “Playoff Al’ one more time because Boston had no answer for Antetokounmpo during the regular season. Boston head coach, Brad Stevens will have a ‘trump card’ in Semi Ojeleye. Ojeleye is a hard nosed defender who see some time guarding Antetokounmpo.
For the Bucks, the health of Malcolm Brogdon could still play a major role in the series. Brogdon has been out with a minor plantar fascia tear. The Bucks hope he will return sometime in this series.
Brooks Lopez will also be big for Milwaukee. It will be important for Lopez, who has become a rather dependable stretch big, to take Aron Baynes from the basket. If Lopez can successfully hit the perimeter shot, it will take Baynes and his physical play away from the basket allowing Antetokounmpo to get their much easier.
Milwaukee took two out of three from the Celtics during the regular season.
Prediction: Milwaukee in six
Toronto Raptors vs Philadelphia 76ers
Just like the Milwaukee-Boston series, the Raptors and Sixers had similar first round series. Both teams lost game one of the opening round and followed it up with four straight wins.
Before the season, the Raptors made moves that indicated, with LeBron James out of the East, that they were all in. They fired Coach of the Year, Duane Casey and brought in Nick Nurse. They traded the face of the franchise, DeMar DeRozan, for Kawhi Leonard. Leonard might ultimately be a rental since he’s in a contract year.
Perhaps, that’s what has changed Toronto’s identity. Leonard along with Pascal Siakam, give the Raptors incredible length on the perimeter. Danny Green is still a solid on-ball defender while Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol’s defensive play can’t be overstated. If the Raptors win this series it will be because of their defense.
After being held scoreless in Game 1, Kyle Lowry would score in double-digits, three of the last four games in the Orlando series. Just as important as his scoring, Lowry averaged over 8 assists a game in round 1. Does Lowry need to score? Of course but the Raptors aren’t depending on him as heavily as they did in previous years. Not only has Leonard carry the load on offense but Siakam has had a breakout year on that end.
Down the stretch the offense runs through Leonard. Gasol gives the Raptors a solid pick and roll option who has a high percentage of assists from a big man. Siakam’s athleticism and offensive skills have led to a breakout year. The former NBA G-Leaguer averaged over 22 points and 8 rebounds a game in the Orlando series.
Philadelphia is coming off a contentious win over the Nets. After losing game one, the Sixers started righting the ship as they matched Brooklyn’s intensity. That led to hard fouls, pushing shoving, and a trash talking match that involved Ben Simmons and Jared Dudley.
The Sixers will need more than a big mouth if they want to beat Toronto. It starts with the health of Joel Embiid. The oft-injured big man sat out Game 3 with a sore knee. Gasol will probably take on the task of guarding Embiid.
Simmons will also present a challenge for the Raptors. Keeping Simmons out of the lane is imperative. His versatility and size has given teams a lot of issues but the one thing Dudley is right about, Simmons doesn’t have stretch abilities. The Raptors will need to keep him out of transition and the lane.
Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and JJ Redick will be tasked with making the Raptors stay honest on the perimeter. They must make shots or Toronto’s defense will swallow them up.
Toronto won three out of four in the regular season. Their only loss came with Leonard and Ibaka sitting out.
Prediction: Toronto in five