Who would have thought when the 2016 NBA Playoffs kicked off back on April 16th that the Eastern Conference would be more competitive and intriguing than the West? Each of the first two game ones in the West were decided by 25+ points with the Golden State Warriors pounding the Houston Rockets 104-78 and the Oklahoma Thunder besting the Dallas Mavericks 108-70. The Warriors had Houston’s number right out of the gate outscoring the Rockets 33-15 in the first quarter. The first two games in the East were much more interesting. The Indiana Pacers topped the Toronto Raptors 100-90 in game 1, but it was game 1 of the Hawks-Celtics series that took the cake on day one. The fourth quarter of the contest saw a total of 66 points between the two teams with the Atlanta Hawks eventually squeaking out a victory over Boston 102-101. From that point on, the series continued to not disappoint with the Atlanta Hawks eventually winning the series in 6 games. The home team won every game in the series except for game 6 when the Hawks beat the Celtics 104-92 in Boston. I even picked Atlanta to win in 6 but the series was a lot better than I imagined. Isaiah Thomas lead Boston with 24.2 ppg and 5.0 apg with Millsap leading Atlanta with 8.8 rpg and 2.70 bpg.
There was also a couple sweeps in the first round. The Cleveland Cavs swept the Detroit Pistons in 4 quick games. I had predicted the Cavs to win in 5. I expected the Pistons to at least get one game on the Cavs considering the Pistons were 3-1 against the Cavs in the regular season. This just goes to show how much LeBron James really turns it on when he is in full “playoff mode.” James lead the Cavs in assists, steals, and blocks with 6.8, 1.80, and 0.80 respectively. The Cavs are looking dangerous and are poised to come out of the East with another Finals appearance, which I predicted at the start of the NBA season. The San Antonio Spurs also swept the Memphis Grizzlies which is what I predicted at the start of the Playoffs. This series was no contest from the get go. Memphis had the unfortunate dilemma of being without their stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley for the entire series with them both going down with season ending injuries just before the end of the regular season. The Grizzlies would not have gotten past the Spurs regardless but this was just a beat down with only one game decided by a single digit deficit. As for the defending champion Golden State Warriors, they had an interesting first round as well. Their sure fire MVP point guard Steph Curry went down with a tweaked ankle in game one and had to sit out games two and three. His Warrior teammates were able to hold off the Rockets in game two 115-106 but Houston was able to take game three in a nail biter in Houston 97-96, with James Harden hitting the game clinching shot with two seconds left. Curry came back for game four but, as fate would have it, went down in a freak accident when he slipped on a wet spot and slammed his knee into the hardwood floor and immediately limped off to the locker room right before the half. He had an MRI the following day and it showed no significant taring or damage and was diagnosed as a sprained ligament in his knee. Curry has yet to return but his Warriors were able to take the next two games and eventually the series in five games to advance to the next round against the Portland Trailblazers. Steph Curry is expected to return at some point during this semifinal series against the Trailblazers and the Warriors and their fans should sure hope so. Without Curry there is no shot that the Warriors make it past the Spurs and out of the West. The Warriors are 3-1 this postseason without Curry, but that is against a Houston Rockets team that could not wait for their season to end and against a Portland team that has overachieved most of the season. A lot of analysts did not expect Portland to even be a playoff team let alone winning a series. The Trailblazers lost 4 of their 5 starters in the off season with Wesley Matthews heading for Dallas and LaMarcus Aldridge signing with the Spurs as a free agent. Some say Portland only got past the Clippers as a result of LA losing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to injury in game four. I personally think the Trailblazers had a decent chance of getting past the Clippers even with a healthy Clipper team, although I did pick the Clippers to win in 7. But, Portland took the series in 6 games lead by Damian Lillard’s 23.1 ppg and 1.40 seals per game. The breakout of the series was Portland’s Mason Plumlee averaging 13.0 rpg and 5.7 apg. The Clippers losing Chris Paul was a huge loss. Paul was leading the team in the series with 23.8 ppg, 7.3 apg, and 2.30 spg.
All in all the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs was really good. The Eastern Conference had two series go to seven games in the first round. I personally hope that trend continues because, as fans, we ALL benefit from great basketball. Until the next round! CHEERS!!