Welcome to the Truda Report everybody. Both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals have made their way through four games in the respective series, so now is the time to look back at what's worked and what hasn't for each of the four teams. With the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics tied up at two apiece, and the Golden State Warriors and Rockets also in a 2-2 deadlock, the Conference Finals have now become a best of three series. I'll be looking at what can be done by all four teams to emerge victorious, and also give my updated predictions for who will be moving on to the Finals. Make sure to share this article as it helps TTR grow, and leave a comment if there is anything you want me to discuss in the next article.
Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers:
This series is much easier to break down than Rockets Warriors, because this series isn't a combination of analytics and great basketball balancing each other on the two most talented rosters in the NBA; this is one incredibly coached team having to deal with one more-than-incredible player. That player, LeBron James, has caused a lot of talk the past two weeks. This series, after the first two games in Boston, was called "over" and "finished" and "done" by varying people on national television. Boston, with a two to nothing lead, was already being called victorious, and people were predicting which team LeBron would go to next. Now, though, it's tied up at two apiece and the talk has shifted to whether Boston has a shot to pull this series out. I, during this media overreaction, sat calmly and laughed, because apparently people who dedicate their lives to analyzing sports don't understand how sports work. NBA series are designed to give the better team the advantage of starting the series with the lead, but then giving the worse team a chance to tie things up, although the pressure will be on: that's the whole basis behind the 2,2,1,1,1 home court system. Boston was supposed to come out with a two game lead, because THEY had home court advantage, not the Cavs. So now that the Cavs won their two home games, I can confidently say that everyone needs to chill out, because you know what's supposed to happen next--Boston is now supposed to reclaim the lead. This series isn't over by any stretch of the imagination, and since my prediction was Cavs in seven, I'm not going to freak out whichever way this next game goes. Boston, by design, should win since they're at home, but if not, they, being the "better team" (based on seeding), should be able to win in Cleveland and force a Game 7. So I guess my message, before I break down some specifics from the first four games, is that everyone needs to chill out; by design these series are built to last seven games, and although certain games hold series implications, we've seen comebacks on multiple occasions throughout NBA history.
Okay, so onto why this series is sitting at two games apiece. Like I said earlier, LeBron James is a one man wrecking crew who can singlehandedly ruin a teams chances of winning any given game. Right now, we are witnessing that happen. LeBron in the last two games understood that it was time for Cleveland to respond, and he turned things on. In Game 4 LeBron had 44 points and shot 61% from the field. In case you didn't know, that's ridiculous. LeBron had a more pedestrian first two games, and the Celtics provided the pressure defensively. These last two games though the Cavs have shot out to huge leads at the beginning of games. The Celtics, being a well coached team, have fought back, but some of the deficits they are seeing are too much to surmount. The Celtics need to be better defensively in transition at the start of games to stop the huge scoring burst in the first couple of minutes, and they need to just shake some of their nerves. The Celtics roster is incredibly young, and some of their most important players are just out of college. This is a big stage to have to perform on, and you can see the small discomfort at the beginning of games.
For the Cavs, in order to keep winning, which I think they'll be able to do, their role players need to keep showing up. LeBron is great at driving to the basket and kicking the ball out to shooters for open threes, and if the Cavs can keep sinking them (they made 50% in Game 3 and 36% in Game 4) then things will be a wrap. The Celtics are great defensively, but LeBron takes a lot of attention to guard, so if everyone else makes Boston pay for their lack of attention on the role players, than the Cavs will be set. Big performances from LeBron and solid backing from another two or three players is enough against this young Celtics team. Cleveland should be confident heading in to these final three games.
I've already mentioned it, but I'll say it again. I previously picked the Cavs to make the Finals, and then to beat the Celtics, and I'm still sticking by that. I can't go against LeBron James right now, and especially since it's a three game series, I don't see James losing. He just needs two more huge games, and he'll be back in the Finals. I'm sticking with my pick of Cavs in seven, and no matter what happens in Game 5, I'll keep that pick. Hold me to it.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors:
I really hate it when people blatantly lie, knowing well that everything they're saying is false. You can see it on their face a lot of the time too--it's in their facial expression that they know what they're saying is blatantly not true. I keep seeing that facial expression in Mike D'Antoni's post game press conferences. After a Rockets loss, D'Antoni sits their and says how the Rockets will continue playing their style of basketball since he knows it can beat the Warriors. Game 2, which was an impressive defeat of Golden State, was followed by D'Antoni telling everyone how nothing changed. I'm dead serious when I say this: I laughed out loud. The Rockets went from playing all iso basketball, James Harden hero ball, and shooting late in the shot clock to ball movement, early shots, and spreading the ball around. They played like the Warriors basically. It was easy to see while watching the game, and then D'Antoni followed it up by pretending like it was "his" system that beat Golden State, when really they just emulated what had previously beaten them. Game 4 was the same situation. After a disgusting 41 point blowout victory for Golden State in Game 3, the Rockets came out and once again reverted to Warriors style basketball. The ball was spread around (James Harden was basically the entire offense in the first half, but when it came down to crunch time everybody was getting their touches, and it was Chris Paul who hit the big shots), and the Rockets had their best defensive game of the season. The defensive intensity at the end of the game was nothing I've ever seen out of the Rockets (it's something I see out of the Warriors all the time), and their willingness to spread the ball around the perimeter and dish the ball off of drives to the basket was not a page out of their own book. Of course, Houston went on to win an incredible game by three points, tying the series at 2-2. I lost a lot of respect for Mike D'Antoni because of his unwillingness to admit his change in coaching style once he saw they couldn't win the way that they usually play.
Someone I am gaining respect for, though, is James Harden. He has, time and time again, come up small in the Playoffs, but in Game 4 he came up huge in the first half, helping the Rockets avoid being blown out. Another person I'm gaining respect for is Chris Paul. He also just had one of the biggest moments of his career, as he closed out the Warriors who were surging backing into the game late in the fourth quarter. Paul hit a lot of huge shots, and played like the big time player he is. I'm not fans of either of these players, but they deserve respect for their respective performances in the Rockets wins this series.
On the Warriors end of things, they just need to keep doing what they do best. Steph Curry has looked great these last two games, and the Warriors need to keep running the offense through him. If they can execute their fluid ball movement more often, then I think things are a wrap for Houston. The issue has been when Curry and/or Thompson is off the floor, and the Warriors try to isolate Kevin Durant too much. KD has been spectacular, playing incredibly pretty much every night of the Playoffs, and his isolation game has been incredible this series. The issue, though, is that eventually he's going to have to miss a couple of shots, and those are the possessions that the Rockets take advantage of and grow their lead. When Durant is taking every shot, everyone else is getting out of sync offensively and the shot quality decreases. If the Warriors can avoid falling into this cycle again, than the team should perform more consistently offensively.
As for my pick right now, I'm sticking with my selection of the Warriors. I think that they can win another one in Houston, but last night's Game 4 loss was a huge blow. They had the win in their grasp but lost it, meaning that they have to win two out of four games in Houston this Playoffs. I don't care who you are, but winning anywhere outside of your home court twice in the course of one series is difficult, and the Warriors are going to have to do that. I still believe in their ability to come up big though, and if Steph, Klay, Dray, and Durant can continue their excellence and play with fluidity, than they should be able to take home the win in seven games.
High School Senior from Connecticut obsessed with sports stats, facts, and management.