While we see the clear slugfests in the NBA’s Western Conference, the battles in the East have been relatively more predictable. Of the 4 mano-a-mano fights in the east, 3 teams have gone 3 and 0, and are on the verge of making the second round. The only surprise in the east has been the 2-1 slate by the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks over the 8th seeded Orlando Magic.
Here is how the Eastern Conference match-ups have progressed after 3 games:
1st seed Milwaukee Bucks vs 8th seed Orlando Magic (Bucks lead at 2-1). The Bucks paid dearly for their complacency in the first game. Showing nothing of the vaunted top defense that brought them to the top seed, the Bucks allowed the Magic’s Nikola Vukovic and Evan Fournier to gain confidence. This ultimately brought down the Bucks 122-110. In the second game, the Bucks buckled down to work, rendering the result moot and academic as early as the 3rd quarter. Final score was 111-96. Game 3 saw the same results. Looking to redeem themselves from the Game 1 embarrassment, the Bucks opened up a huge lead in the first half, then cruised through the final half, never allowing the Magic another chance to challenge. That said, questions remain for the Bucks. Can they rely solely on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s offense? What happens if the opposite team has an answer for the Greek Freak’s offensives? What happened to the stonewall defense that was their trademark in the regular season?
2nd seed Toronto Raptors vs the 7th seed Brooklyn Nets (Raptors 3-0). The Raptors are not the defending champs for nothing. Their championship experience, coupled with the steady improvement from Paskal Siakam, OG Anonoby and the diminutive Fred Van Vleet, despite the flight of former main man Kawhi Leonard, has been a refreshing sight. Plus an overachieving coach in Nick Nurse, recently awarded Coach of the Year. And it doesn’t help any that the Nets are missing their top 4 players in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie. If these 4 were present, this series would have been a heavyweight bout. Without them, Raptors will no doubt sweep this series.
3rd seed Boston Celtics vs 6th seed Philadelphia 76ers (Celtics 3-0). This series would’ve been another dogfight if Ben Simmons had suited up for the Sixers. Without Ben, they are relying on Joel Embiid to provide major firepower. That simply will not hold, against the combined heavy artillery coming from Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker. In game 3, the Celtics allowed the Sixers to stay close up to the last minute before stepping on the gas to win pulling away (102-94). Celtics will also finish this 4-0, unless the Celtics decide to give their reserves some practice time.
4th seed Indiana Pacers vs 5th seed Miami Heat (Heat ahead 3-0). Of all the first round match-ups in the east, it is the Heat – Pacers series that bears much interest. They were supposed to be evenly matched at the end of the regular season action, and this match-up was further stoked by the bad blood existing between the Heat’s Jimmy Butler and Pacer TJ Warren. The Pacers have a solid backcourt with Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo and Warren. But the Heat surprised everyone with the emergence of Duncan Robinson, whose monster performance of 7 3-pointers won Game 2, and the resurgence of former All-Star Goran Dragic. With Butler and another All-Star Bam Adebayo anchoring a solid zone defense, the Heat are expected to finish off the Pacers and move to the next round.
The battles in the East will start to get interesting in the 2nd round. The league-leading Milwaukee Bucks will be squaring off against the Miami Heat; while the defending champs Toronto Raptors go eyeball-to-eyeball against the Boston Celtics. Until then, it will be ‘All Quiet in the Eastern Front’.
Come and watch the NBA Playoffs. Be entertained, be socially enlightened, and be safe from the pandemic.
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of Pinterest. Other photos courtesy of: Newsbreak, BFN CA, Nets Daily, Forbes, Hoops Habit, Talk Basket, CBS Sports.