As we enter the Eastern Conference Semifinals, it seems that there is no clear favorite to whom will face the Golden State Warriors, or I mean, the Western Conference champion in the NBA Finals. After the Sixers and Raptors each dropped their first games to begin the playoffs, all four teams have combined to win sixteen straight games. That’s a pretty interesting stat to think about as you look at the Western Conference. The top seeds in the West are dealing with two long six and seven game series for their top two seeds. It is pretty obvious that this second round will be long for both series and will likely come down to which teams make the fewest mistakes with the ball and can play defense.
The Bucks and Celtics enter their series each recently sweeping their First-Round opponents in Detroit and Indiana. I honestly think people are underestimating Boston and the coaching abilities of Brad Stevens, someone who may be considered the best coach in the NBA besides the great Gregg Popovich. In the season series, Milwaukee did take two games out of three against Boston but this Boston team has grown a lot since their early season struggles with chemistry issues.
Though the Pacers did not have Victor Oladipo, they were easily able to sweep Indiana in a quick four games. As for Boston, they thought they would have an easy run to the finals now that LeBron is out of the East. However, that idea ended quickly after a monster season by Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak ended the season with 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists on the year to go along with 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. He’s also done a great job at getting to the foul line this season attempting 9.5 foul shots per game on average and that is something that could come in handy down the road in a tight game. These two teams faced off in the First Round last year as Boston came out on top in seven.
The Sixers lost three out of four games to Toronto in the season series though three of those games were before Christmas and the last time they’ve played was on February 5th. So even though these teams are in the same division, they have not seen each other much for the 2nd Half of the season. Of course, both both teams made several moves. The Sixers added key starters in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris since then. They also picked up key bench pieces in Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic who have both been key factors in the Sixers advancing in the first round over the Nets. The Sixers will be without Scott to start the series as he deals with a heal injury that he suffered in the Game 5 win over Brooklyn. Zhaire Smith will be entering the rotation Saturday night in his place something myself and many other fans have been hoping for the past couple weeks.
Toronto will be without Forward OG Anunoby to start the series as he deals with an appendix injury. Anunoby is someone who has been a strong role player for Toronto this season so this will put a thin line of depth for the Raptors behind Kawhi Leonard. The series will most certainly come down to Brett Brown and if he can make defensive adjustments to keep Kyle Lowry and the Raptors in place. If the Sixers struggle to stop the pick and roll, this could become a quick and easy series for Toronto.
There really isn’t a bad team in this Eastern field. For the first time in years, the East feels deep and finals buzz is heating up. I could honestly see any of these teams making a run, but here is how I would rank them with the Semi-Finals set to tip-off today.
4. Boston Celtics
Rankings the team’s 2-4 was extremely hard and my thoughts on the order could change by the hour. But I feel that the Celtics are at #4 because of their chemistry issues throughout the season. They will be facing off against, in my opinion, the best player in the league and on the road for the first two games in an arena that will be ready. Boston could easily be the second best team out of the four and they certainly have the best coach out of the group. That said, they will need to have control of the locker room if they want to advance.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Again, this was another tough one. I think the Sixers and Raptors series is going to seven games without a doubt but I think that the Raptors may have the edge in the series. Ultimately, they are better on the defensive side of the ball and have the added factor of Kawhi Leonard. It gets even more interesting when you factor in the fact that the teams have played only one game since Christmas. Needless to say, it will be interesting to see how game one plays out. You could argue the Sixers have the best starting five in this group so it’s time for them to put up or shut up.
Again on the other hand, however, the Sixers have struggled in Toronto’s arena. It will be crucial for the Raptors to get out to a hot start.
2. Toronto Raptors
Toronto enters the second round after dominating Orlando to win four straight games and advance. I ranked them over Philadelphia and Boston mostly because I feel that among the three teams, they are the best defensively. Toronto made key additions this season adding Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green before the season while also adding Marc Gasol at the trade deadline. They are a team that can really stretch the floor and all five of their starters have shot over 35% from three on the season.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are clearly the favorites to make it out of the East. They have without doubt the best player out of the four remaining teams in the Greek Freak while also having added lots of depth off the bench that can shoot. They have at least ten players on the team that shot 35% from three on the season and did you not know they have the best player among the four teams? They are the favorites but I think Boston still has a shot in this series. They will have the coaching advantage and if they can keep the locker room under control they could easily take Milwaukee to six or seven games.