Article by: Harrison Weaver
Should We Even Be Surprised?
The Golden State Warriors just completed their sweep over the Portland Trailblazers Monday night. The battle of the Curry brothers, Steph versus Seth, was short lived. Dell and Sonya Curry were flipping a coin to decide which son’s jersey each one would wear, representing different teams each night. Despite the sweep, the brothers were able to share a couple of laughs, one coming at the expense of Steph with 9:25 remaining in the 4th quarter of Game 4. Steph Curry headed to the free-throw line where he had made 81 consecutive 4th quarter playoff free-throws, that is when Seth got subbed back into the game. Steph ensued to miss the free-throw, breaking his streak at 81, and he turned around and pointed at Seth and the brothers shared a laugh amidst the high stakes of this playoff game.
The odd part about this series however, is that the Blazers actually held a lead in games longer than the Warriors did, and by a decent margin. The Blazers led for 101 minutes of the series, while the Warriors only led for 83, and the Blazers squandered a 17 point lead in Game 2, an 18 point lead in Game 3, and another 17 point lead in Game 4 (which they lost in overtime). CJ McCollum had an excellent series, Damian Lillard played well for the majority of the series as well. Meyers Leonard had an exceptional series, which included a 30 point Game 4 (25 points in the first half shooting 80% from three). The Blazers showed that they have the talent to hang with the Warriors, as they had double-digit leads in 3 of the 4 games, but ultimately did not have the poise or depth to close those games out. Despite the sweep, the Blazers may have found a confidence that they can carry over into next season where they could make a run once the Warriors talent disperses and continues to age.
Steph Curry was absurd. He set the record for most points per game in a playoff series sweep, averaging 36.5 PPG against the Blazers, which tops a couple of legends including Shaq (36.3 PPG), LeBron (36.0 PPG), Kobe (35.0 PPG), and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (34.8 PPG). The absence of Kevin Durant had almost no effect on the Warriors, who just seemed to revert back to their form we saw back in the 73 win season of 2016. Another surprise to me: the healthy, positive mindset of Draymond Green which lead to excellent team chemistry and superb ball movement. Common concerns throughout the season for Golden State has been the clashing between Draymond and KD, who is staying and who is leaving, and whether they can balance these egos and stick together as a unit to win the title.
The Warriors are just simply playing all-time great basketball even without Kevin Durant, and Draymond has really stepped up and been the star the Warriors need him to be. I would go as far as to call him the co-MVP of this series, tied with record-breaking Steph, as he is averaging 13.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game in these playoffs and featured his best performances against the Blazers. While Steph, Draymond, and Klay were phenomenal, the supporting cast was also great, including great production off the bench by Shaun Livingston, Kevon Looney, Quinn Cook, along with great surprise starts by Alfonzo McKinnie and Jordan Bell. What Golden State displayed in this series is that they still have the adaptability, chemistry, and depth to be a heavy favorite against any team they are playing. My message to Toronto or Milwaukee: LOOK OUT...
Buck/Raptors... Best of 3
In a series that once looked to be on the brink of being a possible sweep, the Raptors were able to dodge the metaphoric foot the Bucks had on their throat by winning the thrilling Game 3 double-overtime game in Toronto, thanks to excellent performances by Kawhi, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol. Then there was Game 4. Essentially a must-win game, given teams trailing 3-1 only come back to win the series 4.5% of the time, and has only been done 11 times in NBA history. Kawhi Leonard finished Game 4 with 19 points and Pascal Siakam with 7. By looking at those totals, many would assume the Bucks are holding a 3-1 lead heading back to Milwaukee. But that’s not the case. Let me reveal the rest of the stats.
Kyle Lowry has been stepping up this whole series, and I can say that this is the best playoff form I have ever seen him play in. He has been aggressive, confident; he has filled his role as a top offensive option for Toronto, and has kept them in games. If I had to sum up Marc Gasol’s performance in this series in one word, I would choose timely. In Game 3, he hit some huge shots and huge free-throws to help a gassed Kawhi Leonard (who played a game-high 52 minutes), and was essential for the Raptors to pull that game off. In Game 4, as I displayed above, he was key in filling in for an exhausted Kawhi and Pascal Siakam. Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet were an absolute dream for coach Nick Nurse, all scoring in double figures off the bench and adding key rebounds and assists.
Norman Powell has really stepped up the past few games, and held the team high for Plus/Minus, which is a stat that measures what the scoring trend was while each individual player was in the game. It is a stat that I really like, because it shows how well each player stepped into the game, whether it is a starter or bench player, and contributed to the success or failure during their time on the court. In Game 4, the Raptors bench was stellar, and the Plus/Minus backs that truth up. I stated in a previous article that the key for the Raptors to make a run would be supporting cast and bench production, and whether they can get enough of it to help Kawhi. This is the blueprint for how the Raptors can win this series, and yes, maybe even win the Finals. Let us not forget, the last time Kawhi played the Warriors in the playoffs, his Spurs were up 25 points in Game 1 before Zaza Pachulia stepped on his ankle and knocked him out for the series.
As for the Bucks, there is no need to panic. Game 5 is in Milwaukee, they have not lost 3 games in a row all season. The home crowd should be very helpful with getting the team back on track and helping them find a good rhythm. Giannis and Khris Middleton have been great in this series, Brook Lopez had a monster game in Game 1 to surge the Bucks past the Raptors in the final minutes. Honestly, the key deciding factor in this series has been the supporting casts for each team, and which team makes the more timely plays and gets the better well-rounded performances from their whole squad. I know that sounds super generic, you could read that in any sports article for any level of sports consumer, but this series is so evenly matched that the basics are quite literally the deciding factor.
The war of attrition between Kawhi and Giannis kind of leads them to cancel each other out, which means that it is up to the rest of the guys to make the plays that give their team the advantage. With the series tied at 2-2, this series is now a 3 game series, with probably 2 games in Milwaukee and 1 in Toronto, depending on if the series goes 7 games or not, which I think it will. I picked Toronto to make the Finals before the playoffs began, and I am sticking with that. Kawhi has been a warrior battling through heavy minutes and fatigue injuries. Kyle Lowry has stepped up in a major way, and I think this team that was once down 2-0 will find a way to reach the coveted NBA Finals.
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