Breaking Down The First Round Of The Eastern Conference Playoffs

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If you missed the Western Conference preview, you can catch up here. But now we move on to the East, where things look muuuuuuccccchhh more interesting if you are interested in potential chaos. Considered the weaker conference of the two, there isn’t that same top heavy feeling in the East. Would it shock anybody if Atlanta beat Washington? Or if IND took CLE to six or seven games? Will the Celtics shit their pants? While the top of the pyramid might not be as good as the West, that doesn’t mean the East isn’t filled with intriguing storylines.

(1) Boston Celtics (53-29) vs (8) Chicago Bulls (41-41)

Come on, you should know by now this matchup it getting its own deep dive preview blog. That’ll be out most likely Saturday. In the meantime, enjoy this hype video sent to me by a stoolie. You might recognize his work, he also worked on the intro they show at the Garden. Enjoy, and it’s OK if you can’t stand after watching. I won’t judge you.

(2) Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31) vs (7) Indiana Pacers (42-40)

Head to Head record: CLE won 3-1

Starting Units: CLE – Kyrie Irving, JR Smith, Lebron James, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson IND – Jeff Teague, CJ Miles, Paul George, Thad Young, Myles Turner

The Pacers are back in the playoffs and get their shot at redemption. Not so much against CLE, but against Lebron. There was the 2012 loss to Lebron in the second round, then the next year two years in the ECF, one of which they lost in seven games. This is a matchup of two teams that are in an interesting spot. Indiana is rolling, heading into the playoffs winners of five straight. CLE has lost four straight but we are repeatedly told they’re just going to flip a switch. Only time will tell.

The case for IND: Anytime you are in a playoff series and you have Paul George, you’re not completely out of it, nor should you be completely overlooked. If there is anyone in the East that can go head to head, basket for basket with Lebron, it’s PG13. Shit, we just saw this happen two weeks ago in a double OT thriller in which George had 43. He’s playing some pretty ridiculous basketball at the moment (33/8/4.5 with 55/42% splits this month) and sometimes one player can make all the difference.

Indiana has been an odd team this year, because on the surface their talent is definitely better than their record. The reason I think they have the best shot of any of the lower seeds to make CLE work a little bit is mostly because of how dominant they are at home. A 29-12 record, the Pacers score more (106.9), and give up WAY fewer points (101.7) than they do on the road. They take care of the ball better, shoot 47% which is better than on the road, block more shots, and play better defense. On paper, when you go position by position, they really do match up OK with CLE. Teague is going to be able to torch Kyrie off the dribble because everyone torches Kyrie off the dribble, George is the best option at matching Lebron, so really it’s going to come down to how the IND bigs will perform against Love/TT. While neither are the 3pt shooter that Love is, they can be just as effective around the rim. Turner can stretch the floor a little bit which will help create space, and when you add in firepower like Monta Ellis, CLE will have their hands full. Especially if they are going to defend like they have been for almost two months. Did you know IND is 4th in the league in 3PT%? Everything else is pretty much average, but the best way to steal a couple games in a playoff series is to get hot from three, which the Pacers can certainly do.

The case for CLE: Well, they are the best team in the East that’s one. Lebron has also never lost a first round series in his career, so this would be a bit of history if it were to happen. IND, as good as they are at home, are literally allergic to winning on the road (13-28), so this series could be 0-2 in a blink of an eye. Now fully healthy, there is no argument that CLE is still the team to beat, and part of that is because playoff Lebron becomes a completely different monster.

When Lebron decides to put his head down, run an iso at the top of the key and get to the rim, there is not a player alive that can stop him. As we’ve seen over the last few years, playoff Lebron is almost a completely different animal than regular season Lebron. What makes the Cavs so dangerous in the playoffs is while everyone is focused on Lebron, they have multiple cutters and screens to get their shooters open, who happen to have made the second most threes and have the second best 3PT% in the league. Here is an example from 2016 as to why their offense is so deadly

Greenie Pick: Cavs in 6

(3) Toronto Raptors (51-31) vs (6) Milwaukuee Bucks (42-40)

Head to Head record: TOR won 3-1

Starting Units: TOR – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carrol, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas MIL – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Thon Maker, Tony Snell

I think most agree that TOR is playing better than their seed indicates. Losing Lowry for a while certainly helped the Celts secure a top 2 seed, but make no mistake, the Raptors are every big as dangerous in the playoff as their hype suggests. Then on the other side you have the upstart Bucks, a team had a great March in order to solidify their playoff hopes, but have floundered a bit once the calendar turned to April (2-5) but a lot of that has to do with rest and whatnot.

The case for MIL: If you were to draft players from each side, is there any doubt that Giannis would be the first pick? As good as DeRozan and Lowry are, The Greek Freak is the best overall player in this series, and when you have the best player, you have the best chance at making a series somewhat competitive. It should be noted that in the one win MIL had this season against TOR, Lowry didn’t play but there are reasons to think the Bucks can have success in this series. First off, they finished 4th in the NBA in FG%, and 5th in assists so they do know how to move the ball and finish. They do have a Top 10 defense in terms of points allowed, FGM and FGA, and one big reason for that is they are without a doubt the longest team in the league. I think that matters when defenses get tighter, teams are officiated more liberally, and it certainly makes challenging shots easier, especially from midrange which is TOR’s specialty.

Since the ASB, the Bucks have knocked their opponents scoring down from 105 to 100 a game, and the biggest reason for their turnaround on both ends in my opinion has to be the return of Khris Middleton. You want to know the X-factor in this series? It’s not Giannis, it’s Khris. The Bucks are desperately going to need some secondary scoring to help match DeRozan/Lowry, and the way Middleton played over the last month or so of the season should make Bucks fans excited. Playoffs are also about mental composure, and I don’t think you can discredit the impact Brogdon plays in that area. Even though he’s a rookie, I don’t see this being too big a moment for him. Plus, considering Michael Beasley is going to get minutes is the ultimate wild card, so you never know.

The case for TOR: Heading into the playoffs with an 8-2 record over their last 10, they’ve currently won four in a row. The all telling point differential stat is certainly on their side, as they have the best differntial in the entire conference (+4.2). Not only that, but since the ASB, they’ve been insane on the defensive end, dropping opponents scoring from 104.3 to 98.8. Their defensive rating as a team is balls, and remember, they did a lot of this WITHOUT their starting point guard.

The key for Toronto if they want to make this a short series, is how they are going to be able to free up DeRozan for his midrange dominance. There are a lot of good midrange shooters in the league (Melo, George, CP3, Klay etc) but none are as good as DeRozan. Considering MIL will have the length to somewhat challenge this offensive approach, the Raptors are going to have to help DeRozan get looks like he was getting in the first few months of the season when he was absolutely unstoppable. To do this, I imagine we’ll see a lot of down screens or pindowns on DeRozan’s man so he can catch the ball around the elbow area. Once he’s there, good luck. He’ll shoot over you, he’ll give you a nasty spin and turn it into a fadeaway, he basically just picks his poison. But that’s just half the battle. TOR will also clear out and let DeRozan go a little iso, and unlike someone like Lebron who is interested in getting right to the rim, DeRozan would prefer to stop on a dime and nail the 15 footer. That’s what makes him so hard to guard because he does have the athleticism to get to the rim if he wants, so that’s 100% going to be in the MIL defenders mind. Here’s a breakdown of how they were able to get him open during those first few months of the season

Greenie Pick: TOR in 6

(4) Washington Wizards (49-33) vs (5) Atlanta Hawks (43-39)

Head to Head record:WSH won 3-1

Starting Units: WSH – John Wall, Bradley Beal, , Kelly Oubre Jr, Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat ATL – Dennis Schroder, Tim Hardaway Jr, Taurean Prince, Ersan Illyasova, Dwight Howard

A nice little rematch action from the 2015 second round in which the Hawks won in six games after coming back from being down 1-2. This was the last series the Wizards would play before returning to the playoffs this season, while the Hawks have made it every season since 2007-08. Having said that, this matchup might be the quickest of any series in the first round.

The case for WSH: First and foremost, they have way more talent. Adding Jennings and Bogdanovic were big additions at the break, and despite going just 15-12 to finish out the season, the Wizards are still one of the more dangerous offensive teams in this whole thing. The finished 3rd in the league in both FGM and FG%, and 6th in points. John Wall is having an All NBA type season, and I’m not sure ATL has the guard depth to remotely contain either him or Bradley Beal. I just don’t see how ATL is going to be able to hang with them offensively when you factor in all of Washington’s weapons. In terms off offensive efficiency, these two teams could not be more different, WSH 9th in the league at 108.5 and ATL 27th at 102.3.

Having home court is huge in this series, because much like IND, the Wizards are two completely different teams home and away (30-11 vs 19-22). The way WSH beats you is more like a tidal wave than anything else, and when they are playing in DC and the crowd is going nuts, they are extremely tough to beat. Take it from me, I’ve seen the Celtics get demolished in about 30 seconds in that building. What makes WSH so hard to guard is unlike some of the other teams in the East, they have multiple players who you do not need to run an offensive set for in order for them to produce. Wall and Beal can score whenever they want, however they want, Otto Porter Jr has taken a step, and Bogdanovic can even score off the dribble despite his whiteness.

I can see it now. A high screen with Gortat for either WSH guard, and either a finish at the rim or a kick out to an open three. Shit even guys like Jason Smith have shown the ability to knock down shots from the outside. At the end of the day, there is just too much firepower.

The case for ATL: There’s really only one reason why you could make the argument that ATL has a shot in this series, and that’s because WSH’s defense is the very definition of average. As a team they are 20th in the NBA in Defensive Rating, and they give up 107.4 points a night which is the highest among any Eastern Conference playoff team. That’s really the Hawk’s only shot, that the inconsistency the Wizards showed throughout the year on the defensive end rears it’s ugly head.

Perhaps also there could be some momentum based on how the Hawks ended the season, beating the Celts and CLE twice, because in doing so their offense went absolutely bananas. The Hawks are a weird team in that during the playoffs, especially in the early rounds, they all seem to make their threes, Millsap usually turns into a monster, and now that they have Dwight to help protect the rim against WSH drives, that’s probably what Hawks fans are banking on in this series.

There’s also this. Are we sure the Wizards are ready and know how to win in the playoffs? I’d say as of now there are really only two teams in the East that have shown they know what it takes, and that’s CLE and TOR.

Greenie Pick: Wizards in 5

And that’ll do it for the first round for each conference. CLE vs IND kicks us off on Saturday at 3pm, and the games get better as the day goes on (TOR vs MIL, MEM vs SA, UTA vs LAC). Crazy to think after such a long wait the playoffs are right on the horizon, and I for one cannot fucking wait.