PopGates’ writers look back at the conference semi-finals:
Celtics – Wizards: Based off of the first four games of the series, how did the Wizards not sweep?
Jonah Hall: Game 1 was a mess. Both teams finished Round 1 less than 48 hours earlier, but the Celtics faced a decidedly un-playoff-like Game 6–the Rondo-less Bulls were not playoff-worthy–whereas the Wizards were primed after withstanding a solid opponent in Atlanta.
There are mental letdowns that can happen in young teams after advancing, or after winning two games so handily. That being said, Isaiah is resilient as hell. He lost his tooth, then went all out and brought the Celtics back into the game. Game 2 was a jaw-dropping display by Isaiah (29 in the 4th and OT!). Game 5 was Bradley, Crowder and Horford going on instinct, no hesitation. Confidence. Rhythm. Home court. Crowder’s performance has been overlooked in this series. Avery Bradley was as confident as he’s ever looked in Game 5, after looking timid for much of 3 and 4. These players are humans. Most humans in all sports play better at home. Three-point shooting is as much about rhythm and confidence as anything, and Game 5, Stevens realized he had a path to transition points. A sneak-attack on the defensively-inconsistent Wizards.
One of the fundamental problems with the Wizards defense: their best defender often finishes offensive possessions near the basket, sometimes spinning to the ground. When Wall penetrates, Porter and Markieff have to SPRINT back, which they often do, but as Brooks and Wall noted after Game 5, they didn’t in the first quarter of Game 5. Bradley and Crowder feasted. The game gets easier after you get an open lay-up. Anyone who has ever played any roundball knows this. Stevens won’t get as many transition hoops in Games 6 or 7.
What do the Wizards need to do to be an Eastern Conference Finals Team? They’re right there. To me, there isn’t a clear difference between Toronto, Boston, and Washington right now. Lowry’s injury devastated the Raptors hopes of even making their series with Cleveland competitive. Washington is a see-saw bunch, thriving in the open court. You know who they (and the Rockets could have used in the last two weeks): Nene. Nene is the perfect playoff big man, setting wide screens, and doing jujitsu on the block. The Wizards had him during their first playoff run. They need Kelly Oubre to continue developing into a Danny Green-style 3-and-D wing. They need first half Otto Porter to become all-year Otto Porter.
Mike Steenstra: How did they not sweep this series? Crowder hitting 6 of 8 from three in Game 1 doesn’t help. IT putting up 53 in Game 2 didn’t do good things for them either. But the biggest reason why they haven’t swept the Celtics is that Bradley Beal has been maddingly inconsistent. The kick-out to a Beal 3 in the Regular Season was as reliable as Brad Stevens but now it’s as unpredictable as the Orange Man’s twitter fingers. Plus they are from Washington, DC so they are just guaranteed to never win a championship.
For them to be an ECF team next year, they need to get rid of Gortat and replace him with someone who can knock down a shot from outside of the paint. They need Bradley Beal to play like he does in the Regular Season. They need Otto back. They need to keep Bojan or get some firepower off the bench. They need to move out of DC. And lastly, they need to put a hit out on Lebron James. Maybe it’s time we give Lebron the naming rights to the Eastern Conference, I think Lebron James’ Eastern Conference Finals has a nice ring to it.
Noah Perkins: I liked John Wall when he came into the league doing the ‘Dougie’ – the best dance fad of the century so far. I loved Wall, when he pointed at a Celtic in game 3, said “this is for you hoe” and then drilled a free throw. From that moment to the all-black before game 6, this has been by far the best series of this year’s playoffs – playoffs that have stunk worse than Raymond Felton after a Quesarito.
Hard to say it should have been a sweep when both teams have scored the same amount of points (Wiz 660 C’s 657), on identical shooting (46.2%), while matching turnovers (86) through 6 games. Seems like two evenly matched teams.
The Celtics looked like the better team in game 1 and game 5. I’m glad its going 7 – and I expect the Wizards to win the series.
Lucas Johnson: The Washington Wizards cannot play late game defense if they are not at home. Regardless of the outcome of their series the Wizards may look to upgrade the center. Gortat has been too inconsistent these playoffs. Free agency or trade is the only way to upgrade. The bench could improve in departments of grit and ability to score. Jennings is not the back up point guard solution either.
Rockets – Spurs: Who is James Harden – how do you reconcile game 6 with all the MVP talk? What was your reaction to that train wreck?
Jonah Hall: It’s a fair question.
Jonathan Simmons was straight-up ridiculous in Game 6. He swooped in and took all of Harden’s magic. Harden looked like he hit a wall in Game 5. They played in at power forward after Nene went down. The banging down low probably took something out of his legs. He was fighting a cold. These are all reasonable explanations. The fact is, the “MVP Talk,” was unending, overblown, and ridiculous. He had one of the best seasons of anyone in the league. So did Russell Westbrook. So did Kawhi Leonard. The “MVP Talk” is indicative of how self-important and numerically-obsessed we all have become. The MVP votes were for an award that measures our collective obsession with ranking everything, not something that is functionally meaningful.
All that said, if you’re Harden and you’re hearing MVP talk for the second half of the 2014-15 season and again this year, you probably can’t dismiss it. Unless you’re Kawhi. He seems able to dismiss anything. If you’re Harden, it’s easy to get hyped for the me-vs-Russ battle and again for the me-vs-Kawhi battle. Take out Kawhi? Now you actually have to want to win. And you don’t have your legs, because you’ve been guarding seven-footers for the last few games. That…and Jonathan Simmons, bouncing all over the place, using his supreme athleticism without fouling.
Mike Steenstra: James Harden just strikes me as the type of guy that goes home after this type of loss, packs up Smokeem Olajubong, and then dives into a big pile of money with a strange little smile on his face. I always wonder if I would give a shit about losing in the playoffs. Earlier summer. Still tons of money. Saving those legs for your next contract. I digress though.
The shaving points thing though? Nah. Look at all those 0s that already show up on that pay stub.
It was just a really bad game after a heartbreaking loss. Manu sucked the life out of that team and Harden and the rest of the Rockets didn’t have it in them to throw another punch. If Harden did hit that last shot in Game 5, and then gave the lackluster performance, would we be talking about it much? Harden is still one of the best players in the league and it’s just unfortunate that he is in the top heavy Western Conference.
Noah Perkins: Remember a few years back when Donatas Motiejunas went on Baltic radio and said about James Harden and Dwight:
“Hi and bye. They even eat separately from the team. Usually in some fast food place.”
That is exactly who Harden is. He’s the dude who took shots at Parsons after he left. He’s the dude who dated a Kardashian. He’s the dude who plays defense like Raymond Felton after a Quesarito no matter the circumstance.
Harden playing terrible in game 6 didn’t really surprise me; him hoisting only 11 shots is what got me.
Lucas Johnson: James Harden is a by product of D’Antoni’s system.
He was a very good player before – top 3 shooting guard in the league. Now he is a top 5 point guard. I don’t even know if D’Antoni is doing Harden any favors.Game 6 had nothing to do with Harden but everything to with Jonathan Simmons and the San Antonio Spurs defense. The Spurs have always had D’Antoni number so honestly I am kind of surprised that it took the Spurs that long to have this type of game. I always had Russell Westbrook as the MVP ahead of Harden because Harden’s stats are due in part to the offensive system in place at Houston.
Warriors – Jazz: What was your reaction to Draymond calling Olynyk dirty?
Jonah Hall: Draymond calling anyone dirty is hilarious. Every time he kicks someone after securing a rebound. Every time he sets an illegal pick. Draymond learned from one of the dirtiest (and most effective) in Bogut. Now it’s Olynyk. Olynyk couldn’t be an easier target. The Kevin Love shoulder yank was obviously a bizarre tussle, but so was J.R. Smith’s blindside smack of Jae Crowder, who was playing genuinely good, physical defense on LeBron that series.. Playoff basketball gets ugly. Ugly things happen. They’ve happened repeatedly in the Celtics-Wizards series.
Mike Steenstra: I kind of want to punch him in the balls for that kind of talk…by “accident”. Shut up Draymond.
I don’t even think Olynyk is dirty. I just think he’s a clumsy big white dude that plays hard, God bless his goofy heart. Plus he’s Canadian and we all know that Canadians are harmless unless they are wearing their little ice skates.
Why does Draymond even care though? What he should do, if he really believes that, is hire Kelly Olynyk to take out one of the Cavs players in Lebron James’ Eastern Conference Finals again so that they have a better chance of not blowing a 3-1 lead this year.
Noah Perkins: I play basketball on Sundays with this 280-pounder. Everybody hates him. He thinks he’s a point guard; doesn’t pass; jacks fadeaway threes every possession. Worst of all, he is a hack who calls a shit load of fouls.
My reaction to Draymond calling Olynyk dirty was identical to my reaction to the fat kid who calls fouls on Sundays – annoyance, followed by shunning.
Lucas Johnson: Makes me laugh. As a player that played high school, street, and recreational league basketball I always find it is the dirty players that call others dirty. Olynyk might be slightly dirty, I see him as that 6 foot 2 kid in 7th grade that has not grown that into his own body yet. Just wait: Draymond Green will do something in the finals that is DIRTY.
Cavs – Raptors: How many games do the Celtics, or Wizards win against the Cavs – is there any cogent argument that puts them in the finals.
Jonah Hall: The Celtics win one game against Cleveland. Probably at home. Probably Game 1, because Cleveland hasn’t played a game in the last week or so. I’d like to say two games. Isaiah goes berserk in one of them, and they catch Cleveland playing sloppy defense in the other. It will be tempting for writers to dismiss the Celtics season if they get swept. The NBA knows this is a bad look: Two teams that are much better than the other 28. My hunch is Warriors over Spurs in 6, Cavs (against either Boston or Washington) in 5.
Winning one in this series would be a success. Two would be fantastic. Three would almost be worth a lifetime movie. Four is dream.
Noah Perkins: If it’s the Celtics they get swept. I think it’s the Wizards and they squeeze out one. No analysis necessary or worthwhile – LBJ and co are just too big and too good.
Lucas Johnson: The Boston Celtics will win only one game against the Cavs, and it will be because of their defense. Boston does not have the offensive firepower to compete with the Cavs. There is no way they will get to finals.