For the first time since the 2017 postseason commenced, we were forced to endure a day without any playoff action on Saturday. However, things pick back up on Sunday afternoon, as we get the only Game 7 of the first round, as well as the first game of the round two.
Celtics vs. Wizards - Game 1 - 1:00 PM EST on ABC:
Buckle up; this should be fun.
Not only will there be a battle of two dynamic backcourts, but these two teams have also developed quite an intense rivalry recently. Things initially got physical between these two back in January of 2016, when Marcus Smart elbowed Bradley Beal, leaving him with a broken nose and a concussion.
This year, Washington and Boston tied the 2016-17 regular season series 2-2, and there were plenty of fireworks along the way. In January, the Wiz wore all black to their game against the C’s. In the moments after that game ended, John Wall and Jae Crowder got into a confrontation. Crowder was fined $25,000 for putting his finger in Wall’s face. Wall obviously didn’t appreciate the gesture.
Beyond the animosity and shenanigans, we have two teams that closed out their first round opponents in very impressive fashion.
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The preview of Game 1 begins in the backcourt. These squads feature some of the most exciting and explosive guards in the East.
John Wall and Bradley Beal played extremely well in round one, powering the Wiz past the Hawks in six games. Wall, in particular, was unstoppable. He scored a playoff career-high 42 points on Friday, to go along with eight assists, four steals and two blocks. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Wall became the fourth player in NBA history with at least 40 points and eight assists in a series-clinching win. He joins Jerry West (42 points, eight assists in Game 6 of 1965 Western Division Finals), Gail Goodrich (44 points, eight assists in Game 5 of 1973 Western Conference Finals), and Michael Jordan (40 points, 10 assists in Game 6 of 1989 Eastern Conference Semifinals).
The most surprisingly impressive aspect of Wall’s game over these past two weeks has been his jumper. We know Wall, one of the quickest players on the planet, can get to the rim at will. However, he was also able to consistently shoot well from the outside vs. the Hawks. Wall is a career 32.1 percent shooter from downtown over his career and made just 20.4 percent (10-for-49) of his 3-point attempts over the first 18 postseason games of his career. Yet, in round one against Atlanta, Wall shot 47.4 percent from behind-the-arc. Furthermore, after shooting just 38.7 percent on mid-range jumpers during the regular season, Wall has knocked down 48.6 percent of his mid-range J’s in the playoffs.
He finished the series averaging 29.5 points and 10.3 assists, while 52.5 percent from the floor. If Wall can somehow maintain this level of efficiently, Boston is in a whole heap of trouble.
Beal, trying his best to keep up, tallied 31 points on Friday night. The 73 combined points were the most Beal and Wall had ever scored in a single game, in either the regular season or the playoffs. Per Elias, the last time one player scored at least 40 points and a teammate had at least 30 points in a series-clinching win was when Michael Jordan had 56 and Scottie Pippen scored 31 in Game 3 of the Bulls’ 1992 first-round matchup with the Heat.
The Celtics’ guards were also very impressive in round one. Avery Bradley enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2016-17 and has continued that strong play in the postseason. Bradley put up solid stats (16.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 treys per game), but he was most valuable on the defensive end of the floor, where he gave Jimmy Butler fits.
The Celtics MVP, Isaiah Thomas, deserved a ton of credit for simply being on the court, considering he tragically lost his sister in a car accident back on April 15th. Thomas was understandably inconsistent vs. Chicago, but still managed to average 23.0 points and 5.7 dimes, including plenty of big buckets late in games. Thomas flew back to Tacoma after Game 6 on Friday to attend his sister’s funeral on Saturday afternoon. Coach Brad Stevens said Thomas should feel free to stay in Washington if he felt he needed to, but Isaiah is fully expected to suit up for Game 1. Still, it would be foolish to expect him not to be significantly impacted mentally and emotionally.
Also, coach Stevens will need to find a way to match-up defensively against Beal and Wall. The C’s were able to hide Thomas in the Chicago series by having him guard journeyman Isaiah Canaan after Rajon Rondo broke his thumb in Game 2. There is no such obvious hiding spot for Isaiah against the Wizards. Boston would likely prefer to stick Bradley on Wall most often, hoping to cool off the Wizards red-hot point guard. However, Beal can explode offensively as well if not properly respected. The C’s may try to utilize Marcus Smart and/or Jae Crowder on Beal, switching Thomas onto Otto Porter at times. But that plan has flaws, as Porter shot 43.4 percent from downtown during the regular season, which was the fourth highest percentage in the NBA.
In response, the Celtics will attempt to run high pick-and-rolls with Thomas as often as possible. The C's were getting buried on the glass in the first two games of the Chicago series and tried to counteract this issue by abusing Robin Lopez via pick-and-rolls at the top of the key. Expect Boston to try the same tactic with Marcin Gortat, in hopes of getting Washington’s center in foul trouble and allowing Isaiah to slice into the paint and collapse the Wizards defense.
It should certainly be an intensely competitive and highly entertaining series right off the bat.
Here’s the full schedule for Boston and Washington series:
Game 1 – Sun April 30 Washington at Boston 1:00 PM ABC
Game 2 – Tue May 2 Washington at Boston 8:00 PM TNT
Game 3 – Thu May 4 Boston at Washington 8:00 PM ESPN
Game 4 – Sun May 7 Boston at Washington 6:30 PM TNT
Game 5 * Wed May 10 Washington at Boston TBD TNT
Game 6 * Fri May 12 Boston at Washington TBD ESPN
Game 7 * Mon May 15 Washington at Boston 8:00 PM TNT
Clippers vs. Jazz - Game 7 - 3:30 PM EST on ABC:
The two best words in sports: Game Seven.
It appeared that we might end the first round without a single Game 7, but then the Clips went to Utah for Game 6 and escaped with a victory.
Chris Paul is the primary reason L.A. is still alive. CP3 poured in 29 points, dished out eight assists and added three rebounds, two steals and two 3-pointers in 38 minutes on Friday night. For the series, he’s averaging a mind-boggling 27.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.2 rebounds, while shooting 52.6 percent from the floor. Those numbers are further proof that the false narrative about CP3 not being able to excel on the game’s biggest stage is hogwash.
Yes, it’s true that the Clips have never advanced to the conference finals during Paul's six years in L.A., but is it fair to pin that solely on CP3? Even if the undermanned Clips find a way to beat Utah, they will likely be pulverized by the flying death machine that is Golden State in the next round. Should that be used as a referendum on Chris Paul's career?
CP3 has scored over 25 points in each of the Clippers last three elimination games. He has started 75 playoff games in his career and is averaging 21.5 points, 9.5 assists and 2.2 steals in those contests. Per Basketball Reference, he’s the only player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, nine dimes and two steals over the course of a postseason career. Nonetheless, Paul enters Game 7 with an enormous amount of pressure on his shoulders.
DeAndre Jordan is coming off a 13-point, 18-rebound performance. He'll be asked to control the boards once again. J.J. Redick (four points and one assist in 21 minutes) was too quiet in Game 6. The Clips need him to knock down some treys and help space the floor. L.A. would love to see a repeat performance from Austin Rivers, after he racked up 13 points, six boards and four boards in Game 6. Rivers will be a solid DFS play on Sunday.
For Utah, they are faced with the unenviable task of bouncing back after coughing up a great chance to close out the Clips at home. Rudy Gobert tweaked his ankle in the third quarter of Game 6, but said afterward that he would suit up for Game 7. He is listed as probable and is fully expected to play. The Jazz desperately needs him to patrol the paint.
Joe Johnson had been a beast for Utah through the first five games of the series, but L.A. was able to hold him in check in Game 6, limiting him to just nine points on 3-of-9 shooting. Joe Ingles (zero points, two rebounds and three assists) was shut down on Friday night. The Jazz will require a better effort from their role players, including Rodney Hood and Derrick Favors.
Utah obviously also needs Gordon Hayward to step up. Hayward is probably going to sign a max contract this summer, and these are the games where max-level players step up and prove their value.
Here’s the full schedule for the second round matchup between the winner of Game 7 and the Warriors:
Game 1 – Tue May 2 LA Clippers/Utah at Golden State 7:30 PM TNT
Game 2 – Thu May 4 LA Clippers/Utah at Golden State 7:30 PM ESPN
Game 3 – Sat May 6 Golden State at LA Clippers/Utah TBD ABC
Game 4 – Mon May 8 Golden State at LA Clippers/Utah TBD TNT
Game 5 * Wed May 10 LA Clippers/Utah at Golden State TBD TNT
Game 6 * Fri May 12 Golden State at LA Clippers/Utah TBD ESPN
Game 7 * Sun May 14 LA Clippers/Utah at Golden State TBD TBD