Toronto loves keeping their fans in suspense. Game 2 was the same narrative.
While most of the first half Toronto was up comfortably, the second half was a different monster.
The 2015-2016 season will undoubtedly go down as one of the best ever in the history of the game. The Golden State Warriors threw the league on their shoulders as they ultimately broke Michael Jordan’s 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls record of 72 regular season wins. Steph Curry might win the league MVP unanimously, and as Kobe Bryant rode his unicorn off into the sunset with a 60 point farewell. But the show goes on as the league looks to crown a champion.
Looking to add to their legacy, the Golden State Warriors look to repeat as NBA Champions, but there are not many legitimate threats. After winning the season series against all of their opponents, an injury to a key player might be the only vice as the seek a second Larry O’Brien Trophy is as many years.
Let’s get to the playoff match-ups, starting with the Eastern Conference:
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons.
Lebron James and co. are undoubtedly the favourites coming out of the East, and they should breeze through the first round versus the young Detroit squad. 33-8 gave the Cavs the third best home record in the NBA behind the story book seasons of San Antonio and Golden State, who combined to lose 3 games at their home courts this season. Cleveland has a clear advantage at every starting position except center, where Tristan Thompson is outclassed by superstar in the making, Andre Drummond. The Connecticut product lead the league in rebounds at 14.8, and gives the Pistons a clear advantage in size with his strength and presence in the post. Detroit is definitely a franchise on the rise, but they will be hard pressed to win a game with the Cavs depth, and the best player in the world on their side. Lebron is a man on a mission to bring home a championship to his title starved hometown, and the Pistons definitely won’t be much of a roadblock.
Prediction: Cavs in 4
(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Indiana Pacers
Playoff futility has plagued Canada’s only NBA team for their entire existance. The Toronto Raptors haven’t won a seven game series, but this is the year is a new chapter is written for the franchise. After several seasons of the players not completely buying in to Head Coach Dwane Casey’s defensive approach, the athlete’s changed their mindset, and franchise records were broken across the board. Out were defensive liabilities and fan favourite’s Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez, and in were defensive first players Cory Joseph and Bismack Biyombo. Toronto was one of the top teams defensively, and ranked 4th in the NBA in points allowed in the paint at 40.1% . Indiana enjoyed somewhat of an early renaissance from their rebuild/tweak on the fly notion since their days of the constant battles with Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Final. Lance Stephenson ‘s ear blowing tactics and Roy Hibbert’s diminished game are long gone. Ian Mahinmi, Monta Ellis and CJ Miles have filled in fairly well. Paul George remains the biggest star in the series, but Indiana’s scoring depth is in question. The Pacers have some capable scorers coming off the bench in Miles and Rodney Stuckey, but they aren’t exactly intimidating the Raptors. Myles Turner has had a nice rookie season, and Mahinmi has exceeded expectations but Jonas Valanciunas might have a field day against the Pacers front line.
If Indiana has any shot at winning this series, it will be at the three point line. The Raptors finished second last in the NBA defending the arc, allowing opponents to shoot 37.3%. Paul George started the season very strong, but regressed statistically as the season went on. The Fresno State alum will have to be at his early season MVP level to pose any threat for the deep and thorough Toronto squad. Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have had their playoff struggles, but the supporting cast makes this much easier for everyone.
Prediction: Raptors in 5
(3) Miami Heat vs. (6) Charlotte Hornets
The boys from South Beach filled in their roster with a bunch of misfits the past few years. And the results have been nothing out of the ordinary for Pat Riley. Hassan Whiteside, Gerald Green and Luol Deng have been solid additions, along with Goran Dragic and his ridiculous trade haul. None have been more instrumental than Whiteside, who is essentially a video game rim protector, nearly averaging 4 blocks a game and altering many more. Dwyane Wade’s youth serum has been a great surprise for the Heat, and he will undoubtedly elevate his game in the postseason. The Heat have been hobbled a by injuries, and Chris Bosh doesn’t figure to return until next season, but Joe Johnson has fit in seamlessly. Tyler Johnson also remains out, but Josh Richardson has been shooting the lights out since he’s been given consistent minutes.
Charlotte returns to the playoffs after a one year hiatus, and Nic Batum is a major reason why. The former Blazer was send packing in a deal that netted Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson, and has played with some fire this season. Cody Zeller had an impressive season and stole the starting job from low post wizard Al Jefferson in January, and hasn’t looked back. Jeremy Lin will get some votes for 6th Man of the Year, and was a big part of the Hornets success after a one year playoff hiatus. But it will be tough for players like Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lin to attack the basket with Hassan Whiteside patrolling the paint. Advantage: Miami
Prediction: Miami in 5
(4) Atlanta Haws vs. (5) Boston Celtics
Paul Millsap and Al Horford continue to be two of the more under appreciated players in the Association. Both are solid scoreres, but defensively if where they are undervalued, especially in
Demar DeRozan – The former USC product may be the easiest pick for the NBA coach’s vote to play in the All Star Game. He’s enjoying a career season almost all across the board (23 ppg, 4.5 reb, 4.1 ast), while guiding the Toronto Raptors to an impressive 30-15 record.
Houston Astros @ New York Yankees
These aren’t the Bronx Bombers of the 2000s, but they can still mash the baseball. Dallas Keuchel might be the American League Cy Young favourite, but his home/road splits are downright frightening.
Keuchel went 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA at Minute Maid Park in and 5-8 with a 3.77 ERA on the road.
Masahiro Tanaka has been pitching with a partially torn ucl in his right elbow, but the Japanese righty has been great at home in his short MLB career.
As much of a coin flip as a one game wildcard game is, I’m going with the Yanks tonight, and also the under 7.
New York Yankees -110