With the playoffs in full swing, I had a chat with some of the SB Nation sites covering Eastern Conference playoff teams. As only 1 game has been played for every team other than the Sixers and the Heat, lots could change a week from now. But the following questions can give us some insight into the success or failure of each team. (Unfortunately, I was unable to get in contact with someone regarding the Heat and the Cavaliers.)
I asked each contributor the same 3 questions:
- What’s a positive take away from the team so far?
- What’s one negative or glaring weakness you noticed?
- Who, from the team you cover, has been the difference (for better or for worse)?
- The Pacers left several scoring opportunities on the table, but in general their ability to attack the Cavs’ defense and get where they needed, in particular Victor Oladipo creating space for good looks was one major positive.
- The effort on the defensive glass was not strong for the Pacers despite all of the stops they forced. With Kevin Love and LeBron James attacking the offensive glass, the Pacers will have to fight much harder on the glass going forward in the series.
- Victor Oladipo was on a different level of positive difference in Game 1, but Thaddeus Young had an impressive under the radar performance facilitating the Pacers efficiency at both ends of the floor. Nothing in the box score indicates such a positive performance aside from the +23 points the Pacers scored when he was on the floor. Young’s ability to guard Kevin Love, Jeff Green and LeBron James makes the team defensive effort work. His ability to screen, pass and finish around the rim keeps the Cavs’ defense honest.
- Milwaukee played badly, with only three players performing up to expectations (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Malcolm Brogdon), made tons of mistakes, and still managed to keep pace with the 2nd-seeded Celtics. Giannis had a merely “okay” game, and put up 35/13/7. Despite their flaws, the questionable rotations, and the played-out schemes, the Bucks have a clear talent advantage, were still in Game 1, and are still in this series. Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker will both be better than they showed on Sunday, and even if only one of them shows up, it might be enough to tip the scales in Milwaukee’s favor.
- The sheer volume of turnovers is, in a word, unacceptable, especially from a team that takes itself seriously in the playoffs. Even good teams make mistakes, but 20 turnovers means that Boston was given 20 additional chances to manufacture points, which is a major no-no when you’re playing a team that doesn’t score all that well. If Milwaukee cannot tamp down the unforced errors and make their passes on-time and with purpose, this series will be much shorter than it ought to be.
- Eric Bledsoe is the Bucks’ bellwether: if he’s good, they’re good. Bledsoe was not good on Sunday, and has had an up-and-down season in Milwaukee (which is very #OnBrand). He’s the team’s most dynamic guard, and his athleticism is a key advantage that the Bucks need to leverage, particularly against the Celtics’ current group of healthy point guards (Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin). If he can play under control on offense and amp up his pressure on defense (without getting caught peeking...), suddenly the game takes on a very different tone for Milwaukee.
- After a crazy Game one, there’s a lot of takeaways, some positive, some negative. I would say that Al Horford’s production on Sunday is probably the most promising takeaway. The Celtics ran their offense through Horford for a majority of their Game one win, and he showed the aggressiveness that Boston will need. The fact that he was able to play 44 effective minutes has to be a positive takeaway for all Celtics fans.
- The second quarter from Sunday’s game was obviously a glaring weakness. The extended scoring lapses have been an issue for the injury-plagued Celtics during the last few months, and the latest occurrence resulted in a 26-4 Bucks run. Those stretches will haunt Boston, so don’t be surprised if they lose a game after failing to recover from a big Milwaukee run.
- It was Horford on Sunday, but the way this team operates, anything can happen. Next game it could be Jaylen Brown’s improved three-point shooting, Shane Larkin’s defensive impact, or Terry Rozier’s 30 point explosion. That’s what makes this team so much fun. With so much resilience, you just never know.
- The short answer: the Raptors won! It shouldn’t be a big deal, but the fact that the team got out of its own way and played to their style for most of Game 1 was nice to see. The stars moved the ball, the bench played with energy and poise, and the Raps executed down the stretch.
- The Raptors will likely need more scoring, or more efficient scoring, from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in Game 2. That’s not to say their productivity wasn’t important -- Lowry was everywhere on the court, and DeRozan helped keep Toronto level in the third quarter of Game 1 -- but Toronto won’t always be able to count on greater than 50 percent shooting from 3, and lights out games from rookie OG Anunoby and veteran Serge Ibaka. Part of the Raptors’ success comes from their depth, that’s true -- but at a certain level, the stars have to be the absolute best versions of themselves.
- For Game 1, it’s hard not to say Delon Wright exceeded expectations. In the absence of Fred VanVleet (the bench’s steadying hand), Wright stepped in and did all the things you’d want from the back-up guard spot (and in crunch time!) -- hitting 3s, making passes, and playing fantastic, active defense. Wright’s been doing this stuff in part all year, but seeing him go off for 18 and 4, with 3 steals, is still pretty special.
- The biggest positive out of Game 1 is that the Wizards showed they can hang with the top team in the East on their floor. Toronto entered with a Game 7 intensity and they still needed big games from Delon Wright and C.J. Miles to escape with an eight point victory. That should give Washington a lot of encouragement for the rest of the series.
- Washington’s biggest weakness is the same one as last year: Their bench. Mike Scott was great, especially considering he had to play more minutes due to Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi’s foul troubles, but he was the only bright spot. If Washington’s starters have to play more than Toronto’s, it’s going to put them at a disadvantage games that go to the wire, because Toronto will be fresher.
- The Wizards need to get a better performance out of Kelly Oubre to help relieve the starters, especially Otto Porter, who didn’t look 100 percent in Game 1. If nothing else, they need him to be less erratic. He went 1-of-4 from the field, turned the ball over twice, and committed three fouls in just 16 minutes of playing time. He’s been part of some of the Wizards’ best closing lineups this season, but if he struggles, Brooks has shown he’ll go with other options he trusts late in games, even if they aren’t as effective.
- The Sixers are still pretty damn good offensively without Joel Embiid. Don’t twist my thoughts. Embiid remains the player that puts this team on another level. During the regular season, the Sixers ORtg is 7.6 higher with Embiid on the floor, but the Sixers have averaged 116.5 ppg in two playoff games with an average ORtg of 119.5. Ben Simmons is averaging 20.5/9/11 in two games, and they would absolutely be up 2-0 in this series had it not been for Dwyane Wade drinking from the Lazurus Pit like he was Ra’s al Ghul prior to Monday night’s game.
- It’s not a GLARING weakness, but it is worth pointing out that the Heat bench has outscored the Sixers bench 104-73 in two games. When the regulars (Simmons/Saric/Redick/Covington) aren’t on the floor, it can be difficult for the team to get points. If Ilyasova and/or Belinelli aren’t hitting their shots, either, then it’s almost impossible. Embiid (hopefully) returning for game three changes that a little because Ilyasova goes to the bench where he’s better suited. As an example, remember Ilyasova’s third quarter in game one (10 points, 6 rebounds) to help the team pull away.
- Ersan. Ilyasova. This man has been VERY good in the first two games of this series. Ilyasova has averages of 15.5 points and 12.5 rebounds (4.5 offensive rebounds) per game and is shooting 50% from three – albeit on just six attempts. Also, “The Professional” is very much his nickname on defense in the post, and he keeps with his reputation as a charge taker (even if some are missed due to questionable officiating).
Thanks to everyone who joined me! Really appreciate everyone’s time and insight.