The 2019 NBA Playoffs are really heating up as the conference finals get underway. As the countdown to the NBA Finals is drawing closer to a close, four teams are one series away from a chance of etching their names forever in basketball history.
The Western Conference will feature the dominant Golden State Warriors defending their NBA crown against the surging Portland Trail Blazers. A new team will claim rights to Eastern Conference supremacy as the 60-win Milwaukee Bucks take on the Toronto Raptors.
Golden State vs Portland
The Golden State Warriors have been the class of the western conference searching for their 5thconsecutive NBA Finals appearance. The Warriors have looked shaky at moments this postseason but have shown tremendous resilience in the face of adversity.
A furious 31-point comeback by the Clippers in game two of the opening round made the series interesting, but the Warriors prevailed 4-2. The semi-final matchup for the Warriors was the much anticipated contest with James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Rockets. The series was chippy at the onset and there was much controversy with the refs. With the series tied 2-2, Golden State fans held their breath when star forward Kevin Durant went down with a right calf injury. Behind a clutch 60-point performance by the Splash brothers in game 6, the Warriors ousted rival Houston 4-2.
The Blazers have been powered by the 1-2 backcourt scoring combo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. An epic game-winning 37-footer by Lillard to score 50 points in game 5 sealed a 4-1 series win against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It would take a larger effort to dispatch division rival Denver as the matchup would go to seven games. A thrilling 4-OT 140-137 win in game 3 for the Blazers proved to be critical. Down by 17 points in game 7, the Blazers stormed back behind a 37-point performance by CJ McCollum to earn the franchise’s first trip to the Western Conference Finals since 2000.
The biggest question mark for the Warriors entering the NBA conference finals is the health of Kevin Durant. The reigning NBA Finals MVP has exploded during the 2019 postseason with an average of 34.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. Durant remains on the shelf struggling to recover from a calf injury. The Warriors still possess the firepower to defeat the Blazers, but the door is open for the underdogs. If the dynamic scoring duo of Lillard and McCollum can get help out of the frontcourt, then the Blazers have the ability to make some noise. The key for the Blazers to have a chance is to come away at least one away victory. An upset in Oracle Arena could give the Blazers the momentum they need to win the series.
Even if Kevin Durant does not return in time to suit up and play a single minute in the conference finals, the Warriors still have the edge against the Blazers. The margin for error will be smaller for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Portland has shown the ability to compete with the defending champs by splitting four games during the regular season. Fans can expect an extremely competitive series, but the Warriors should survive with or without Durant.
Warriors take series in 7!
Milwaukee vs Toronto
Who will ascend to the throne and become the new ‘Beasts of the East?’ The Bucks have looked the part all season going 60-22 behind the 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game of MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak has looked just as formidable in the playoffs and the Bucks have looked like legitimate NBA title contenders. Outside of a hiccup in game 1 against the Boston Celtics, the Bucks have been spotless this postseason. Not one game against #8 seed Detroit was decided by less than 15 points. After trailing the Celtics 1-0, the Bucks took complete control of the series by winning the next four games by an average of 16.3 points to win the series 4-1.
Things were slightly more difficult for the #2 seed Raptors to claw their way to the conference finals. In the first round, a surprising game 1 loss to the Orlando Magic was a wake up call the Raptors desperately needed. The team reeled in four straight wins to take the series 4-1. A back and forth clash with the Philadelphia Sixers awaited them. The series would be decided in a do or die game 7 and the Raptors edged the Sixers in an electrifying showdown. A buzzer beater by Kawhi Leonard propelled the Raptors to a 92-90 win and shattered the dreams of Philly fans everywhere. Leonard has been a dominant force in the postseason with an astounding average of 31.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists. Power forward Pascal Siakam has provided a nice lift in the front court with an average of 20.3 points and 7.2 rebounds.
The Bucks have looked like an unstoppable force in the playoffs with no signs of slowing down and the Greek Freak continues to play in premier MVP form. The Raptors have struggled for several years to get over the hump and finally make it to the NBA Finals. The Bucks had the upper hand on the Raptors during the regular season by winning the season series 3-1. Expect the Greek Freak and Bucks to continue to excel on both sides of the floor to take the Bucks back to the NBA Finals for the first time in over 40 years.
Bucks win series 4-2!