We are now three games into each of the conference finals, giving us enough data to analyse where the two series are heading and who will ultimately make the NBA finals.
Have the other Warriors been able to stand up in the absence of Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins? Has Damian Lillard been able to replicate his performances from the first round of the play-offs? The Greek Freak or the Klaw, who’s been taking control?
Even though the series stands at three games to nil, it hasn’t been as one-sided as it may seem. Barring the first game, which Golden State led wire to wire, Portland have been very competitive up until half-time, taking in leads of 15 in both games. It is, however, during the third quarters that Golden State have shown the rest of the competition why they are the champions, coming out after half-time and blitzing Portland off the court by knocking down threes and clamping down on defence.
Steph Curry is back to his unanimous MVP best. Simply taking over games with his understanding three-point shooting – he’s averaging 36.3 points per game – and his Splash Brother Play Thompson isn’t far behind him. Since the Durant injury, the Warriors play style has changed, with more passing, more movement, more cutting and more slashing, proving to everyone they’re still a championship-level team even without KD.
Draymond Green has been copping criticism all year, but I’ve only got praise for him this series. He is the heartbeat of this Warriors team, putting up near triple-double numbers, playing outstanding defence as well as being a great on-court leader for the younger, bench players. It has been the defensive efforts of him and Thompson that have slowed down the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Throughout the first and second rounds of the play-offs Portland were able to hide the hole left by injured star Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic was pivotal to the way Portland operated on both ends of the floor, in particular on the defensive side of the court. Golden State have been able to manipulate Nurkic’s replacement, Enes Kanter, frequently trapping him on a high pick and roll. Kanter’s flaw throughout his career has been his weakness on the defensive end, and he has been caught out numerous times this series.
Prediction: Golden State Warriors 4, Portland Trailblazers 0
Golden State are by far the better team and will continue to improve as the series goes. Their three-point shooting combined with the manic and pressing defence will ensure them another finals appearance. Sorry, Portland fans – you’re going to get swept out again.
The focus leading into this season was the battle between Giannis Antenokumpo and Kawhi Leonard, arguably the best two players in the Eastern Conference. While the Bucks may hold the series lead, Kawhi has certainly been the best player in this series to date, constantly carrying his team on both ends of the court. His shooting efficiency is quite remarkable and the consistency he provides at the end of games is undeniable.
Giannis, on the other hand, while not poor, has been limited by Toronto making it very tough for him to play his natural game on the offensive end by putting multiple defenders into the driving lane and making him take shots from outside the paint. Defensively he has been magnificent with his ability to guard all five positions coming to the forefront this series.
A key factor in this series was always going to be the battle of the benches. Both teams have plenty of depth and experience on the pine, although it has been the Milwaukee bench that has proven to be a lot stronger of the two. With consistent scoring and role play coming off the Bucks bench, Toronto have only had Norman Powell contributing consistently through the first three games. The lack of productivity off the Raptors bench has meant they’re further reliant on their starters to play big minutes, which could be crucial down the stretch.
Each game so far has been separated by big games from not-so-big players. Obviously we know what we are going to get from the Greek Freak and the Klaw each game, but it’s been role players who have stood up to make the difference. In Game 1 it was Brook Lopez for Milwaukee, who had Nikola Mirotic and Ersan Ilyasova set up big in Game 2 (both Milwaukee wins). In Game 3 Toronto had impressive performances from Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell, who both helped the Raptors secured a double overtime win.
Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks 4, Toronto Raptors 3
I feel this is going to be a series for the role players, who generally perform better at home. So with that in mind, it could be a case of the home team winning each game. Milwaukee will ultimately secure their spot in the finals with a Game 7 victory.
All this is dependent on the health of Kawhi Leonard, with the superstar limping and telling a TNT presenter “I’m feeling alright. This is playoff basketball. Everyone is hurt. Just have to keep fighting.”