The NBA Playoffs are in full swing, and four teams are just a round and a half away from potential NBA Finals glory. But while the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors, and Oklahoma City Thunder continue to fight for the right to be called NBA champions, let’s look back at what we have seen so far in the postseason. These are the five biggest things to take away from the NBA Playoffs to this point.
5. End Of The Spurs Era
Just a few games ago, people were looking ahead to what felt like the inevitable Western Conference Finals matchup between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. That was before the wheels completely fell off of what was an otherwise brilliant season from the Spurs, who now face a ton of questions after failing to get to the NBA Finals in what could be their last chance to do so for a very long time.
For San Antonio, the question is now whether or not they can adjust to losing one of the greatest NBA players of all time in Tim Duncan. LaMarcus Aldridge will slot into his power forward role nicely, but Duncan’s leadership has helped plenty of players improve, and losing that will hurt a lot. Kawhi Leonard and Aldridge should be able to keep the team as one of the best in the league, but whether or not they can be a dynasty like the Duncan led Spurs is unlikely.
4. Eastern Conference Struggles
It was objectively hard to watch some of the NBA Playoffs action in the Eastern Conference this postseason. There were less than competitive series, followed by plenty of low scoring games, and the unattractive basketball in the majority of the games in the eastern half of the bracket made for some issues fully enjoying this year’s playoff action.
The worst offenders here were the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat, both of whom played a ton of low scoring games in both the first and second rounds, with the Heat struggling past the Hornets in round one, and the Raptors engaging in a rock fight with the Pacers. The two teams then played each other in the second round, in a series full of games that could not hit very low totals by today’s standards. Throw in two sweeps by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it was a rough two rounds to watch in the East.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder Rolling
Oklahoma City was supposed to defeat the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, before gracefully bowing out against the San Antonio Spurs to set up the dream matchup in the Western Conference Finals between the Spurs and Golden State Warriors. Oklahoma City must not have read the script, though, as they found a way to get past the Spurs and have Golden State on the ropes as well with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have struggled with consistency in the playoffs this year, but have been there when the Thunder have needed them the most. But it’s been the role players for the Thunder who have really stepped up. Steven Adams has been a formidable threat on the boards, especially the offensive glass, and Dion Waiters has been helpful as well. If they can continue playing the way they have, a championship is not out of the question, which was completely unexpected heading into the playoffs this year.
2. Golden State Warriors Struggling
— Keith Britton (@KeithBritton86) May 23, 2016
Getting to the NBA Finals was supposed to be as easy as defeating the San Antonio Spurs for Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. When San Antonio was eliminated, the Warriors were massive favorites to advance past the Oklahoma City Thunder and get back to the NBA Finals. But the Warriors have had a difficult time in the Western Conference Finals and are in danger of being sent home before getting a chance to defend their title on the biggest stage in the NBA.
While Steph Curry being injured has had something to do with the issues of the Warriors this postseason, they have even struggled with a healthy Curry in the conference finals. The Thunder have simply been better and more physical through three games of their series, with the Warriors failing to find an answer for Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka on the interior. What’s more is that Draymond Green has had trouble against the Thunder, so a comeback in the Western Conference Finals is not guaranteed by any means.
1. Inconsistent Cleveland Cavaliers
The home team has won all 6 games in the Cavaliers-Raptors rivalry this season
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 24, 2016
The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled through the first two rounds of the NBA Playoffs, going 8-0 against a combination of the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks in order to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. They have struggled, however, against the Toronto Raptors, who have tied the series between those two teams at two games apiece due to some woeful defending by the Cavaliers, who might fail to even reach the NBA Finals after being thought of as a given to get there.
This was bound to happen eventually, as the Cavaliers were shooting an abnormally high percentage from three point range in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Even so, it’s shocking to see LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love have trouble against a team whose third best contributor in the NBA Playoffs has been Bismack Biyombo. That does not bode well for the Cavaliers even if they do get back to the NBA Finals, as the Western Conference champion that they play will be even more difficult to deal with.
All five of these storylines have made the NBA Playoffs fascinating, even if the basketball hasn’t always been the most captivating. But with the rest of the conference finals and the NBA Finals still to come, there is still plenty of exciting basketball left to be had. The only question now is whether the Cavaliers, Raptors, Warriors, or Thunder will lift the Larry O’Brien trophy and claim their spot as the best team in the NBA.
By: Jason Sanin