And then there were four.
The Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers will face off in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row, while the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets will do battle in the Western Conference Finals. Each of the four teams have arrived at this point in vastly different ways. The Celtics are just glad to be here after injuries to Gordon Hayward in the first game of the season and Kyrie Irving down the stretch. The Cavaliers are relying on the best player of all-time in LeBron James in what may be his last season as a Cav. The Warriors have used their hall of fame talent to outpace other West competitors. The Rockets have the Most Valuable Player in James Harden and a formidable trio in Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela, who are 50-5 when all three suit up together.
Each series figures to be a fun one. The Celtics have a number of players to attempt guarding LeBron James: Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye, Marcus Morris, and Al Horford will all likely spend some time on the Cavs’ superstar. On the other side, guarding Terry Rozier, Horford, and one of Brown/Tatum (whoever LeBron doesn’t guard) will likely be a challenge for the Cavs’ defense. Imagine if the Celtics had Irving and Hayward available as well...
The Rockets and figure to have as many as SEVEN hall of fame players between their rosters. On the Rockets, Harden and Paul are extremely likely to make it in one day on the strength of their peak performance and longetivity in the case of CP3. On the Warriors, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are shoo-ins at this point. Also on the Warriors, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala have strong cases to make it. Thompson will likely finish his career as the second best three-point shooter in history behind Curry. If he continues to put up strong numbers for another five years, he will make it on the strength of his championships, a gold medal for Team USA (maybe more), two All-NBA placements, and his game changing outside shot. Green also has championships and a gold medal from Team USA. He also adds a Defensive Player of the Year trophy, two All-NBA placements, three All-Defense placements, and a versatile offensive game that helped make the Warriors into the juggernaut they are. Finally, Iguodala has the worst case, but many forget he was the Finals MVP in 2014-15. He also made the All-Defensive team twice and has been an integral member of this Warriors dynasty, not to mention he has 14 years of production and also won a gold medal in 2012 with Team USA.
So, it’s a star-studded Western Conference Finals.
Now, who will move on in each conference to earn a chance to be NBA champions?
In the East, it’s hard to go against LeBron and the Cavaliers. LeBron has been to the NBA Finals the last eight seasons in a row, and picking him to miss this year would mean going against common sense. If the Celtics were fully healthy with Irving and Hayward, then I might do just that; however, I don’t think this Celtics team is going to be the one that stops LeBron from making it back. As much as I love Al Horford, and how insanely good Rozier, Brown, and Tatum have been in the playoffs thus far, I can’t pick against the Cavs just yet. If the Celtics commit too much to stopping LeBron, Kevin Love still exists. He averaged over 20 points and 11 rebounds per game in the sweep of the Toronto Raptors, and if the Celtics don’t put Horford on him, Love will be too quick outside or too skilled inside for whoever else guards him. I just don’t see the Celtics having enough, despite some major advantages.
In the West, the Warriors have slogged along all year just waiting for the playoffs to start, but now that they have, it’s easy to see the talent they have. Curry is dealing with some knee issues, but even if he’s at 90%, I see the Warriors taking this series. There’s no shame in that if you’re Houston. They have assembled the best team the Warriors have faced in the last four seasons in my opinion. I do think that the combination of the Rockets generating a ton of threes and the brilliance of Harden, Paul, and Capela will help them steal two games. Still, the Warriors will be too much.
So, in conclusion, I believe we will see Cavs-Warriors IV, with both teams winning their respective conference finals in six games.
Predictions from some other staff writers are as follows:
Adam Mares: Cavs in 7, Warriors in 6
Brendan Vogt: Cavs in 6, Warriors in 5
Daniel Lewis: Cavs in 6, Rockets in 7
Who do you think will represent the East and West in the NBA Finals this year? Let us know in the comment section or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.