It was a busy week last week for NBA fans when the first round of the playoffs continued to identify the eight strongest teams from both the Western and the Eastern Conference.
For the Western Conference, right in Portland, Stephen Curry scored 37 points to help Golden State beat the Blazers 128-103 on Monday, April 24 to advance to the conference semifinals. Even with coach Steve Kerr out for surgery, the team swept the Blazers four straight games with the return of Kevin Durant. Durant started and the Warriors built a 72-48 lead at halftime before making it 104-77 in the third quarter, marking the most points ever in a quarter for the Warriors in a playoff game —Durant and all Golden State’s starters were in double figures. Damian Lillard scored 34 points for the Blazers, but his efforts did not stop the Warriors from winning.
On Sunday, April 30, 1000 miles from Portland, the Utah Jazz proved their strength by defeating the L.A. Clippers 104-91, ending the thrilling series 4-3 to face the Golden State Warriors. Gordon Hayward scored 26 points while George Hill and Derrick Favors added 17 points apiece to finish the seventh game with a win for the Jazz. DeAndre Jordan contributed 24 points while Chris Paul only got 13 points for the Clippers. The game went well for the Jazz in the third with a 23-9 run to take the largest lead in the series. They kept the lead until the end of the game and closed the series 4-3 to advance to the Western semifinals.
Russell Westbrook might have to give up his MVP title after Oklahoma City Thunder’s loss to the Houston Rockets 99-105 on Tuesday, April 24. James Harden added 34 points to send a 47-point game by Westbrook back home and Houston took the series 4-1. The Rockets were phenomenal with their free throws, leading 98-91 in the fourth quarter while Oklahoma City missed many shots that could have closed the gap. After scoring 20 points in the third, Westbrook only scored two out of eleven in the end. As a result, Oklahoma City lost–a disappointing end for Westbrook after his amazing season with the NBA record of 31.6 points per game. On the Houston side, Harden successes in 15 out of 16 free throws were the most important key to victory in the game. The team will have to place the San Antonio Spurs in the second round after they close the series versus Memphis 4-2 with a 103-96 win in Memphis, Tennessee.
For the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics won game six 105-83 against the Chicago Bulls on Friday, April 28. The men in green led the game with 13 points in the halftime before bullying the Bulls with 34-18 in the third. Avery Bradley performed well with 23 points for the Celtics, while the Bulls could not replace the absence of point guard Rajon Rondo and lost their rhythm. With this win, Boston Celtics would continue to the semifinals, facing the Washington Wizards, who just eliminated the Atlanta Hawks 115-99 in game six on the same day. Point guard John Wall had an outstanding performance with a career playoff high of 42 points, crushing any hopes the Hawks might have had of making a comeback. The Atlanta Hawks narrowed the gap from 19 to 7 in the third quarter, but Wall single-handedly lifted the Wizards and struck back 22-9 to win the series 4-2.
In Milwaukee, the Toronto Raptors nearly blew a 25-point lead in game six but managed to win a tight game 92-89 against the Milwaukee Bucks—they will play the Cavaliers in the next series. DeMar DeRozan paced the Raptors with 32 points while Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 34 points for the Bucks. The Raptors held a 25-point lead in the third quarter, but Jason Terry came up with some throws that helped the Bucks save the game 80-78 in the fourth. However, the Raptors bounced back with Cory Joseph turning the game around to win with only 3 points ahead. This was worrisome for the Raptors, since they have to face the formal champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in the semifinals. LeBron James continued to send the Indiana Pacers home with a 106-102 victory in Indianapolis. The four-time MVP scored 33 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks to win his twenty-first consecutive first-round game. The Cavaliers completed the 4-0 series with a really close game after blowing a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter before James showed his true powers and scored a thrilling three points in the last seconds to gain the Pacers’ victory.
With this win, the Cavaliers will continue to defend their title against the Raptors. Will we to have a Warriors-Cavaliers final like the last two years or will James Harden lead the Rockets to challenge the champion? Check back with us and see.