NBA playoffs produce exciting first round: Chicago poised to upset Boston, Cavs avoid close calls against Indiana

Adam Zalewski, Staff Writer

     It seems like just yesterday that basketball season was just beginning, and there was great speculation about how Kevin Durant would fit in with the Warriors, if Russell Westbrook would be able to carry a team all on his lonesome and if the Cavaliers would still have enough in the tank to make another title challenge. Well now, six months and 82 games later, we have our answers.

     Kevin Durant worked out fine with the star-studded Warriors, producing his most efficient season to date in terms of shooting percentages. Russell Westbrook was able to carry a team all on his own, but the Thunder were only able to grab the six seed in the West.
There were many doubts about the Cavaliers that persisted throughout the season, but when the chips are down and it’s winning time, the Cavs have already given us a glimpse of what they are capable of doing. Let’s take a look at the interesting first round playoff matchups on both the East and West side of the playoffs.

     Since the Cavs got an early shout out above, we will look at their playoff series first, as they are taking on the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers and the Cavs played almost to a draw in the first game of the series, but Indiana missed a shot at the buzzer that would have upset the Cavs.

     In Game two of the series, the Cavs rolled to their second victory, but the headlines were made off the court. Paul George called out several teammates once again, suggesting that they needed to give more effort. While it can be debated whether this is the correct approach to take when the season is hanging in the balance, the bottom line is that Paul George is right.

     His teammates do need to give more in order for the Pacers to have a chance to beat the Cavs. The Basketball power index (BPI), a statistical prediction of how likely a team is to win a playoff series, gives the Cavs a 92 percent chance to win the series. Things are looking good for Cleveland.

     The biggest surprise of the playoffs thus far came in game one of the Bulls-Celtics series, as the Bulls were able to shock the first seeded Celtics and win the first game of the series. Isiah Thomas will be playing this series with a heavy heart, as he lost his sister last week in a tragic car accident, but he wasn’t the problem with the Celtics in game one. The lack of a playmaker behind Thomas is very evident, and without Thomas creating off of the dribble, offense is hard to come by in Boston.

     Jimmy Butler, a player who first broke into the starting lineup due to his defensive abilities, was able to put on an offensive clinic in the second half, while keeping Thomas in check for most of his crunch-time minutes. BPI gives the Celtics just a 49 percent chance to win the series after dropping game one. The Bulls continued their winning ways, taking Game two with an impressive performance from guard Rajon Rondo. This one will be fun to watch and should come down to the wire. We may be in for a coveted game seven.

     In the two other playoff series in the East, the Bucks easily handled the Raptors in Game 1 to wrestle home court advantage away from Toronto, but BPI still gives the Raptors a 64 percent chance to win the series. On Tuesday night the Raptors were able to secure their first win of the playoffs, tying the series at one game apiece.

     The last first round series in the East features the Washington Wizards against the Atlanta Hawks, with the Wizards quite literally outmuscling the Hawks to take a 1-0 series lead. BPI gives Washington a 77 percent chance to advance to the next round.

     On the Western Conference side of the action, things are far less interesting. The Portland Trailblazers and the Golden State Warriors faced off, with the Warriors winning handily despite a valiant effort from the top two guards of the Trailblazers in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. BPI predicts more of the same, with the Warriors having more than a 99 percent chance to advance to the second round.

     Another first round matchup pitted the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Houston Rockets, with the Rockets coming away victorious. After a first quarter in which James Harden went 3-10, he pulled it together to finish 13-28 for 37 points. Russell Westbrook finished three assists shy of a triple-double, but will need his teammates to step up in order to advance. Interestingly enough, Russ has never recorded a triple-double in 40 career playoff games. BPI seems to think that the Thunder’s season is over, giving them only a 12 percent chance to break out of their 1-0 series hole.

     Perhaps the most hotly contested game in the Western Conference featured the resurgent Utah Jazz talking down the LA Clippers, despite the loss of Rudy Gobert in the first quarter to a hyper-extended knee. The Jazz look to be in a good position to move on, although there is concern that the injury to Gobert will slow him down for a few games. Taking all of this into account, the BPI still believed the Jazz had what it takes to move on, giving them a 64 percent chance to advance, before they lost to the Clippers on Tuesday night.

     In the last playoff series in the Western Conference, the Spurs have been able to handle the Grizzlies for two straight games, taking a 2-0 series lead. Grizzlies coach David Fizzdale took his frustrations out on the officials after game two of the series, saying that Kawhi Leonard was getting phantom calls while his players could not buy a call throughout the evening. Things look to get worse for coach Fizzdale, as he is likely to receive a hefty fine from the NBA League office and the BPI gives the Grizzlies just a 3 percent chance to win the series and move on in the playoffs.