Houston Rockets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Rockets Win 4-1
Aside from a tremendous team effort in game three to turn this into the (ahem) “gentleman’s sweep”, the T-Wolves just didn’t have much to throw at the NBA’s winningest team. The game three win at home was Minnesota’s first playoff victory in fourteen years, but it won’t be its last with this young core. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are an enviable young duo to build around, and Jimmy Butler looks like he still as a few more miles on his tires. The Rockets aren’t concerned about the future, though. The Rockets are looking at the right here, right now. The game five elimination came on the back of a massive third quarter by the Rockets, utterly dominating to the tune of fifty points coming out of halftime. Harden alone scored twenty-two in that frame, personally outscoring the Timber Wolves and putting his stamp on this first round series. While the Rockets probably aren’t overly concerned, they’ll lay in wait to see who emerges from the Thunder/Jazz series to challenge them. Either way, it’s likely to be more of the same. Neither team looks capable of keeping up with them.
Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs
Warriors Win 4-1
No Curry? No problem. Even without Steph Curry, the Warriors found their offensive rhythm against a Spurs team that’s also missing its leading man. Kevin Durant flourished in the tweaked offensive scheme that saw him touching the ball early and often. He averaged over twenty-eight points per game in the five game series, and reminded us that he’s perfectly capable of carrying any team to victory, much less this playoff tested Warriors group. Klay Thomson added in over twenty PPG of his own, averaging over fifty percent from behind the arc. The real engine that drives this Warriors team, however, is the defense. The Dubs lead the association in defensive rating, and that stiffer defense consistently leads to points in transition. When a team with multiple pure scorers gets extra opportunities, they’re almost impossible to beat. Curry’s return date is still in question, making the impending series with the Pelicans a bit more enticing, but I still don’t think it’s a series that the Pelicans can win.
Portland Trail Blazers vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Pelicans Win 4-0
Not gonna lie. I did not see this coming. I saw the Pelicans advancing, but going into Portland and winning the first two, then sealing the deal at home for the sweep? Nope. I suppose that’s what happens when a dominant big man gets unexpected All-Star level support from the backcourt. Jrue Holiday made his case in this series, outscoring Portland’s Damien Lillard by almost forty in the four game sweep. With that type of disparity in the backcourt and steady stream of scoring, rebounding and blocks from Davis, the Pelicans are going to be hard to beat. Portland’s suspect defense sold out to slow down Davis (it didn’t work), and Holiday made them pay for it in each and every game. Color me impressed by Holiday’s poise and confidence. These Pelicans are on a roll, but frankly, I expected more drama in this series. The Pelicans will next face a Warriors team that seems to have found its stride, so it’s not going to get easier.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz
Jazz lead 3-2
This series has been a see-saw affair, and the Thunder played last night as if their back was to the wall…because it was. Russell Westbrook had the kind of game he’s capable of, pouring in forty-five points and adding fifteen rebounds. Paul George added thirty-four, combining with Westbrook for over three-quarters of the Thunder’s total scoring. That’s crazy. It’s also probably not sustainable. Westbrook will need to keep it under control, avoid fouls and spread the ball around to win game six in Utah. Even after that huge game five performance, Jazz rookie guard Donovan Mitchell is still outscoring Westbrook over the five game series, and Jae Crowder is starting to make a mark, dropping twenty-six in the game five loss. Ricky Rubio drew attention, and a slew of fouls, from Westbrook in game four, look for him to bait the Thunder MVP in this potential closeout game. A few early fouls could be all it takes to send Westbrook and company back to the drawing board.
Image source: CBS Sports