Get ready for the next round in the NBA Playoffs. Next up, we get the Eastern and Western Semis. So let’s take a look at what may be in store in this upcoming round.
Can Memphis’ wing/frontcourt size make a difference against the Dubs?
A lot of things have transitioned since the Memphis Grizzlies met the Golden State Warriors in the 2021 Play-In. For one, Ja Morant has clearly ascended from a raw young talent to one of the NBA elites at the point guard position. Klay Thompson was sidelined as he was still recovering from back-to-back lower extremity injuries. The three-time champion marksman is finally turning the corner looking like the Klay of old as he averaged 23 points on 50/45 field goal three-point percentage splits vs the Jokic-led Nuggets in the first round. Desmond Bane, who had a solid candidacy for NBA’s Most Improved, is an emerging young star that was vital in the first-round series win vs the Timberwolves (23 points on 50/49/90 splits) and is going to be an x-factor on both ends of the floor alongside fellow two-way anchor Dillon Brooks.
We’re all aware of the newly implemented “Death lineup” that Golden State has made famous since the mid-2010s. Other organizations have tried their best to duplicate this forcing their opponents into tougher defensive rotations and more one of one basketball. The dubious four of the death lineup (Steph/Poole/Klay/Draymond) seems to be the most lethal combination Golden State head coach Steve Kerr can put together and undoubtedly dominate stretches of games. Depending on the matchups on the other side of the court, guys like Andrew Wiggins and Gary Payton II will probably be more ideal because of their defensive versatility. In Tim Kawakami of The Athletic’s recent piece detailing Kerr’s adjustments in Game 5 vs the Nuggets, Kerr elaborated on going with Payton II over Poole in the fourth quarter of the Game 5 series clincher. “Yeah, we wanted him on Hyland.” “The Hyland-DeMarcus (Cousins) pick-and-roll was really our big concern coming into tonight. So we wanted Gary out there on Hyland. He did a great job on him. Also did a helluva job on (Monte) Morris when Morris was out there.”
It’s going to be interesting how Kerr and Co. plan to combat the Grizzlies’ small-ball lineups with their numerous big wings and guards. Guys like Dillon Brooks, Desmond Bane, and Kyle Anderson will be the biggest deal breakers in this series due to their unique size and skillset of shot-creating and being able to defend multiple positions. We saw the Warriors struggle with containing the Nuggets frontcourt of Nikola Jokic, Aaron Gordon, and DeMarcus Cousins, especially in the non-Draymond Green minutes. The Grizzlies outrebounded the Warriors in their four regular-season matchups. Guys like Jaren Jackson Jr, Steven Adams, and Brandon Clarke will have a fair chance at dominating the glass with the Warriors’ thin frontcourt depth. Championship pedigree makes the Warriors favorites but Memphis is one of the few teams in the league that matches up well with Golden State personnel-wise. Don’t be surprised if this is a track meet of a series that results in six, or seven games played. In the end, experience will go a long way for the Warriors as they’ll move on to the NBA Western Conference Finals.
What if Giannis decides to take Tatum out?
Another chapter in the Bucks/Celtics trilogy soon begins as these two Eastern Conference heavyweights meet in the playoffs for the third time since 2018. Both teams are fresh off of convincing series wins in the first round. Celtics superstar Jayson Tatum has continued his outstanding play since the All-Star break solidifying himself as one of the league’s premier two-way stars, especially with the job he did on future Hall of Famer Kevin Durant. Per NBA tracking data, Tatum held Durant to just 2-15 shooting from the field (13.3%) with 10 TOs in the 120 possessions matched up against each other. Ime Udoka’s endless defensive switching tactics made a huge difference on all of the Nets scorers as he was always sending two, or three players to Durant and Kyrie Irving’s way whenever they tried to exploit the defense with their isolation ability. Now on the other side of the court, the Celtics played a very selfless 48 minutes of basketball and always leaned towards either Tatum or star shooting guard Jaylen Brown to take them home in the fourth quarter. Now with Khris Middleton out indefinitely with a strained MCL that’ll keep him out at least this series, who will take the task of guarding three-level scoring machine, Tatum? Most would probably lean towards defensive menace Jrue Holiday who certainly can handle the task but what if the two-time Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo decides to ultimately eliminate Tatum from the series offensively? If there’s anyone in the league that certainly can, wouldn’t Giannis be the most likely candidate? His never seen before combination of length and agility has always made him someone that can completely single handily shift an NBA game defensively in the half-court. Tatum is too gifted and talented as a scorer to not be effective at all offensively but the two-time MVP Greek Freak definitely wouldn’t be an ideal matchup for the three-time All-Star. If Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer decides to play bigger lineups (Bobby Portis, Brook Lopez, Greek Freak, Serge Ibaka) that could give them an opportunity to play bigger against the Celtics guards/wings. Jaylen Brown has the height advantage over Jrue Holiday at the guard position but he’ll definitely be able to make life tough for the All-Star guard.
On the other side of the court, the Boston Celtics will definitely give the same attention they gave Kevin Durant to Giannis Antetokounmpo. Greek Freak is not nearly as skilled as Durant in the half-court as he often bullies and dust’s off his opponents every time down. But sending multiple guys his way and building a wall similarly to what the Miami Heat did in the bubble back in 2020 should be in store. The Celtics ultimately made both Durant and Irving strictly take majority shots from the perimeter. Similar tactics and strategies will force Giannis to rely on shooters from the perimeter but with the Celtics also wreaking havoc in the passing lanes who on the Bucks will be able to step up and generate offense in the half court? Khris Middleton was always the go-to guy in crunch time is such half-court situations and though Jrue Holiday is an underrated playmaker himself, asking him to spend 35 minutes guarding the likes of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum and then be the go-to guy may be too tall of a task to ask for. This year’s matchup may be very reminiscent of an early to mid-2000s gut punching wire to wire low scoring affair type series. I don’t expect anything short of a seven-game series from these two NBA Eastern Conference juggernauts, ultimately Boston will move on.
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