The NBA playoffs didn’t lack drama on Thursday night, as the Stephen Curry-less Warriors weren’t at their best and a James Harden clutch shot late kept the Rockets from going into a 3-0 hole. The rest of the night’s slate was fairly predictable, though, with the Thunder steamrolling the Mavericks and Toronto taking over their series with the Pacers.
When it comes to the NBA playoffs, though, especially in the first round, we’ll take all of the surprises we can get. The real question is if we can get more on Friday night when three more games hit the hardwood. With series shifting, can Detroit, Boston and/or Memphis get a win, or will all three inch closer to a 3-0 hole? Let’s preview tonight’s slate to see if we can bank on another upset:
Cavaliers (1) @ Pistons (8)
Line: Cavs -4.5 Total: 200
The Pistons owned the Cavs during the regular season, taking three of four games. That hasn’t been the case in their first round playoff series. Despite a right game one, the Pistons fell apart in game two and are now in a 2-0 hole that many would expect of the 8th seed. Of course, they still can be a matchup problem for the Cavaliers and with the series shifting to Detroit on Friday night, many are curious if the Pistons can flex their muscle and make this series interesting.
One big problem is Detroit forward Stanley Johnson suggesting he is “in LeBron James’ head”. There isn’t much evidence to support that, however, and stating that publicly should only fuel King James and the Cavs. Detroit should be tougher at home (26-15 on their home floor during the regular season), but Cleveland looks like a team on a mission. It could be tough for the Pistons to get a win at all this series if Cleveland is allowed to do as they please offensively.
On top of that, Detroit has flashed their youth and inexperience after fading down the stretch in both games to start this series. It’s possible they play a complete game with game three being at home, but it’s arguable that it still won’t be enough against the best team in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland also has 10 straight playoff wins over Detroit heading into Friday, and that’s a run that figures to continue.
Pick: Cavs 104, Pistons 99
Hawks (4) @ Celtics (5)
Line: Celtics -2.5 Total: 200.5
It’s actually a little strange that Boston is the favorite yet again, especially after we saw them lose a defensive battle in game two. We also realized just how badly they miss Avery Bradley’s two-way impact, as well as the spark Kelly Olynyk can provide off the bench. Those absences hurt and very well could sink the Celtics before they ever really get going, but Boston has as much heart and grit as anyone.
One thing we know for sure is the Boston defense was still there in game two. The Hawks hit a ton of three’s (11, to be exact), but otherwise were held in check with under 90 points and just 39% shooting from the floor. Had Boston not buried themselves early with a playoff low 7 points in the first quarter, they may have actually stood a chance. At their best, they were one point shy of the Hawks in game one and when their offense left, their defense was still there.
There is reason to believe, now that game three is at TD Garden, the Celtics can get their wind back and make this a series again. If not, this series is over.
Pick: Celtics 102, Hawks 98
Spurs (2) @ Grizzlies (7)
Line: Spurs -11.5 Total: 181.5
This is the dream opening series for the Spurs, who are dominating Memphis so badly that they don’t even need 30 minutes out of their main stars. The Grizzlies, completely banged up and without studs like Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, have no real flow and look lost on both sides of the court against a team as disciplined and balanced as the Spurs.
That was all in San Antonio, of course, where the Spurs lost just one game all season. Still, Memphis is a defensive, grind it out type of team, yet they don’t have the resources to inflict their will defensively anymore and even at full strength they never had an offense that would threaten a team like the Spurs. The series does shift back to Memphis, so there is a glimmer of hope for a closer game. But a Grizzlies win? No, the Spurs are better than that. They’re shooting for a sweep so they can rest up for round two, and barring pure, random luck, they’re going to get it.
Pick: Spurs 107, Grizzlies 90