And so we are down to four. What started out as a 16-team postseason last month is now just a quarter of teams: two from the West and two from the East. The NBA’s 2019 Conference Finals cast was officially set today Sunday with two teams formalizing their entry to the Final Four after playing in Game 7’s early Sunday.
Blazers Advance To Face Warriors
The Portland Trail Blazers completed a dramatic upset of the 2nd seeded Denver Nuggets as the Blazers went to the Pepsi Center on Sunday afternoon and took the second seat to the 2019 Western Conference Finals.
Known as Damian Lillard’s team in recent memory, the Blazers leaned on the other half of their dynamic backcourt to take care of business in Game 7. With Lillard going 3-17 from the floor and scoring just 13 points in the game, C.J. McCollum took the scoring cudgels and scored 37 points to lead the Blazers to their first Western Conference Finals appearance since 2000. McCollum also had a LeBron James-like chasedown-block on Jamal Murray in the closing minutes that helped Portland prevail.
With the win, the Blazers will now move on to face the two-time defending champions Golden State Warriors in the 2019 Western Conference Finals which begins in Oakland on Tuesday night. The Warriors eliminated the Houston Rockets for the second consecutive season and in an equally deflating manner.
After the Warriors raced to a 2-0 series lead, the Rockets fought back and tied the count at 2-games apiece. In the crucial Game 5, Golden State lost Kevin Durant to a leg injury but instead of capitalizing, the Rockets folded down the stretch and Steph Curry and Klay Thompson made key baskets to give the Dubs a 3-2 lead. In Game 6 at Houston, the Rockets again had the advantage with Durant out. But Curry exploded for 31 second-half points and Klay Thompson waxed hot in the early goings to lead the Warriors to a 4-2 series victory.
The Warriors vs Blazers match-up will feature two of the NBA’s top scoring backcourts with the Splash Brothers in Golden State and the Lillard/McCollum tandem in Rip City. We’ve seen the Splash Brothers disappear since Durant arrived in the Bay Area but with KD hurt, they have resurfaced and the Warriors’ old “Strength in Numbers” game is back. As for the Blazers, McCollum has emerged as more than Dame’s side-kick in this series as he carried the Blazers in the 4-OT Game 3 and then on Sunday in Game 7, proving that Portland does have two closers on the team. An interesting sidelight here would be Steph Curry facing brother Seth in the first ever brother vs brother match-up in an NBA Conference Finals.
Raptors Move On To Face The Bucks
In the second game on Sunday, the Toronto Raptors rode Kawhi Leonard’s historic Game 7 performance to eke out a 92-90 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. With 4.2 seconds left and the game tied at 90-90, Leonard took the ball and made an improbable shot over the outstretched arms of Joel Embiid. The ball bounced four times around the rim before falling in and to the cheers of the Toronto crowd.
Leonard’s shot was the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history. It was only the second buzzer-beater in a series-clinching winner-take-all game after Michael Jordan’s iconic 1989 buzzer-beater over Craig Ehlo and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Leonard scored 41 points in the game, four short of his career-high and took 39 shot attempts, the second most in NBA Game 7 history, behind Elgin Baylor’s 40 which was set in 1962.
With the win, the Raptors now move on to the Eastern Conference Finals to take on the #1 seed in the East and in the entire league in the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks disposed of the fancied Boston Celtics in five games, allowing the men in green just one win in their second-round series.
After losing Game 1 of their second-round series to the Boston Celtics, the Bucks stormed back with four straight wins behind torrid three-point shooting, dynamic offense a dominating greek god of basketball. Milwaukee defeated Boston by an aggregate of 65 points in four games to take the series. Giannis Antetokounmpo is no doubt the front-runner for 2019 NBA MVP. The Greek Freak used his elite athleticism to dominate over every defender that Celtics head coach Brad Steven placed in front of him. Boston’s Kyrie Irving had a stellar Game 1 but struggled to find his shooting in the next four games of the series. And with Irving’s shooting came Boston’s chances as the Celtics looked like a shell from the team that went all the way to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals even without Irving or Gordon Hayward.
And so now we have two of the Eastern Conference’s top superstars in 2019 squaring-off against each other in the Eastern Conference Finals. Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard is having one of the best postseasons ever. The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing the best basketball of his career. Both players have excellent supporting casts and while you can say that both teams don’t have much experience going deep in the postseason, that’s what’s going to make this matchup very interesting. The Bucks and Raptors begin the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday in Milwaukee.
Who Will Be The Next NBA Champs?
As of 5/13/19 at bet365, the Golden State Warriors are still the NBA betting favorites to win the NBA title. The Dubs are currently pegged at -175 with the Milwaukee Bucks next to them at +250. The Raptors are priced at +800 while the Blazers are the longshots at +1800. When we talk about the upcoming Western and Eastern Conference Finals, the Warriors are a -500 to beat the Blazers who came back at +375. Out East, the Bucks are -275 favorites over the Raptors who are at +220.
I like the Warriors too but with Kevin Durant’s future uncertain as of now, this may be the best time to bet against them. Don’t tell that to Steph Curry though who proved in Game 6 against the Rockets that they are more than just Kevin Durant. Look Golden State is still a very strong team even without Durant but when you take a look at their line-up, they sacrificed the depth they used to have in order to get him. So when you have them matched against say the Bucks or the Raptors in the Finals, it may be an interesting series.
I’m not saying Portland doesn’t have a shot. But given that the Blazers also rely on their backcourt to win games, I don’t think they can compete with arguably the most offensively gifted backcourt in the history of the game in the Splash Brothers. The only concern for betting on Golden State aside from Durant hurt is Steph Curry’s hand injury. It did appear that he was in pain at the end of Game 6. How he heals or not is going to be key in the series especially with KD out.
The Bucks are really solid contenders this season and have great betting value at +250 to win the NBA title. Milwaukee is a complete team and can compete with the Warriors in three-point shooting. On the other hand, the Warriors don’t have someone who can stop Giannis. But who does, really? To me, Milwaukee has the deepest team among the four remaining teams and if there’s a team who can beat the Dubs, it’s the Bucks and there’s no doubt about that.
Prediction: I am not sure yet about Golden State until I see how Curry shoots with that injured left hand. I’d like to know how long will Durant be out. With that still uncertain, I’ll go with what’s certain and that’s the Milwaukee Bucks. I think their win over the Celtics was a warning to the remaining teams: Fear the Deer. The Bucks are for real. I’m going with the Milwaukee Bucks until I know the status of Curry and Durant.