Eastern Conference First Round Recap

Victor Oladipo guards LeBron James

Victor Oladipo guards LeBron James

When the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs began last month, the eight teams from the Eastern Conference who made it in had high hopes of being crowned conference champion, and earning the privilege of playing the champion of the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. Naturally, different expectations were set for different teams, some teams being heavy favorites, and others being deemed underdogs.

However, the theme of this year’s NBA playoffs can be defined by whether someone could take down LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers have been the Eastern Conference champions three years in a row, and James has made it to the last seven NBA Finals; the previous four finals he went to were as a member of the Miami Heat.

The second round of the NBA playoffs just began, featuring the four remaining teams in the Eastern Conference playing for the two spots in the Conference Finals. Still, there is a lot from the first round to get caught up on, so here is a recap of all the first round matchups, as well as outlooks going forward to the later rounds of the NBA Playoffs.

The Toronto Raptors, who took the one seed in the East thanks to the dynamic duo of guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, faced off against the eight-seed Washington Wizards, who have an equally great backcourt which features all stars John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Raptors got off to a very strong start in the series, beating the Wizards 114-106, in Game 1, then putting on an offensive clinic in Game 2, beating Washington 130-119. DeRozan scored 37 points in Game 2, going 14 for 23 from the floor.

The Wizards were able to bounce back, however, defeating the Raptors in the third and fourth games of the series by the scores of 122-103 and 106-98. Beal and Wall both scored 28 points in Game 3, and the two elite guards had outstanding performances in Game 4, Beal scoring 37 points, and Wall adding 27 points of his own while racking up 14 assists.

“I thought the Wizards were gonna come back and win the series after Game 4,” junior Wizards fan Randall Bohnert said. “Wall and Beal both looked like they were playing to their potential, which makes the Wizards one of the most dangerous teams in basketball.”

The Raptors were able to recover from the two losses. They won Game 5 by the score of 108-98, and clinched the series win in Game 6, beating the Wizards 102-92. DeRozan scored 32 in Game 5, and Lowry scored 24 in Game 6. Despite the mid-series scare, the Raptors were able to move move on to the second round.

Going into the playoffs, it was clear that, despite being the two seed in the East, the Boston Celtics would be an underdog throughout the tournament. This was because their two star players, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, suffered season-ending injuries during the season and would not play in the playoffs. This meant their supporting cast would have to step up and lead the team if they were to have any chance of getting past the first round.

The Celtics faced off against the seven-seed Milwaukee Bucks, who were led by potential Most Valuable Player candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Celtics got off to a strong start in the series, winning Game 1 in overtime by the score of 113-107, then winning Game 2 120-106. Veteran Al Horford scored 24 points in Game 1, and 21-year-old shooting guard Jaylen Brown scored 30 in Game 2.

The Bucks were able to bounce back, winning the next two games to tie the series up at two a piece. The Celtics the won Game 5 by the score of 92-87 with the help of Horford’s 22 point double double, but the Bucks took Game 6, beating the Celtics 97-86 thanks to Antetokounmpo’s 31-point performance. So, this series would be the first of the playoffs to feature a Game 7. Just as they needed to, the Celtics stepped up to win Game 7 112-96. Horford had another solid game, scoring 26 points and grabbing eight rebounds.

“I had the Celtics winning the series going in,” junior NBA fan Anthony Draghi said. “Brad Stevens is one of the best coaches in the NBA, and I knew Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were gonna step up and lead the team.”

The three-seed Philadelphia 76ers took on the six-seed Miami Heat in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The 76ers finished the season on a very high note, winning their final 16 regular season games, making their way up the standings and clinching home court advantage with the taking of the three seed. This team had high hopes going into the season, banking on their young talent such as point guard Ben Simmons and center Joel Embiid leading their team to success. The team got exactly what they were looking for out of these players; Joel Embiid was elected to the 2018 All-Star Game, and Ben Simmons is a front runner for the Rookie of the Year award.

The 76ers got off to a very strong start in the series, blowing out Miami in Game 1 by the score of 130-103. Embiid wasn’t able to play due to an eye injury, but they were helped out by a 28-point game from shooting guard JJ Redick, and a 17-point, 14-assist game from Simmons. The Heat were able to bounce back from the tough loss to win Game 2 113-103. Heat franchise player Dwayne Wade scored 28 points, making eleven of his 16 shots. Unphased by the tough Game 2 loss, the 76ers were able to win the next three games in the series, clinching the series victory. Embiid returned to the floor and averaged 18.7 points per game over those last three games, and Philadelphia moved on to the second round.

“They are resilient and young and talented,” sophomore 76ers fan Harry Cantor said.  “Their youth is a positive factor because of their energy and enthusiasm.”

The defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers took on the up-and-coming Indiana Pacers in the first round. The two teams had very different stories going into the playoffs. The Pacers, on one hand had its best regular season in recent years. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, had instances throughout the season where they struggled mightily. Despite these struggles, one thing remained constant: LeBron James. The 14-time all-star played in all 82 regular season games, and put up numbers that celitified his MVP candidates this year as well as his claim as one of the greatest players of all time.

The Pacers took the early lead in the series, shutting down the Cavaliers’ offense during a 98-80 Game 1 victory. However, the Cavaliers were able to win Game 2 by the score of 100-97, largely due to an outstanding 46-point performance by LeBron. The Pacers were then able to win Game 3 in comeback fashion, beating Cleveland 92-90 after being down 17 points at halftime. Once again, the Cavaliers were able to bounce back after a tough loss, taking the Game 4 victory by the score of 104-100. LeBron had another good performance, scoring 32 points and getting 13 rebounds. Cleveland was then able to win Game 5 as well on a game-winning three pointer from none other than LeBron James. In the game, James put up a line of 44 points, ten rebounds, and eight assists.

Despite the heartbreaking Game 5 loss, the Pacers were able to blow out the Cavaliers in Game 6, forcing a Game 7. All-star Victor Oladipo scored 28 points and had a triple double in the game. Then, despite getting the chance to end the Cavaliers’ campaign to defend their Eastern Conference title, the Pacers fell in Game 7 by the score of 105-101. The Cavaliers would move on to the second round to face the Toronto Raptors.

 “[LeBron] is out for revenge,” junior NBA fan Connor Clark said. “Once he’s in the zone, he’s never slowing down. He’ll stop at nothing to get that [NBA] trophy back. It’s like trying to stop a train; good luck catching him.”