Four teams punched their tickets to the NBA Conference Finals and all four teams are the top two seeds in their conference. It will truly be a test to see who the best team in the West and the East really are. First, let’s see how each team got there.
The Miami Heat were expected to make it this far, after sweeping the Charlotte Bobcats and finished off the Brooklyn Nets in five games. Ray Allen knocked down the go-ahead 3-pointer with 32 seconds left in Game 5 to advance the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals with a 96-94 victory. LeBron James has been a dominant force in the playoffs, averaging 30 points a game. The Heat is looking for a three-peat, but they will first have to handle the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers have struggled throughout the playoffs, and many thought they wouldn’t make it this far after their poor performance against the Washington Wizards. This team has had trouble rebounding and boxing out. Indiana had to go all the way to Game Seven with the Atlanta Hawks (a team with a losing record), but they finally ended up beating the Wizards last night 93-80 in Game Six. Roy Hibbert has not been the same player he was during the regular season. He averaged 10.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game and now during the postseason, he is averaging 8.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. He has also gone three games without scoring a single point (two against the Hawks and one against the Wizards in Game One). If Hibbert can play consistently against the Heat and have games like he did in Game Two against the Wizards where he had 28 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks, then the Pacers might have a chance.
As for the San Antonio Spurs, the one-seed out in the West is not having too much difficulty getting to where they are now. They did have to go to Game Seven against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, but they were able to close out and move on to the Portland Trail Blazers. Against Portland, the Spurs defeated them in five games and all five wins were dominant victories. They closed out on a 104-82 blow out on the Trail Blazers last Wednesday. Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich has this team right where it needs to be and they have been playing great basketball lately. The only concern is the injury status of Tony Parker. The veteran point guard has a tight hamstring that might limit his mobility, but he says that he is ready to go. Small forward Kawhi Leonard has really stepped up for this team. He is one of the youngest players on the roster and he has made a big difference. During the regular season, Leonard averaged 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. In the postseason, Leonard has averaged 14 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. His performance is the X-Factor when the Spurs take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
Speaking of the Thunder, they have had a roller-coaster ride of a postseason. They have had the strongest playoff schedule out of any of the teams. First, they took out the Memphis Grizzlies in seven games after being down 2-1. Then they just recently beat the L.A. Clippers in Game Six 104-98, after through tough matches with them. After that win, they will advance to the Western Conference Finals for the third time in the last four years. Kevin Durant has arguably been the best player in the postseason, leading all players with 31.4 points a game and capping off the Game Six victory over the Clippers with an amazing performance of 39 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists. He also has six double-doubles this postseason, showing that he has been carrying this team on his back and lifting them up game after game. Teammate Russell Westbrook has been a game-changer this entire postseason. When he plays well, the Thunder win. When he doesn’t play well, they don’t win. Oklahoma City has to rely on both Durant and Westbrook to bring their best against San Antonio. While Durant has had double-doubles, Westbrook has had triple-doubles. His first one came in a losing effort against the Memphis Grizzlies in Game Five on the first round of the playoffs. Then his Game Seven performance against them was historic, with 27 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds. His best game to date was in Game Two against the L.A. Clippers where he had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. If Westbrook can play consistently well, the Thunder could go very far. They have already swept the Spurs during the regular season and have played well against them in recent years.
The Eastern Conference Finals will be played first on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. The Indiana Pacers will host the Miami Heat for the first game of the series. Then on Monday, the San Antonio Spurs will host the Oklahoma City Thunder at 9 p.m. for the first game of that series. These games are must-see NBA playoff T.V. It’s the four best teams of the NBA squaring off and you just can’t miss it!