It’s Summer Madness here at Raptors HQ!
Two major upsets occurred in the Boom Shakalaka region with Philadelphia and Denver dropping out. Some intriguing Sweet 16 matchups await, like Zion vs. Greek Freak, Curry vs. Luka, and Kawhi vs. Load Management for a second straight game(?!?).
Here’s a look at the updated bracket. Let us know in the comments how you see these games playing out.
Boom Shakalaka Region
After earning a bye-week for being utterly dominant for half of a decade, the Warriors get the luxury of having to square off against, in this humble, hypothetical-writing writer’s opinion, the best team ranked in the bottom 15 of this tournament (I’m sorry, Raptors fans, I still love you!). The Mavs trot out whirling dervish Luka Doncic and giant, smooth shooting human (and accused horrible person) Kristaps Porzingis. The Warriors, bending to the size of the Mavs elect to start the game with Steph and Dray. Underdogs that they are, the Mavs come out firing on all cylinders. Luka carves up Steph in isolation and when Draymond’s instincts as a help defender come into play, Porzingis picks his spots to either setup shop in the corner or cut back-door for an easy dunk.
The Warriors are rattled, but manage to stay composed enough to keep the early Mavs lead in check, going into the half down a very manageable six points. Dallas is rolling and brings out the same lineup to start the second half, but the Warriors have decided if they are going to go down, they are going to go down shooting, ultimately deciding to start both Curry and Thompson. Porzingis starts the third quarter with back to back post-hooks as Dallas looks to expose Golden State’s lack of size, but after a Steve Kerr timeout, the Warriors’ 3rd quarter magic comes to life.
Steph comes down the court and stabs a halfcourt 3 in Luka’s eye, followed by picking off Kristap’s inbounds and finding Klay at the top of the key for a 3 of his own. The Warriors quickly stymie Dallas’ post-entry passes with aggressive, fronting defense that leaves Porzingis bewildered and unable to find his rhythm. Two straight stops and back-to-back threes from Thompson and before you know it, the Dallas lead has evaporated and Golden State is locked-in. Steph and Klay continue to trade 3s and the onslaught proves to be too much for Dallas as the Warriors prevail in expected and triumphant fashion, putting the Mavericks away in the fourth quarter with ease. WINNERS: WARRIORS (MO)
The ultimate under-dog match-up. Miami rolls with Butler and Adebayo – out of respect for the size of Detroit, who counter with Blake and Jackson. The game starts well for the Heat, Butler’s feisty defense continually frustrates Blake, who can’t consistently over-power Butler, nor does Griffin have QUITE enough handle to get past Jimmy on the bounce. Meanwhile, Jackson gets the odd step on Adebayo, but struggles to hit open looks, and without Blake consistently drawing the double team, he doesn’t get enough of them. Jackson is over-matched on the defensive side of the ball as well — he can’t stop either Butler or Bam, and the Heat go into the half up 11.
Detroit ditches Jackson and brings in Drummond. The Heat stay pat. The move to two bigs works for Detroit, as Miami doesn’t have any outside shooting to speak of. Butler consistently beats Griffin or Drummond off the bounce, but the other guy lies in wait. Butler hits Bam for more than a few lobs or dunker’s spot crams, but Dwyane Casey makes a nice adjustment, taking away the drop-off game and forcing Butler to continually finish semi-contested shots. On offense the Pistons are cramped too — they live off shooting in the restricted area and crashing for rebounds. It’s also ugly and only sometimes effective. It looks like the game is going to strangle itself, when Griffin hits one from beyond the arc, a Drummond block later and Griffin has a dunk.
Moments later, Griffin shoves Butler to the ground — another three and HE’S ON FIRE!!! Adebayo doinks a three-footer and Griffin rises up for another three — SWISH. Jimmy rushes a three of his own and Drummond ends up slamming home an uncontested dunk as both Butler and Bam panic and cover Griffin. Another block, and Griffin rattles one in from just over half-court! Adebayo finally ends the run off a great feed by Butler, but when Drummond hits a corner three (practice!), after the Heat again double Griffin — perhaps forgetting he’s no longer en fuego, the Pistons have a six-point lead. They nurse it down the stretch, and Miami has to wonder if Dragic’s one-on-one game might have been the difference – or if going small would have just seen them pounded to dust. WINNER: PISTONS (CM)
Razzle Dazzle Region
For the first time in the tournament, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard step on the hardcourt together. The Magic counter with Gordon and Ross, an under-rated pairing. The Clips feel free to switch everything which ends up being key. Neither PG3 or The Klaw have to spend too much time either chasing Ross around, or wrestling with Gordon in the post. The Magic’s lack of a one-on-one creator hurts them here, as does the fact Gordon has limited post-moves.
On defense the Magic fight gamely, but George and Kawhi are either too quick, or too strong to be stopped consistently and the Clippers go into the break up 14. This time it’s PG3 who gets the load management routine, while the Magic decide to gamble on going big and bring in Isaac for Ross. For a short-burst, the move works for Orlando as they victimize Williams in the post, but Issac also lacks a sophisticated ground game, and after a flurry that cuts the lead to six, the Clippers adjust, Williams terrorizes the Magic duo off the dribble, Kawhi keeps going ‘bucket, bucket’, and the Clippers end up winning by 18. WINNERS: CLIPPERS (CM)
The Wiz shock everyone by starting with Beal and Bryant — the duo that led them past the Hawks in the first round. Bryant continues his strong play as he’s simply too big and mobile for either Harden or Westbrook to consistently bother on offense, and while Russ contests mightily, Bryant is gobbling up A TON of the rebounds. On defense Bryant parks himself in the lane, seceding Westbrook his “cotton shot” (and any other jump shot). Harden cooks on the perimeter, but Beal is disciplined in the one on one match-up, and is able to limit the damage. Westbrook tries to take control of the game at the end of the half, but Bryant blocks two drives, and a Westrbook three rims out — leaving the game tied.
At the half, the Wiz bring in John Wall for Beal, and the Rockets, knowing they need more space for James to operate, decide to go with Tucker for Russ. At first it works brilliantly. The Tuckwaggon hits the open threes Bryant gives him, and is feisty in the post on defense. In response, Washington runs a simple pick and roll, and things change. A fully healthy Wall shows why he’s the fastest player in the league, repeatedly getting around Tucker, or hitting Bryant for lobs over Harden — who just isn’t big enough or athletic enough to stop him. Switching gives the Rockets the same problems — Wall is too fast for Harden, and Tucker, feisty as he is, isn’t athletic enough to keep Bryant off the boards.
Harden keeps the game tight with a series of incredible one-on two baskets, but Wall is feeling it for the first time in years, even hitting off-the-bounce threes consistently. It’s a reminder why his individual skills got him that max deal. With fifteen seconds left, Harden has the ball down two. His step-back three rims out, and Bryant outwrestles the game Tucker for the carom. Tucker though does what Tucker does and shoves Bryant to the ground, the ball rolls free and Wall, in an incredible feat of athleticism, gets to it just before Harden. Tucker and Harden eventually catch Wall and brutalize him too, but time expires, and the Wiz move on! WINNER: WIZARDS (CM)
He’s On Fire Region
This is a Raptors blog. So, you’d expect a certain Raptors bias — intentional or not — when prognosticating team performance. But we’re talking about a (hypothetically) healthy Kevin Durant, who is the most complete offensive player in the NBA, and Kyrie Irving, who has the best handles in the game. Toronto couldn’t possibly pull off the upset... could they? I mean, it’s not like Lowry is a hard-nosed defender who’s battled Irving to a virtual draw head-to-head (Irving holds slight edge 9-8 H2H with more points and better efficiency, while Lowry leads all other major categories). It’s not like Siakam didn’t just complete his first
playoff championship run as a starter averaging 19.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, and only 1.4 turnovers while being guarded by a murderers row of Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Draymond Green.
[sigh] I almost convinced myself (and you too?). Maybe next season, if Spicy P can hit threes more consistently (and off the dribble), will I boldly call the upset. Since I’m not bold enough, and because I’ve already got Sully working on Nets artwork, I’ll go chalk for this one. WINNER: NETS (JR)
(7) Jazz (Mitchell/Gobert/Conley) vs. (10) Blazers (Lillard/McCollum/Nurkic)
There’s been a theme with the games I’ve been predicting — if you have the best individual scorer, I’m probably picking you to win. Gone are the days when your Kobe Bryants and Allen Iversons are ball-hogging their way 40-point games on 35 field goal attempts. But in a 2-on-2 setting? That’s all a team needs to thrive! It’s why I picked the Pistons (Griffin) upset over the Nuggets, the Raptors (Siakam) over the Thunder, and the Nets (Durant) over the Raptors.
That’s probably why I’m leaning Portland in this matchup. A defensive combo of Conley/Gobert would render Nurkic useless, while an all-guards Portland duo would run Mitchell out of the building. Dame/CJ may not be able to shut down Gobert, but threes are worth more than twos, and I can see Lillard raining from downtown all game long. Call it recency bias or maybe it’s me — a long-time Dame Hater — making up for years of criticism. I’m coming around on Dame Time. WINNER: BLAZERS (JR)
From Downtown Region
Like Kawhi with the Clippers, the Lakers finally dust off their prized possession in LeBron James for the first time in the tournament. Anthony Davis fills the other slot and the Lakers square off against Oladipo and Turner for the Pacers. Darlings that they are, the Pacers come out of the gates looking as flat as an Oladipo falsetto (just kidding, he’s a pretty decent singer) as LBJ and AD put the clamps on their pick and roll offense that allowed them to close out their first round matchup against the Suns. The Pacers start the game 0-7 while the LeBron-led Lakers are getting whatever they want out of a stymied Pacers duo to the tune of a 15-0 run. LeBron is spinning the ball in his hands, Davis is cashing pick-and-pop 3s and before you know it, the Pacers, hapless as they look are headed into halftime down 22 points.
A much maligned Myles Turner heads to the bench to start the second-half with Domantis Sabonis subbing in. The change does wonders as Sabonis gets right in Davis’ breathing space on every possession, bothering the superstar enough to force a handful of errant passes that Oladipo picks from the sky like bras thrown to him from the audience of what I’m sure is a decently attended concert of his (seriously, listen to Oladipo’s new album, it’s super raunchy). Filthy, above the rim play from the Pacers sets Oladipo ablaze like the loins of...just kidding, just kidding, just kidding. Dipo eventually returns to Earth and the firm grip of Laker excellence proves to be too mighty of a lead to overcome as the Pacers make a run at the King, but ultimately miss. WINNER: LAKERS (MO)
On the list of people that Zion Williamson didn’t want to run into this early in the tournament, Giannis Antetokounmpo is right at the top. Giannis can do everything Zion can do only better and a little bit meaner in the process. Painfully aware of this fact, the Pelicans know they are going to need a bevy of scoring if they have any hope of getting past the Bucks so they turn to Brandon Ingram to start alongside Zion while the Bucks turn to Khris Middleton. The tactic... does not work.
Giannis bullies Zion away from the basket, forcing him to aimlessly try his hand at getting around the combined approximate 80 ft. of length that is Giannis’s arms and legs, while Middleton plays hawkeye in the passing lane. The over-aggressive defensive scheme leaves the Bucks vulnerable to the occasional lapse that puts points on the board for the Pels, but it’s not enough to overcome the onslaught of The Greek Freak on the offensive end. It’s a blowout and a painful reminder to Zion that his throne will have to wait a little while longer. WINNER: BUCKS (MO)