It’s four East teams versus four West teams, all vying for spot in our NBA Jam Final Four. Let’s take another look at the bracket.
(And for a refresher: here’s how things went in the Round of 16.) Now, let’s get down to it with Conor, Mitch, and me (Jay).
Boom Shakalaka Region
The Warriors dispense with subtlety and go straight to the Splash Brothers, while the Pistons, painfully aware that Jackson is trash, go super big. It’s an interesting contrast in styles, and, for awhile, it looks like the Pistons might be able to make it work. The Warriors though play an interesting defense where they simply refuse to let Curry go into the post, unless he’s defending the dribble. The Pistons generate a TON of points near the basket, but Klay is surprisingly staunch in the post, and Curry’s quick hands mean the Warriors generate their share of turnovers. On the other end the Pistons gobble up every rebound - except unfortunately there are almost none. Neither Griffin or Drummond can defend on the perimeter, and they can’t play off either Splash Brother (unlike the plan against Dray), and the Warriors win a crazy high-scoring affair where both teams shoot north of 70%. 3 > 2. WINNER: WARRIORS (CM)
Does the Cinderella run continue for the upstart Pistons? Dwane Casey breaks out the Griffin/Drummond duo, in hopes of bullying their way to an upset. The strategy works in the first quarter, as the Piston big men take turns posting up on each possession, scoring every time. On the defensive end, a couple of misses beyond the arc from Curry allow Detroit to stretch the lead to double-digits. Before halftime, the Warriors find their rhythm by constantly getting Drummond to switch and cover Curry. The results are exactly what you’d expect, as Curry frequently gets easy lay-ups, or kicks out to Klay, who catches fire and give Golden State a halftime lead. Casey ignores the flaws that were exposed in the second quarter and foregoes any halftime substitutions. (Casey slow to making an adjustment? Huh!) Golden State runs away in the second half and win by 20. WINNER: WARRIORS (JR)
I’d love to espouse about how the Pistons have a modicum of a chance against Golden State, but I’m honestly just shocked that they’ve somehow made it to the Sweet 16 of this tournament. Warriors do Warriors things and Pistons do Pistons things leading to the inevitable beat down that you all expect. WINNER: WARRIORS (MO)
Razzle Dazzle Region
The Clips start their big two and so do the Wiz. This is another great offensive battle. Wall and Beal force the Clippers stars to defend in space, and Wall finishes more than his fair share of amazing drives. As great as PG13 and Kawhi are, Wall is THAT quick. The Clips stay disciplined though, betting that Wall can’t keep finishing past 7-ft wingspans - or at least not enough to give up open looks to Beal. It’s on the offensive side of the ball where this duo really makes their hay — the Wiz simply can’t consistently stop either of the Clips stars, and when they do, they often can’t secure the rebound. At the half Bryant comes in for Beal. It doesn’t work. While Bryant cleans up the defensive glass and provides solid resistance at the rim, he’s dragged out to the perimeter too often, and on offense he’s too raw to carve up either the Klaw of PG13 in the post. Once Wall starts missing his threes the game gets out of hand, and the Clips cruise to the victory. WINNER: CLIPPERS (CM)
Are the Clippers benefiting from a bracket that’s breaking in their favour or are they just so good that it doesn’t appear they’re being tested? Healthy John Wall is one of the fastest players in this hypothetical environment. But how much runway will he have if he’s being matched step-for-step by Paul George? Bradley Beal is an outstanding shooter who can light up the scoreboard from anywhere. But how effective will he be if he’s being hounded by the NBA’s best on-ball defender, the Klaw, Kawhi Leonard? Subbing in Thomas Bryant isn’t even considered, as he’d be rendered helpless on the defensive end. This is death by submission, as the Clippers outscore the Wizards by a small margin in each quarter. WINNER: CLIPPERS (JR)
He’s On Fire Region
(2) Nets (Durant/Irving/Allen) vs. (10) Blazers (Lillard/McCollum/Nurkic)
Whose going to stop KD in this matchup? Heck, whose going to stop Kyrie? The Blazers have been outscoring their opponents through this tournament, but they’re helpless when they face a team with two better scorers than they have. Portland is frisky for spurts when either Dame or CJ dust Kyrie, forcing Durant to either concede layups or leave open shooters, but when he’s on the ball, the Slim Reaper is a terror, constantly racking up steals, swatting shots off the backboard, and then talking major trash. Oh, and he scores pretty much every time he touches the ball. And that doesn’t even count how many times Kyrie breaks ankles on his way to galaxy-brain layups. Another quarterfinal. Another blow-out. WINNER: NETS (CM)
This is a dangerous Brooklyn team that’s perfectly designed for this environment. Dame and CJ take turns terrorizing Kyrie on the offensive end, avoiding KD’s length on every possession. Unfortunately for Portland, they can’t avoid Durant’s offense. They also can’t stop whatever Durant does - spot-up threes from Kyrie kickouts, step-back jumpers, post-up-Dirk-like fadeaways. Neither team make any halftime changes. Dame shows signs of life, temporarily catching fire from deep, but that just angers Kyrie - who puts on a dribbling clinic - and KD - who fights over screens and becomes a disruptive defensive force. Brooklyn wins this easily, looking like a championship contender in the process! WINNER: NETS (JR)
From Downtown Region
Finally, we have a real match-up. The Lakers start their big two, and the Bucks counter with the Freak and the newly minted $178 million dollar man in Middleton. The first thing that’s become apparent? LeBron has lost a fraction of a step. He struggles to keep the Freak in front of him and, Davis, as good as he is, isn’t going to do that job any better. Still, after a few possessions, LeBron steals the Kawhi game-plan, and takes an extra step off Giannis - forcing Antetokounmpo into a series of tougher mid-range shots. Meanwhile, Middleton’s lack of elite athleticism means he can’t consistently get by Davis, and Davis’ length harasses his shot. Middleton, a step below an elite shooter anyway, struggles to consistently impact the game.
On defense, the Bucks face a very simple problem: Giannis can’t guard both guys at once. They stick him on Davis though, and the Freak dominates. Davis hasn’t faced this sort of force in his career, and he wilts against the physicality of Antetokounmpo. That leaves the game to LeBron - and as good and tough as Middleton is on D, he can’t stop LeBron consistently enough. The game is always within four to seven points, but the Bucks can never go on that one run they need to take the lead, and Korver is the absolute wrong guy from the bench in this match-up. All the Bucks can do is watch time, and their chances, slowly tick away. WINNER: LAKERS (CM)