by Blake Krantz
With the Houston Rockets taking game seven over the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday afternoon, Los Angeles fell in predictable fashion, collapsing in the second round against Houston after holding a 3-1 series lead.
The Clippers have never made the it to the Western Conference Finals in franchise history, and this year’s run proved no different. Head coach Doc Rivers became the first coach in NBA history to blow multiple 3-1 leads in the playoffs, and Los Angeles’ star guard Chris Paul has now played more playoff games than any other current player in the league who has never reached the conference finals.
Now, with the elimination of the Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards, and Chicago Bulls by Golden State, Atlanta, and Cleveland, the Conference Finals are set.
In the East, the Cavaliers will face the Atlanta Hawks in a matchup of contrasting team philosophies, particularly on the offensive end.
On one hand, the Atlanta Hawks have served as the epitome of a true “team” this season, with no individual player putting up huge numbers to lead the Hawks. Rather, Atlanta succeeds by sharing the basketball and looking to make the extra pass on every possession.
On the other hand, the Cavaliers are a superstar-oriented team, led by, in my opinion, the best player in the NBA, Lebron James. But, James’ “co-stars” are a concern for Cleveland going into the Conference Finals, as Kevin Love is out for the year with a shoulder injury and the status of point guard Kyrie Irving, plagued by a bad ankle, is very unclear.
I see the Cavaliers winning this series, although it largely depends on the health of Irving as the series progresses.
In the West, the Golden State Warriors and MVP Steph Curry will take on James Harden and the Houston Rockets, in a matchup between two teams carrying momentum from the second round.
The Rockets saw tremendous contribution from role players such as Trevor Ariza and Josh Smith in their comeback against Los Angeles, players who will need to continue producing at a high level in addition to Houston’s stars in Harden and Dwight Howard in order for the Rockets to beat the Warriors.
But, even with Houston playing so well, no team in the NBA is capable of beating Golden State when the Warriors are shooting the ball well, with the lethal “splash-brothers” in Curry and Klay Thompson.
Due to the sheer talent of the Warriors, I am picking Golden State to win the Western Conference in a series which may have been closer had Los Angeles held onto their lead against Houston to advance.