The NBA's version of the final four, better known as the Conference Championships, have begun and we're looking at some very intriguing match-ups. The Eastern-favorite Miami Heat have gotten off to a 1-0 start vs. the surging, veteran infused Boston Celtics, while in the West, the veteran-led Spurs have taken early control over the young and talented Thunder.
Parker and Ginobili Leading SA
After one game, even in a best of 7 series, it's really tough to tell how things are going to go, but I'm still sticking by the two teams I expected to meet in the Finals for pretty much the whole 2nd half of the season and those two teams are the Heat and Thunder. The Spurs did net the #1 seed in the West and have played extremely well in May, but I still think this series is the OKC's to lose. They barely missed pulling out a victory in game one as their star point guard continues to dictate the way things go for that team. Russel Westbrook was OK in Sunday's game, but his 7-21 shooting and 4 turnovers need to improve big time in order to take some pressure off Kevin Durrant. I mean, Durrant is a great talent and all, but the Spurs have obviously curtailed their game to ensure Durrant isn't the one to go crazy and beat them, so it's going to have to be Westbrook and Harden who take the pressure of #35. At the same time, you have to give some credit to San Antonio for continuing to barrel through opponents, and a big reason for that has been the play of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. It's no accident the Spurs have had so much success the last decade plus, a lot of that was because of Tim Duncan, but this year especially, with the shortened season, the Spurs called upon younger guys and relied more heavily on Parker to lead while Duncan saw his minutes limited. As fun to watch and talented the Thunder are, the Spurs are equally intriguing to follow because of the different ways they can beat you and the fundamentally sound basketball they play. If any team is going to take down a Heat or Thunder-quality team, it'll most likely be the boys from San Antonio, much like the Mavs did in 2011.
LeBron's Heat Up 1-0 on Celtics
Over in the East, again, the Heat have put themselves in prime position to be the Eastern Conference reps at the NBA Finals in June, but I don't think they'll be able to roll over the Celtics like they did Monday night. Boston has been the team that got hot at the right time and it's taken them to the conference finals, despite the fact most people didn't expect to see them make it past the first round, much less the second. At the same time though, the Celtics had to go 6 games in the first round, then the full 7 in order to knock off the 76ers in the Semi's, so I'm not sure what kind of push the aging core has. The one player in particular who's really fell on hard times for Boston and was basically non-existent in game one is Ray Allen. He struggled so badly that Doc Rivers went public with his concern for his team's shooting guard spot and mentioned the possibility of removing Allen from the starting lineup. The only issue with that idea is the lack of options the Celtics have at the guard spot right now. My guess is they could sacrifice some offense for defense and throw former Warrior Michael Pietrus into the lineup and have him go up against LeBron. There are just too many things the Celtics would need to overcome in order to win this series, and despite their impressive run in the playoffs up till now, I think this is where it ends for Doc Rivers' bunch.