The NBA’s Eastern Conference Playoffs have been slightly disappointing with all series most likely ending in 5 or 6 games. To date, outside of the Brooklyn Vs. Boston series, all series have played 4 games. As we move on to the end of the first round, let’s look at the various story lines.
The Boston Celtics Defense
We all knew that the Celtics defense was going to be a problem for the Nets but I doubt anyone expected the Celtics to be leading 3-0 and expecting to sweep Brooklyn. The switch heavy Celtics have locked up Durant all series, forcing Durant to shoot 36% from the field (a steep drop compared to his 54% from the 2021 series). What’s the difference here? How is Boston able to achieve shutting down KD like this? Well, it’s the wing depth. Between Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford, Boston can easily switch onto Durant, quickly invading his shooting space, giving him very little space to get a clean jump shot off. It doesn’t help that the Nets are running very little back screens to even try to get KD clean looks. The consistent defensive intensity from almost everyone on the Celtics in a playoff setting is eye opening here and gives me confidence that the Celtics can make a real push here in the post season.
Khris Middleton Injury
Losing Khris Middleton early in the playoffs is a huge blow to the Bucks. It might not feel that way given their current opponent, but the impact will be felt if the Bucks face the Celtics in the second round. Without Middleton, the Celtics would be able to swarm Giannis, making him work for every bucket he makes. The Celtics will settle for open Bobby Portis shots if that means Giannis will be uncomfortable the whole game. The Bucks will have to make adjustments to deal with the intensity of Boston’s never-ending lineup of switchable, defensive, and athletic forwards. The Bucks coach, Mike Budenholzer is not known for making many adjustments mid series, so it will be interesting to follow how the Bucks adjust to the Celtics defense without Middleton’s extra offensive punch.
How Far Can Embiid Go?
Joel Embiid is currently playing with a thumb ligament tear…yeah, you read that right. Joel Embiid is playing with a ligament tear and has no plans to sit out the playoffs. The plan here is to get surgery after the playoffs and fight through the pain with the hopes of bringing the championship to Philly. This is commendable-if not silly and dangerous to his career, but still commendable. I understand the mentality as it feels like the championship window for Philadelphia is quickly closing here but it will be interesting to see if this injury gets worst or if this will have a long term impact to Joel’s NBA career