How are you all feeling after that? Yes, seven other series happened in the First Round and 34 other games were played, but it all came down to the epic Spurs-Clippers series, to a classic Game 7, to amazing championship performances by both sides, and a memorable performance by Chris Paul. I was so pumped that all I could think about doing after the game was heading out to the basketball court and hoping to be a little more coordinated than Big Baby Davis. But first, we have to deal with the next best thing and channel this excitement into words.
Before the playoffs, I joined ranks with fellow fans and experts of the NBA in India - Akshay Manwani (@AkshayManwani) and Kaushik Lakshman (@_kaushik7) - to turn this season's playoffs into our own mini competition, and in the process, give the fans of the game some hoops food for thought. Let me introduce to you the 2015 NBA Playoffs Bracket Challenge, where Akshay, Kaushik, and I unleash our inner prophets to predict each series of each round in the playoffs.
You can find our First Round predictions here. Below, we move on to the tally on the scorecard and then make our predictions for the Second Round. Keep yourselves updated and feel free to give us your own predictions in the comments section at the end of this post.
As for our First Round predictions, all of us were correct in picking the Hawks, Cavaliers, Bulls, Warriors, and Grizzlies. Akshay is the only one who went 8/8 with his predictions, picking the right winner each time! With half of his length predictions right as well, he currently holds the top spot and bragging rights. But hey - there are three more rounds to go!
- Akshay Manwani: 20
- Kaushik Lakshman: 14
- Karan Madhok: 11
Atlanta (1) v Washington (4):
Akshay’s pick: The season series went 1-3 in favour of the Hawks. But that was then. This is now. The Wizards have raised quite a few heads with their sweep of the Toronto Raptors in the first round. Contrastingly, we saw how the Hawks didn’t exactly breeze through their first round matchup against the Brooklyn Nets, with the series squared 2-2, before Atlanta won Games 5 and 6. The Hawks are also likely to miss Thabo Sefolosha, who would have been made to match up against John Wall. The Hawks are a well-rounded team, but the Wizards have the veteran experience of Paul Pierce and the better individual talent to upset these Hawks. Wizards win 4-2.
Karan’s pick: I can’t say if the Wizards sweep of the Raptors was more of the Wizards being that good or the Raptors being that bad. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, but more importantly, The Truth – Paul Pierce – currently lies in Washington. The Wizards will strut into this series with new-found swag, and the talent in their arsenal isn’t that bad, either. However, I feel that the Hawks will still hold an advantage in this matchup. Although Atlanta stumbled a little against the Nets, they found their version of unstoppable team ball in their last two wins, and that momentum will continue against Washington. Expect a super-speedy matchup between Jeff Teague and John Wall, hot shooting between Bradley Beal and Kyle Korver, but the Atlanta bigs – Al Horford and Paul Millsap – will prove to be the difference-makers. Hawks win 4-2.
Kaushik’s pick: After a rather surprising first round from both these teams, prediction for the second round just got tougher. Atlanta don’t look as crisp as they did around January, and it was surprising how they lost 2 games to Brooklyn. Washington on the other hand ‘truth-ed’ their way through the Raptors in such a surprising way, absolutely nobody could have seen that coming. In my opinion it was more of Toronto’s flaws that led to this. Against Atlanta I think they will find it much tougher both in defence and offence and just aren’t deep enough to contend. The Hawks will learn from their slips in the first round and are favourites for this one. Hawks win 4-2.
Akshay’s pick: Old playoff foes meet again. From the days of Michael Jordan hitting his buzzer-beating shots against the Cavaliers to the days of LeBron James and Derrick Rose. The Bulls have also had their run-ins with James when he was a part of the Miami Heat and so there is plenty of baggage between both teams. The Cavs are seriously hobbled by the absence of Kevin Love and the two-game suspension to J.R. Smith. But the Cavs also have the best player in the world in James. The Bulls have also not played defense like in previous years. It will be a tough, chippy series but I do expect Cleveland to put the Bulls away eventually. Cavaliers win 4-2.
Karan’s pick: The only matchup that has truly mattered in the Eastern Conference all season, and this is definitely the NBA’s most interesting Second Round series. Bulls-Cavs is a real rivalry with great talent on both sides. Even before Kevin Love hurt his shoulder, I had felt that Chicago’s depth and two-way potential would trouble Cleveland. The Cavs struggle defending in the post, and the Bulls’ big rotation could further exploit this weakness. Without Love, LeBron will have to focus more on defending bigs like Gasol, Noah, and Gibson inside, and this will hinder his offensive genius a little. Without Love, they will not be able to spread the floor with ease offensively. Ultimately, the edge will come to who wins the point-guard battle between Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving – and my heart says Rose. Bulls win 4-2.
Kaushik’s pick: Arguably the series of the round, I cannot wait for this one. I was impressed with Cleveland’s way of closing Boston out. Chicago in typical Bulls fashion showed both their Jekyll and Hyde side in the series but eventually were too good for the young Bucks. The main talking point will be Kevin Love and his injury. It looked like the Cavs finally started to use him very effectively, so the injury is a big blow. But they still have the best two players in the series, and normally that is enough, but probably not against this Bulls team. Loaded from top to bottom, they only need 2-3 players to click and I think it can happen. Chicago is just the kind of team where Cleveland’s offence, or lack of it, can get found out. However, there’s still that LeBron guy. The heart says Bulls, and the head says Cavs, but I’m going with the heart on this one. Bulls win 4-3.
Akshay’s pick: The fast paced Warriors match up against the grindhouse Grizzlies. Sizzle meets attrition. In three regular season meetings, the Warriors went 2-1 against the Grizzlies, but with the Warriors playing without Andrew Bogut and David Lee in the first matchup when they lost. Now, Golden State will also have Lee available, the Warriors’ forward unavailable for the first round against New Orleans due to a sore back. The Grizzlies had no answer for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in their two defeats and it is unlikely that they will be able to stop the Warriors’ backcourt now. Golden State also has home-court. Warriors win 4-2.
Karan’s pick: The Warriors are making basketball magic over in the Bay Area, and Stephen Curry is the sorcerer leading this show from the point. Curry was ridiculously good against the Pelicans, averaging over 33 points and seven assists in the First Round. Meanwhile, the Grit-‘n-grind Grizzlies looked efficient and defensively sound in their beat-down of the Trail Blazers, but with Mike Conley’s status up in the air, Memphis’ immediate future is looking a whole lot more complicated. The Grizzlies are a great defensive team, the Warriors are a great defensive and offensive team. Memphis will aim to slow down the pace to hamper the Warriors from getting into their comfort zone. Unfortunately for them however, the Warriors are looking comfortable in all zones. Warriors win 4-1.
Kaushik’s pick: Oh man, what a series. The flair on one side, and the grit and grind on the other. If there was one thing I would ask the basketball gods for, it is that Mike Conley gets fit for this because he is such a game changer. With him, this series gets competitive, else it is a wash out, that’s how good the Warriors are and that’s how influential Conley is. If you haven’t guessed already, I have a pretty big mancrush on Conley. Both teams got through Round 1 rather easily and will be reasonably well rested for this series. To beat the Warriors, you have to be good defensively, which the Grizz are, and also have good enough shooting to hang with them, which the Grizz can be but are only sparingly. And that is why they need Conley so much, he knows how to dictate play, control the tempo etc, such a vital weapon against Golden State. It is hard to bet against Curry and friends right now, and I’ll make that safe pick, while actually rooting for the Grizzlies to come through. Warriors win 4-1.
Akshay’s pick: Firstly, congratulations to the Clippers on their win against San Antonio in what was truly one of the all-time great seven-game series in the playoffs. The question now for the Clippers is whether they can recover fast enough for Game 1 against the Rockets, who are well rested. The Clippers will also be anxious by the state of Chris Paul’s hamstring, which seemed to have impeded his movement in Game 7 against the Spurs. However, the Rockets don’t offer the same bench strength that the Spurs did and their defense isn’t anywhere near San Antonio as well. Patrick Beverley may have helped the Rockets on that front, but he is out of this series. If the Clippers can guard the 3-point line against the Rockets, they will fancy their chances no matter what the odds. Clippers win 4-2.
Karan’s pick: After years of coming up short in the super-competitive West, the Clippers finally grew up and showed that they are a team to be truly respected by knocking out the defending champs in a classic seven-game series win. Now, they face a Rockets side that has surprised me all season and looked particularly comfortable in their 4-1 win over Dallas. In some ways, this may be the most annoying series to watch, with Chris Paul and James Harden taking part in a flop-fest / complaining-competition, while Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, and DeAndre Jordan collectively miss 1,350 free throws per game. With the pressure of facing early failure off their backs, I expect Clippers to be a lot more relaxed and confident in this series. If Paul’s hamstring issues are not serious, he should make the Conference Finals for the first time in his career. Clippers win 4-2.
Kaushik’s pick: After the epic first round series between the Spurs and the Clippers, almost nothing that can happen in this series will live up to it. Will the Clippers be spent after playing a near perfect series? Is Chris Paul’s hamstring injury bad? Can they deal with another fast paced shooting team that is themselves playing beyond potential? You’d have to think the answers don’t look good for the Clips. I don’t like either of the teams but I think Houston is quietly doing something special. Harden is going to be the key seperator in the series in my opinion. I should count out the Clips at my own risk after the series we’ve just witnessed but I feel Houston will take this in a close one. Rockets win 4-2.