The play-ins have been a short, but wild rollercoaster and the playoffs are getting ready to set off.
The seeds are finally set, and the first-round matchups are 76ers(1) vs Wizards(8), Nets(2) vs Celtics(7), Bucks(3) vs Heat(6), and Knicks(4) vs Hawks(5).
Today’s #NBAPlayoffs schedule 📺 ▪️ MIA/MIL: 2020 Eastern Conference Semifinals rematch ▪️ DAL/LAC: 2nd consecutiv… https://t.co/VBl9jKJOJF— NBA (@NBA) 1621693800.0
76ers vs Wizards:
The Russell Westbrook-Joel Embiid rivalry will continue during this year's playoffs and fans cannot wait. The Wizards finished the season with a 16-6 record, and after a lackluster start this season, they have made themselves a dangerous 8th seed. While the 76ers didn't finish the season hot, I'm sure with a team-full of veterans, rest was more of a priority. The 76ers beat the Wizards three times during the season, but two of those games were very close and came early in the season.
The Wizards can definitely make this series a challenging one for the 76ers. The Wizards have shooters all around with Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans. But the 76ers have a much deeper team with guys like Danny Green, Seth Curry, and Dwight Howard providing good veteran leadership. The Wizards are riding on the health of Bradley Beal, who has dealt with hamstring tightness in the past two weeks.
Nets vs Celtics:
The Nets finally seem to be healthy just in time for the playoffs, which is dangerous for Boston. Although the Nets big three only played eight games together, the Nets still finished with a 48-24. The Nets also have a great mix of reliable veterans like Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green, and Joe Harris. These two teams meet three times during the regular season with Brooklyn taking all three games.
The Celtics have not lived up to expectations this year. After making a conference finals last year, it was expected to carry through the regular season, but they never found their stride. Jaylen Brown will continue to be sidelined with a broken wrist, so most of the load will be carried by Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. I see this series being an easy one for the Nets.
Jaw-dropping handles, unlimited scoring ability and incredible playmaking… Kyrie Irving. #ThatsGame Kyrie and th… https://t.co/Oxb2hKv6OL— NBA (@NBA) 1621697400.0
Bucks vs Heat:
A rematch of the heated second-round matchup last year, where the Heat upset Milwaukee, who had Giannis dealing with injuries. Interestingly enough, both of these come to the playoffs on the right side with an 8-2 record in their last 10 regular-season games. Giannis is back with more weapons on his sides like Jrue Holiday, PJ Tucker, and Jeff Teague, while also keeping their core from last year. Giannis had had another MVP-type season averaging 28 points and 11 rebounds.
The Miami Heat started the season off slow, probably because of the NBA finals hangover, but got hot after the all-star break. Miami also acquired many new weapons like Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon. The Jimmy Butler-Giannis Antetokounmpo matchup will be the most important aspect of this series.
Knicks vs Hawks
After what seems like a lifetime drought, the Knicks are finally back in the playoffs! We can all agree that when the Knicks are good, the league is in better spirits. Tom Thibodeau has turned this team around, and you can't forget about how Julius Randle has been playing this season. Possibly the most improved player, Julius Randle has proved all his doubters wrong and has taken the keys to this Knicks franchise. The Knicks have great veteran leadership with guys like Derrick Rose, and Taj Gibson who are familiar with Thibodeau. They also have great young talent with guys like RJ Barret, and Obi Toppin.
The Hawks on the other hand have turned it around since firing Lloyd Pierce and having Nate McMillan made this team do a complete 180. Trae Young and John Collins are one of the best duos in the league. With guys like Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, and Bogdan Bogdanovic who can get hot at any point of the game. This series can definitely go to 7 games, with last-second shots determining the outcome.
Although struggling in the 2020 NBA playoffs as of late, Kemba Walker can potentially be the ultimate weapon to propel the Boston Celtics to their first NBA Finals appearance in a decade.
The young duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have elevated their level of play this season, and Marcus Smart continues his run as an elite defensive player, which adds up to the Celtics making a deep playoff run. But people are forgetting that Walker is known as "Cardiac Kemba" for a reason.
The former UCONN guard has the extraordinary ability to take over games with his offensive prowess and come up huge down the stretch. Even though his three point field goal percentage has dropped by twelve percent (26.5%) in the postseason compared to the regular season (38.1%), he's looking to find his stride during the Eastern Conference Finals.
regroup & refocus #BleedGreen https://t.co/IF3Dm6xi3c— Boston Celtics (@Boston Celtics) 1600291072.0
His last three games have shown anything but his usual self, though. Walker shot as low as 18% in Game 6 against the Toronto Raptors and only shot 31% against a stifling Miami Heat defense in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, only putting up 12.7 points in that span, compared to his 19.6 points a game average in this postseason.
But Kemba is aware of his current struggles; in his post game press conference following Game 1, Walker showed humility and leadership in his comments: "I'm just playing terrible, to be honest. There's not much I could say but I've just got to be better. I have to do more for this team, on both ends of the floor. Gotta make better decisions. Just gotta make shots overall."
Kemba Walker Postgame Interview - Game 1 | Heat vs Celtics | September 15, 2020 NBA Playoffs www.youtube.com
But all it takes is one performance to rejuvenate Walker and give him the confidence to start playing at the elite level he's capable of–the one that's made him a four-time all star–and he could become the final piece of the puzzle his team desperately needs in order to pull through.
Walker is one of the only seven active players in the league to score 60 points in a game. That list includes some very notable company—featuring players like Devin Booker, Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony, James Harden, Klay Thompson, and LeBron James.
So his opponents should know the type of productivity to expect from him, but in order to prove it, Walker needs to play his game best.
In a league where the mid-range jumper is seemingly a dead tactic, that's where he thrives the most.
Fans witnessed it in the Big East Tournament back in 2010, where he won the game for UCONN at the buzzer, hitting a critical crossover-to-step back jump shot–a move that is the essence of his success and has become his flat out signature play.
Kemba Walker Step Back Game Winner in MSG 2010 NCAA Tournment www.youtube.com
This was the same tournament run that solidified his name in the NBA draft the following year as the ninth overall pick. Jay Bilas said during his draft analysis, "We saw him time and time during the season, the clutch performer that he was. When the game's on the line...young man can play."
This was also evident in Game 1 against Miami. He was only 1-9 from beyond the arc, as perimeter defenders like Jae Crowder suffocated any looks he had, forcing him into poor long range attempts.
But, when it mattered most, Walker utilized his most effective trick, which has cemented his success as a clutch player in the past.
With only 23 seconds left in overtime, Walker took on a 6'6 Tyler Herro in isolation–that's a player with a significant height advantage over the 6'0 play maker. In this possession, instead of wasting time on the clock and pulling up for a low percentage three, he noticed that negative trend and broke it. He pulled up to the left elbow and created significant space with a step-back that resulted in a go ahead bucket that could have potentially been the game winner.
In fact, half of his made field goals in that game came from a step-back two pointer. It's almost as if Kemba wants to have to fight and compete for every shot, rather than pulling up for a wide open three.
“We believe if we clean a couple things up, we'll fix those things and it’ll be a different outcome.” https://t.co/8z6TzjMuPA— Boston Celtics (@Boston Celtics) 1600232639.0
Although his team did end up losing due to some Jimmy Butler heroics, Walker was able to produce effectively in the biggest moment of the game. He not only used his patented move, but he used his court awareness and vision to read the play and know that it was the best option in a pivotal possession.
As his field goal beyond the arc is not where he wants it to be in these playoffs, it presents an opportunity to utilize his biggest strength instead and go for more of those 15-18 footers that have worked so well for him before.
But it's not like he hasn't had good stretches.
Walker has scored 20+ points on five occasions, including a 32 point performance against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round.
As worried as coaches can get after one of their best players gets cold all of a sudden, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens knows he's got a true professional in Walker, who can figure it out and bounce back. Stevens stated in a practice interview the day after a loss: "As far as Kemba goes, you know, I don't lose any sleep over Kemba. Nobody cares more than Kemba. Nobody wants to play better [than Kemba]."
He followed that by elaborating how the coaching staff is constantly working with the nine-year veteran to assure he can play to his strengths and make his life easier. As much as Walker can do for his part, both sides need to be on the same page in order for him to be in the best position to play "Cardiac Kemba" basketball.
HEAT. CELTICS. GAME 2. Eastern Conference Finals continues tonight after an epic Game 1 tonight at 7:00 PM ET on… https://t.co/KlxuLIehpV— NBA (@NBA) 1600372801.0
As adjustments are being made, clearly no one expected this series to be easy. The Celtics as a whole have a few discrepancies they need to figure out in order to come out on top.
Even though players like Smart, Tatum, even Jaylen Brown (most of the time) are playing to the best of their ability, opponents can't forget about Walker so easily. Actually, they shouldn't at all. Because all it takes is that one performance to ignite a devastating threat to Miami's championship aspirations–one fatal mistake that Walker can capitalize on and drive his team to their first finals appearance in 10 years.