The first round of the NBA playoffs was not short on drama. We saw vintage performances (e.g. 28- and 25-point stat lines from Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade), stars becoming superstars (e.g. Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell leading his team to a first-round series win thanks to 28.5 points per game) and a fantastic feud in the backdrop of a great series (Milwaukee Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe vs. Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier).
The conference semifinals kicked off Saturday with the Golden State Warriors' 123-101 win over the New Orleans Pelicans and will continue Sunday when the Houston Rockets host the Utah Jazz. Below you can find analysis and picks for the four semifinal series in addition to a look at the full first-round bracket results.
First-Round Results: Eastern Conference
No. 1 Toronto Raptors 4, No. 8 Washington Wizards 2
No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers 3, No. 5 Indiana Pacers 3
No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers 4, No. 6 Miami Heat 1
No. 2 Boston Celtics 4, No. 7 Milwaukee Bucks 3
First-Round Results: Western Conference
No. 1 Houston Rockets 4, No. 8 Minnesota Timberwolves 1
No. 5 Utah Jazz 4, No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder 2
No. 6 New Orleans Pelicans 4, No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers 0
No. 2 Golden State Warriors 4, No. 7 San Antonio Spurs 1
Houston vs. Utah
As Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported on Saturday, Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio could be out for as many as 10 days with a hamstring injury. That means Rubio could miss four or five games in this series, and given how well the Rockets have played this year, Utah's postseason could be over by the time Rubio is ready to return.
The encouraging news for the Jazz is that numerous players stepped up in Rubio's absence when he was forced to leave Game 6 of their first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder early. Mitchell assumed more of the scoring load and dropped 38 on 14-of-26 shooting, and Alec Burks came off the bench to score 11 points in 17 minutes.
As good as the Jazz looked in the first round, they played an Oklahoma City Thunder team that was inconsistent all year and struggled to get much production off the bench. The Rockets are a far better team that has won 69 of 87 games this year (including playoffs), and they are 37-7 at home. Especially without Rubio, Houston should move on in five.
Golden State vs. New Orleans
The Warriors beat the Pelicans at their own game on Saturday, and that's not a good sign for New Orleans' future success in this series. The Pels like to push the pace (per ESPN.com, they are first in the league in that regard), but the issue is that the Warriors do as well (Golden State is fifth). The Warriors also have a more efficient offense, as it ranks first in the league despite the litany of injuries the starting lineup suffered throughout the year.
On Saturday, Draymond Green took advantage of the fast pace and nearly had a triple-double in the first half alone. Klay Thompson pitched in 27 points, and Kevin Durant added 26. The bench was also phenomenal, and Kevon Looney emerged with a plus-34 off the pine.
Warriors point guard Stephen Curry is also "very likely" returning for Game 2 from a Grade 2 MCL sprain, per Golden State head coach Steve Kerr. Without him, the Warriors look like they'd win this series in no more than five or six games. With him, this could be a sweep.
It's hard seeing Pels forward Anthony Davis leaving this round without one dominant performance that wills New Orleans to a win, so the pick is the Warriors in five.
Philadelphia vs. Boston
The Boston Celtics were able to take advantage of one huge mismatch against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, and that was center Al Horford against the overmatched players tasked with defending him. The big man was Boston's MVP in the first round, as he averaged 18.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.
The issue Boston has is that the 76ers have numerous post presences who are going to cause problems down low, namely All-Star center Joel Embiid, so the C's won't have an edge there. But Philadelphia should be strong down low even when Embiid is off the court, as backup Amir Johnson is a tough big man who should cause problems on defense.
Given the fact that point guard Ben Simmons has also morphed into a triple-double threat every night, the 76ers should have the edge in this series even though they don't have home-court advantage. Philadelphia wins in six.
Cleveland vs. Toronto
This series prediction comes with an asterisk as the Cleveland Cavaliers still need to face the Indiana Pacers on Sunday to determine the Toronto Raptors' second-round opponent. The guess here, though, is that the Cavs win and advance.
Backing Cleveland in a second-round win is a tough proposition right now, but there is one primary factor to consider: The Cavaliers' supporting cast surrounding LeBron James, which has had a rough opening round, eventually has to experience positive regression and start playing better, right?
Or perhaps not, but still, the team surrounding James is much better than it has showed in the past week or so. Granted, it's not an All-Star supporting crew, but Kevin Love isn't an 11.0-point-per-night player who shoots 32.4 percent from the field.
Cleveland beat Toronto twice down the stretch, as the Raptors had trouble defending James and the rest of the Cavs. It's a risky bet, but look for the Cavs to spring an upset and beat Toronto in seven games.