NBA Playoffs 2018: Latest Conference Semifinal Scores and Bracket Picks

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistMay 5, 2018

TORONTO, ON - MAY 03:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts in the second half of Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Raptors during the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 3, 2018 in Toronto, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Few people expected the Western Conference semifinals to be more competitive than the two in the Eastern Conference, but that's the case entering Saturday's NBA Playoffs action. 

New Orleans and Utah turned into formidable opponents for Golden State and Houston, who some thought would cruise into the Western Conference final.

Over in the East, Cleveland and Boston have a tight grip on their respective series, as they change venues for Games 3 and 4. 

Although the Rockets, Warriors, Cavaliers and Celtics are ahead at the moment, the quartet should face a few more tests in a round that's already experienced some unexpected ups and downs. 

        

Latest Conference Semifinal Scores

Thursday, May 3

Game 2: Cleveland 128, Toronto 110

Game 2: Boston 108, Philadelphia 103

  

Friday, May 4

Game 3: New Orleans 119, Golden State 100

Game 3: Houston 113, Utah 92

           

Bracket Picks

Cleveland over Toronto 

It's hard to pick against LeBron James and the Cavaliers, especially after the superstar produced a terrific Game 2 in Toronto. 

James scored 43 points, handed out 14 assists and pulled down eight rebounds to help the Cavaliers extend their series lead to two games over the top-seeded Raptors. 

In Game 2, James became the first player to reach four postseason games of 40 points and 10 assists, as he surpassed Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, per CBS Sports' official Twitter account: 

While James deservedly spends most of the time in the spotlight, he's received quality contributions from his supporting cast, which is something Cleveland struggled with in the first-round series against Indiana. 

Kevin Love complemented James' output with 31 points and 11 rebounds in Game 2, while Jeff Green came off the bench to hit four three-pointers. 

If the Cavs play like they did in Game 2 for the rest of the postseason, they can make a legitimate claim to be NBA champions. 

Before we get ahead of ourselves with championship talk, the Cavs still need to win two games over Toronto, and at least one of them comes at home.

Even if the Raptors steal a game in Cleveland, the Cavs should finish off Toronto before it gets back into the series.  

      

Boston over Philadelphia

If you told most fans a week ago the Philadelphia 76ers would be facing a two-game deficit in the second round, they would've scoffed at the thought, but that's the reality entering Saturday's Game 3. 

Brett Brown's team hasn't played horribly, but it failed to close out the Celtics in key situations in the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinal series. 

Even without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics are a formidable foe thanks to the mix of youth and experience and the emergence of Terry Rozier. 

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Six different Boston players found their way into double digits in Game 2, with Rozier being one point off Jayson Tatum's team-high of 21 points. 

Jaylen Brown, Rozier and Tatum have been the stars on offense, while Al Horford is playing well on the defensive side of the court against Philadelphia's dangerous frontcourt players. 

Holding Ben Simmons to one point in Game 2 helped the Celtics, but they've done a good job as a whole forcing the Sixers to take tough shots. 

The Sixers appear to have too much raw talent to be swept, or even win a single game in the series, but they carry a wealth of inexperience, which is starting to show, as Celtics head coach Brad Stevens gets the best out of his players. 

This should turn out to be the most competitive of the four conference semifinal clashes, as the Sixers get back into it at home, but the experience of the Celtics will be the determining factor in the later games of the series.

      

Houston over Utah 

Utah lost all the momentum it had, as Houston blew the doors off the Jazz in the first quarter of Friday's Game 3.

The Rockets led by 30 points at the half, and held an advantage as big as 38 points, to shift the balance of power back in their favor. 

James Harden produced yet another 20-plus-point performance, but he wasn't the story of Game 3 for Mike D'Antoni's team, as Eric Gordon matched the output of the Most Valuable Player candidate with 25 points off the bench

Gordon knocked down four three-point shots on a night when the Rockets shot 48.6 percent from the field. 

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MAY 4: Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets shoots the ball during the game against the Utah Jazz during Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 4, 2018 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena Salt Lak
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

Winning by the smallest of margins would've satisfied the Rockets after falling at home in Game 2, but now they have all sorts of confidence entering Game 4. 

Utah possessed a reliable offense for the first eight games of its postseason slate, but that came to a screeching halt Friday, as Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles struggled mightily. 

Mitchell ended with 10 points after a two-point first half, and Ingles only made a pair of triples in 30 minutes. 

Quin Snyder's team is forced to answer the blowout loss at home the only way it can, and that's by finding its shooting form in time for Game 4. 

As long as Utah remains competitive Sunday, it should hold some semblance of confidence going back to Houston.

Although the Jazz have been one of the best postseason stories, their run will come to an end as Harden takes over in Games 5 and 6 to move the Rockets to the Western Conference final. 

        

Golden State over New Orleans

If we've learned anything from the first three games of each Western Conference semifinal, it's that the talent gap is closing a bit between the top teams and those further down the standings.

New Orleans played a tight game against Golden State at Oracle Arena, and it finally got the victory it deserved at home Friday. 

By no means is New Orleans a better team than Golden State, but it's proved it can hang with Steve Kerr's side, which is a step in the right direction. 

As Stephen Curry continues to get minutes under his belt, the Warriors become a more dangerous team, and you have to think an outburst from three-point range is on the horizon. 

Ben Margot/Associated Press

In a losing effort Friday, the Warriors shot 29 percent from beyond the arc, with Curry and Klay Thompson both making three of their nine three-point attempts.  

Golden State's defensive strategy shouldn't focus on Anthony Davis, who is going to shine down low no matter who the Warriors put on him. 

However, it should try to take away the impact of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday, and Golden State has plenty of guards capable of doing that. 

It wouldn't be a total shock if the Pelicans win Game 4, but once the series returns to California, the Warriors should take over and finish off the series with a pair of spectacular shooting performances. 

    

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from NBA.com

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