Who doesn’t like a good upset? In the NCAA tournament, everyone pulls for the underdogs, especially if they give a top seed all they can handle. When filling out a bracket, you want to be the one to say, “I called that upset.” In the same way, the NBA has major upsets, but they aren’t as big as say a UMBC upset over Virginia. However, there have been great upsets. The Warriors took down the top seeded Mavericks in 2007, which nobody saw coming. Similarly, the eighth-seeded Grizzlies stunned the Spurs in 2011. Now, who is on upset watch this year? Here are my three upset picks in this year’s NBA playoffs.
Washington Over Toronto
If you have been following the NBA playoffs for the past few seasons, you know that Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry typically disappear come playoff time. DeRozan has averaged 21.7 point per game, but only on 40% shooting from the floor. Lowry averages a pedestrian, for his standards, 14.9 points per game on 39% shooting. Toronto needs these players to play well if Toronto is to go far in the playoffs.
However, this year they have better depth than an any previous season. C.J. Miles, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, and Jacob Poeltl have all been efficient off the bench. Ibaka and Valanciunas provide consistent double digit scoring. The improved depth and steady starters should keep Toronto in games even if DeRozan and Lowry don’t play well.
Washington should be revitalized getting their star point guard John Wall back for the playoffs. Since Wall returned from injury, he has not missed a beat averaging 20 points and 12 assists per game in his four games back. Getting Wall back to be paired with Bradley Beal make for one of the best back court in the NBA.
Any team with these two players makes for a tough out. Last year, Wall and Beal averaged a combined 42 points per game in the playoffs. The Wizards were one game away from getting a match up with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago. The Wizards return seven players from that team so they have the playoff experience needed to pull off this upset.
If Washington is to pull off this upset, they will have to beat Toronto in one of the first two games in Toronto. The Raptors have not won a game one since 2001. Sadly, in the past four years, the Raptors are 0-5 in home games in game ones. Defending home court is the next step for Washington’s potential upset hopes. The Wizards losing any games at home should destroy any chance of an upset. Don’t be surprised to see Washington beat the Raptors in the first round in six.
Milwaukee Over Boston
This match up has upset written all over it. Boston has lost their star point guard Kyrie Irving for the rest of the season due to another knee surgery on his left knee. Boston hasn’t played as well to end the season losing four out of their last six. With Irving out, who will consistently score for Boston outside of rookie Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown? The Celtics will need guys such as Terry Rozier, Al Horford, and Marcus Morris to step up in a big way. I just don’t see this happening.
Brad Stevens will probably make this series more competitive by coming up with a fabulous defensive scheme to stop Bucks’ leading scorers Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Bledsoe. He has led the short-handed Celtics to wins over Portland, Utah, and Toronto late in the season without Irving. The Celtics defense may be able to keep them in the game, but scoring will be problematic for them.
The Bucks have not been spectacular late in the season. However, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Jabari Parker are hitting their stride at the right time. Middleton has been shooting well from three to end of the year, connecting on 41% of his three point shots in March and April. In the same two months, Bledsoe has increased his scoring average up to 18.8 points per game with 6.3 assists per game. Though a smaller sample size, Parker has averaged 19.5 points and 8.2 rebounds in six April games.
Finally, the best player in this series, Giannis Antetokounmpo (“the Greek Freak”), should be able to dominate like he has all season. Milwaukee needs him to be the player that has averaged a touch below 27 points per game this season and impacted games with his passing and stellar defense. If Antetokounpo is the player he has been all year, the Bucks should be able to get out of the first round for the first time since 2001.
Overall, with the injuries that the Celtics have had this season, this was really never the Celtics’ year. Since Hayward went down game one to go along with all of Irving’s knee problems this year, the Celtics have struggled to score consistently on the offensive end. This is an opportunity that the young Bucks should take advantage of. Their players are hitting their stride at the right time, and the Celtics are a favorable match up. Now, it’s just a matter of getting the job done for the Bucks.
San Antonio Over Golden State
This may be a stretch, especially considering the Spurs don’t have Kawhi Leonard. However, the Warriors don’t have their floor general Steph Curry either. Additionally, the Spurs have Popovich, who will execute the heck out of you.
The Warriors have not looked like a championship caliber team during the regular season. They have struggled late in the season without Curry. The Warriors are 7-10 since Curry got hurt against San Antonio. Even when Durant takes his game to another level, Golden State has still lost. He’s scored 40 points and 41 points in losing efforts against Portland and New Orleans. This could be a problem come their match up with the Spurs.
The Spurs have not been as great as they have in recent years. This is the first time since 2000 that the Spurs have not won 50 games in a regular season. However, that is due to the injury of star Kawhi Leonard. Come playoff time, the Spurs always seem to find another level that they play at. LaMarcus Aldridge needs to step up if the Spurs want to have any chance.
LaMarcus Aldridge has averaged 23 points per game in the regular season. The Spurs need him to score more than his season average, and look for shooters when double-teamed. The Spurs will need to find production outside of Aldridge as well. They need a big series out of players like Danny Green, Dejounte Murray, and Rudy Gay.
Again, I want to remind everyone that this is only a potential upset. With how the Warriors have played to close the year, the door seems open for a potential upset. Popovich also always seems to have a game plan that makes life tough on opponents. The Warrors should be able to pull this series out, but the Spurs will give them all they can handle.