Deja vu: Conference Finals matchups mirror opening day games
Adrian Dy on May 10, 2018 02:37 PM
NBAE via Getty Images
Did the computer formula the NBA uses to plot out its schedule turn out to be a time machine?
In a remarkable coincidence, the league's two opening day games back on October 18, 2017 (PHL time), also happen to be the matchups of this year's Conference Finals.
Back on that date, the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted the Boston Celtics, followed by the Houston Rockets visiting the champion Golden State Warriors. The Cavaliers won, 102-99, while the Rockets came from behind, 122-121.
Flash-forward a little under seven months later, and the Celtics have homecourt advantage against the Cavaliers, while the Warriors will battle it out in H-Town in four of the seven games.
Can we glean anything from those two season-openers? Let's take a deeper look:
WHAT HAPPENED: So, let's get the depressing part out of the way early. The season got out to an ominous start when Gordon Hayward suffered a catastrophic, season-ending leg injury, just a little over five minutes into the game.
The incident understandably shook the Green and White, and Cleveland was able to go up by as much as 18 points, 60-42, early in the third. However, as would become a theme for the Celtics this season, the team refused to back down. Boston even led by four late, 92-88, 4:12 to play. The Cavs then fought back behind LeBron James and Kevin Love, 102-98, 46.3 seconds to go. A free throw by former Cavalier Kyrie Irving made it a single-possession game, and after James missed a three-pointer, Jaylen Brown and Irving both missed looks to force overtime, allowing the home team to get the victory.
WHAT'S DIFFERENT: The Cavaliers, are definitely different. On opening night, the team started James, Love, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, and Derrick Rose, and the latter three are no longer on the squad, along with Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, and Isaiah Thomas. In their place, the Cavaliers landed Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. at the trade deadline, but Cleveland dominated the Toronto Raptors in round two of these playoffs by relying on their old guard - JR Smith, Tristan Thompson, and Kyle Korver.
As for the Celtics, Irving won't be able to earn some revenge against his old team, because he was ruled out for the remainder of the season due to knee issues. He and Hayward aren't the only ones sitting this out. Reserve center Daniel Theis will also be riding the bench for this one, because of a knee injury too. If there's a silver lining though, all of those injuries have forced Boston's young guns to grow up quickly. Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum have all shined given more responsibilities. We'll have to see if it's enough to dethrone the King though.
WHAT HAPPENED: After a tight first quarter, the Warriors zoomed away to a big lead in the middle two periods, leading by as much as 17 points, and boasting of a 13-point cushion, 101-88, entering the fourth.
The good vibes of the champions didn't last though, as Chris Paul led a 13-3 run to pull his team within three, 104-101, still 8:56 remaining in the game. Paul unfortunately couldn't close things out, as a knee injury sidelined him with 4:47 left. He actually joined the Warriors' Draymond Green on the injury list, as Green didn't check back into the game in the fourth because of similar concerns.
With the players on the court, the Rockets closed the gap, and took over, 122-121, 44.1 seconds remaining, after PJ Tucker charities. Houston had a chance to grow their lead, following a Stephen Curry turnover, but James Harden missed a three-pointer. The Warriors sued for time, and went to Curry anew for a game-winner, but his shot was off, allowing the Rockets to start the season on a high.
WHAT'S DIFFERENT: Both the Warriors and the Rockets failed to make any moves during the trade deadline. The Warriors did waive Omri Casspi to make room for G League call-up Quinn Cook, while the Rockets signed Joe Johnson off the waiver wire (another such addition, Brandan Wright, needed knee surgery and won't play).
Perhaps the biggest change regarding the Warriors will be their rotation. On opening night, head coach Steve Kerr played almost his entire roster, with 12 players logging at least seven minutes, though some of that was due to Draymond's injury. Through these playoffs, especially in the Pelicans series, the Warriors went to the 'Hamptons 5' group early and often, with just a few bench guys spelling the main guns. That will likely be the case anew against the Rockets.
As for Houston, the biggest improvement from then and now might be the play of center Clint Capela. The (restricted) free-agent-to-be dominated Rudy Gobert of the Jazz, and could outmuscle his Golden State counterparts, regardless of whether they go small, or opt for Zaza Pachulia or JaVale McGee.
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