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A look back at the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs

The Heat prevailed over the wounded 76ers, and down went the defending champions to the upstart Celtics.

Boston Celtics v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Six Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

We survived the second round of the 2022 NBA playoffs, though with two games seemingly every night, I am not confident that all marriages did. Super-wife Linda and I have a deal this time of year. Each night, I record both games, we watch an episode of Yellowstone after dinner, and then she watches “her shows” while I watch the games on tape delay. This involves a lot of fast-forwarding through commercials and talking heads at halftime. As a result, what you get here is strictly Coach Dresie, not recycled Shaq, Kenny and Charles. Though I will occasionally steal a stat or observation from something I read.

There were a couple of surprises, such as the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks going down and the Phoenix Suns, who had the best regular season record, blowing a 2-0 series lead. We’ll get to the latter of those two teams when we cover the Western Conference tomorrow, but today we’re focusing on the Eastern conference, beginning with:

Miami Heat over Philadelphia 76ers, 4-2

Before the series, no one knew if Joel Embiid would be able to play at all after suffering a broken face while his team was up a gazillion points in the close-out game in round one against the Raptors. The “Doc” in Doc Rivers stands for “doctor”, but he failed to diagnose his team’s future needs very well when that happened. As they say, a “bad break”, which led to my pre-series analysis:

Embiid’s injury probably ruins any chance for the 76ers to win this series, unless 2013 Finals DannyGreen!! makes his own comeback. Actually, the 76ers really need 2013-2018 James Harden to return, not this season’s much slower version who is hoping to get a max contract this summer, which will take him to age 38, in which he will probably weigh 250 pounds. Rooting for the Heat in this one.

I really hope my mention of DannyGreen!! did not jinx him. Rest assured I am very upset that DG went out early in the close-out game with the first knee injury of his career. I will have much more to say about him and this heart-breaking injury, as I have written more about my guy DG than any other Spur or ex-Spur. When I do, I will surely mention that DG has the 12th best winning percentage among all the players who ever played in the NBA. (Kawhi is first, Magic second.)

The Heat’s player development program rivals the Spurs as the best in the business, as reflected by the Heat starting two undrafted players in the backcourt, one on whom supplanted Should-Have-Been-a-Spur Duncan Robinson (also undrafted) in the starting line-up. Despite their lack of pedigree, the undrafted Heat duo of Max Strus (DePaul) and Jay Vincent (UC Santa Barbara) matched up well with the 76ers back-court of James Harden and Tyrese Maxee, both first-round picks from power conferences.

Many others have written about Harden’s weak offensive performance in this series — other than a lonely flashback game — and in particular his complete no-show in the 76ers “must-win” Game 6. Most of the focus has been on Harden’s passive offensive performance, which ignores his putrid effort at the other end of the floor. The 76ers tried to hide Harden on P.J. Tucker so he could “rest”, but instead he decided to completely go to sleep.

How many times did Tucker either make a backdoor cut from the corner for a lay-up or come crashing in for yet another offensive rebound? The official statistics answer that question: ”A ton”. In Game 6 alone, Tucker had 4 offensive rebounds, and while Harden was resting on defense, Tucker matched up with either himn or Embiid when the 76ers had the ball — all after he covered Trae Young when the Heat shut down the Hawks. Tucker will cover anyone on the other team, and do it well. This from a 37-old player who isn’t that quick or long. He just cares more than everyone else about not letting his man score.

Tucker clearly cares more than this Miami Heat fan, who appears to have fallen asleep while sitting in baseline seats:

Boston Celtics over Milwaukee Bucks, 4-3

This series was a coaching match-up between two long-time Spurs assistant coaches, with Celtics rookie head coach Ime Udoka prevailing over Coach Mike Budenholzer and his championship ring. Of course, the coaches don’t play in the game, and the Celtics had better players than a Bucks team missing All-Star Khris Middleton. The Bucks were actually lucky to even force a Game 7, as the Celtics outplayed the Bucks in the first six games. The Celtics outscored the Bucks by 23, 13 and 8 points in their three wins, while the Bucks prevailed in their three wins by 12, 2 and 3 points, including a miracle comeback in Game 5 in which the Bucks were down double-digits in the fourth and scored the winning points on a Bobby Portis offensive rebound of a late Giannis Antetokounmpo missed free throw.

On top of the advantage in points going into Game 7, the Celtics also had home court advantage all because the Bucks tanked their last game of the season by not playing Giannis, Middleton or Jrue Holiday in an 18-point loss to Cleveland. (Actually, Holiday started the game but immediately committed a foul and sat down — he needed to “play” in the game to earn a “games played” bonus payment.) The Bucks elected to lose that game in order to fall into the 3-seed, which in turn allowed them to match up with an over-matched Bulls team in the first round, leaving the Celtics to play Kevin Durant’s Nets. While that might have seemed like a good idea at the time, the Corman Outcome Rule says otherwise.

My pre-series prediction looks pretty good in high-sight:

While many talk about the absence of Middleton to match up defensively against Boston’s big wings, the Bucks will miss his shot-making ability just as much. As the Nets showed, this Celtics team is tough to score against even at full strength, so while I am rooting for the Bucks, I would not bet on it.

How much did the Bucks miss Middleton in Game 7? The three wing players who filled the minutes that Middleton would have played (Wes Matthews, Grayson Allen, and Pat Connaughton) combined for six points and two assists on 2-17 from the floor and 0-12 from three. Yes, that is a total of six points from three different players each generously referred to as a “shooting guard”. Ouch.

After four straight games of over 40 points, 15 boards and 5 assists — something no one else has ever done in NBA playoff history — Giannis couldn’t do it one more time in Game 7. After almost getting a triple double in the first half (17/12/7), his second half only consisted of 8 points, 8 boards and 2 assists while shooting only 10-26. It is difficult to get many assists when your teammates simply cannot make a shot. It was a far cry from his final game last season — 50 points against the Suns to win the championship.

Even without home court advantage, I feel like the Celtics should be favored against the Heat. My primary reason to give the Heat a fighting chance is the Celtics’ quick turn-around for Game 1. They barely have 48 hours to celebrate knocking off the champs before having to regroup on the road Tuesday night against a rested and smart Miami Heat squad. To add to that difficulty, Games 2 and 3 are Thursday and Saturday, so the Celtics won’t have a true day off for a while. I will be rooting for the Heat to take advantage of their home-court advantage earned over the regular season, just as the Celtics did against the Bucks.