Three teams. Three radically different paths. Three utterly divergent trajectories.
Although the Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans, and Toronto Raptors all experienced the same fate, getting swept in the first round of the 2015 NBA playoffs, the three teams couldn’t be more different from each other, and in many different ways.
So, how then, did each team ultimately arrive at the same outcome? What, if anything went right? What went so terribly wrong? What approached the unwatchable?
The Celtics, widely viewed as one of the darlings of the playoffs, are a team pointed in the right direction, but without a mate to their ship’s captain. Brad Stevens, their second-year coach, appears to be the right man at the helm, as evidenced by his fourth place finish in this year’s Coach of the Year voting. But, the team’s lack of talent at the top was put on full display against the vastly more talented, Cleveland Cavaliers.
None of the four games felt like a blowout, but none of them were decided by fewer than eight points either. In fact, three of the four were decided by that exact margin, reinforcing the fact that the Celtics, while feisty and well-coached, were simply outmatched by a superior foe.
Jae Crowder certainly proved that his place on this team is cemented, as they move into the next phase of their rebuild. He will be a priority for them to extend this offseason, as he moves into restricted free agency. His competitiveness, and intense energy fueled much of what the Celtics were able to accomplish this series. He may not have a true position, or be capable of being a starter in this league, but his role on this team moving forward is undeniable.
Evan Turner, despite falling victim to a memorable, posterizing blocked shot at the hands of LeBron James, also showed that he likely has a role on this team going forward. He led the Celtics in rebounding on the series, with 7.3 per game, and was second on the team in assists, with 4.8. While his 36.4% shooting should be of concern that is certainly not out of the ordinary for him. He may not play the 30 minutes per game he played this series going forward, but he could be a valuable bench piece.
For the first half of the series, Isaiah Thomas performed exactly as most thought he would, coming off the bench to provide the Celtics a much needed scoring punch. On the series, he averaged 17.5 ppg, and that was heavily skewed by a five-point, game three-dud. IT2’s scoring average should be taken with a grain of salt however, as he shot a horrendous 33% from the floor. In the final two games, he made only six of the 26 shots he put up.
Kelly Olynyk saw his minutes per game get slashed by about nine minutes over what he averaged on the season. When he wasn’t pulling arms of sockets, he was really a non-factor. The Celtics definitely could have used some the bench scoring they came to expect from him over the course of the season. Over the last two games, Olynyk averaged seven minutes per game, and half of a point. Not ideal.
One thing is clear, the Celtics are in desperate need of players who can score at an efficient clip and rebound . To say they struggle to score is an understatement. Against a below average defensive team, they only broke the century mark for scoring once. And if you take away that game one scoring extravaganza, they shot 40.5% from the floor on the series, and average a whopping 93 points.
New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans qualified for the playoffs on the back of a tie-breaker, head-to-head advantage over the Oklahoma City Thunder. It marked the first time since 2010 that the franchise made the playoffs, and all signs point to this team continuing their upward trajectory, especially if they can make a few strategically beneficial moves in the offseason to sure up some of their weaknesses.
Like the Celtics, they are undoubtedly on the rise. But, unlike the Celtics, they have a surefire superstar anchoring their roster for the next decade, if the Pelicans put their money where their mouth is at least.
Two words really summarize everything that is good about this team now, and for the foreseeable future; Anthony Davis. In typical AD fashion, he averaged 31.5 ppg, 11 rpg and 3.0 bpg over the course of the series. To put that into perspective, no player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970, and Bob McAdoo in 1974, has averaged more than 30 points and 10 rebound a game in their first ever playoff series. Simply put, his performance was historically great.
In the two games he managed to play, Jrue Holiday clearly wasn’t himself, as he continues to recover from a stress reaction in his leg. When healthy, Holiday is in the upper-half of the league in terms of starting point guards, good for around 14 points and 8 assists per contest on about 44% shooting. He is also depended on for his ability to run their offense and serve as a calming force for his in-game presence and quiet leadership.
Although Holiday played in only two games, his performance in both left much to be desired. His 6.3 points and 4.3 assists per game were a fraction of what we’ve come to expect from him. Missing one their best three players, for all intents and purposes, was definitely a blow to this Pelicans team.
Omer Asik as flat-out terrible in this series. Brought in to help solidify a porous defense in the offseason, he was as much of a non-factor on that side of the court as any starting center I’ve ever seen. Although his strengths are admittedly minimized by the way the Golden State Warriors run their offense, his performance was bad enough to ensure he won’t be back in a Pelicans uniform next season.
To put his lack of productivity into perspective, he had almost as many turnovers (5) as he had points (8). Oh, and he failed to block even a single shot. So much for defensive presence.
The award for the most confusing and disappointing team in the 2015 NBA playoffs goes to… the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors finished the season with a franchise-best 49 wins, so there’s obviously a lot that went right for them this season. At times, they looked like they were one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but during their two extended losing streaks in early-January and late-February, they looked hapless, especially on defense.
Despite that, nobody saw them getting swept out of the playoffs by an equally inconsistent Washington Wizards team. And they definitely didn’t see it happening in such embarrassing fashion.
It’s over. That’s about it.
Kyle Lowry was a shell of his usual self. He got himself into early foul trouble in all but one game, which limited his minutes. But, even when he was in, he looked lost. He has never been a great shooter, but his 31.6% was abysmal.
Newly-anointed sixth man of the year, Lou Williams, was equally as bad shooting the basketball (31.4%).
Because they got behind so early, and so often in the series, Lowry, Williams and DeMar DeRozan felt obligated to go on solo missions to bring their team back, which obviously failed miserably. They never looked like a cohesive team. In fact, they never looked like much of a team at all. They looked like a bunch of individuals, trying to be heroes.
Defense, defense, defense.
The Raptors allowed the Wizards to shoot a playoff-leading 48.2% from the field. They gave up 110.3 points per game to a team that rarely cracked the century mark on the season. The Wizards ranked 22nd in offensive efficiency during the regular season, but looked like the Eastern Conference’s version of the Warriors at times thanks to the Raptors’ defensive ineptness. Needless to say, it was one of the worst defensive showings in recent memory. The Raptors have a lot of decisions to make this offseason, and the lackluster performance of some of their top talent may lead to more drastic changes than we would have thought even a month ago.