2021 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview

By Saransh Sharma & Anish Dhondi

The Milwaukee Bucks got their revenge over the Miami Heat in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs in an emphatic fashion, sweeping the defending Eastern Conference Champions. Brooklyn and Philadelphia, the Eastern Conference favorites, both defeated the Celtics and Wizards, respectively, in 5 games. Brooklyn takes on Milwaukee in what many seem to be the Bucks’ chance to prove they are a legit contender, and Philadelphia will see themselves against the upstart Atlanta Hawks, who ousted the Knicks in 5 games. Here is our preview and our predictions for who we expect to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals:

Saransh’s Predictions

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

This entire series’ outcome depends on the health of Joel Embiid, who is currently day-to-day with a small meniscus tear, keyword being small. While Embiid will not need surgery, the 76ers have a rigorous treatment regimen in place for Embiid, making his return date unknown. This is something Atlanta can take advantage of, because Clint Capela and John Collins, the catalysts of this defense, can avoid foul trouble defensively. They can also do their thing offensively without having to worry about Joel Embiid causing problems in the paint. Trae Young will dominate and silence many Sixers fans the same way he did with Knicks fans, though he will be defended by Ben Simmons, one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. That said, the perimeter shooting from him, Bogdan Bogdanovic, DeAndre Hunter, and Kevin Huerter will have this Hawks’ offense soaring. The question is, without Embiid, without the pick-and-roll game being as effective, can the 76ers get enough paint production from Ben Simmons & Dwight Howard? Can Seth Curry, Danny Green, and the Philly shooters stay hot without Embiid? If Embiid does not come back before Game 3, Atlanta wins in 6. If he does, Philadelphia in 6. With the assumption that Embiid will not return in time, I am picking Atlanta.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #3 Milwaukee Bucks

Brooklyn and Milwaukee meet in a matchup that many believe will determine who will be crowned the Eastern Conference Champions. Milwaukee did a great job defending Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo and clogging the paint while dominating on the outside on offense against Miami but have to flip that gameplan to beat this incredibly talented Nets team. Miami honed in on stopping Giannis offensively, and it worked, lowering his FG% to lower than usual (45% shooting), but Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Bryn Forbes stepped up and were big-time, and Giannis as a playmaker was a huge reason why.

The way the Nets defense is structured, to expect Giannis to be stopped and slowed down like Miami did from a scoring perspective is low. The question will be, can Middleton, Holiday, & Co. step up offensively again. Giannis will need to carry the load as a playmaker again, but more so as a scorer. I do not believe that Milwaukee is the team with the best chance to beat Brooklyn, and while I hope I am proven wrong, I expect Brooklyn to win in 6.

Anish’s Predictions

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

This series seems easy enough to predict, with Philadelphia on top assuming both teams are at full strength. However, for Joel Embiid’s Sixers, that might not be the case. Embiid exited the Wizards series in Game 4 and the Sixers lost their one game of the series. Embiid is a crucial factor to this team and it completely changes the prediction based on his availability. Even without Embiid, this Sixers squad is very talented with Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Seth Curry carrying the scoring load. Knowing how eager superstars are to return in the Playoffs, I do not see Embiid missing more than 2 Games. If Embiid misses 2 games, I believe the Sixers split the first 2 games at home without Embiid, and then defeat the Hawks in 6 once Embiid returns. 

The Hawks’ best player and scorer, Trae Young, will be guarded by Ben Simmons, a DPOY candidate who will limit his production. Limiting Trae Young will be the deciding factor, being he is the only Hawks All-Star. The Sixers have more depth and have guys like Tobias Harris and Seth Curry who can get hot and pick up the slack with Embiid being out. They finished off the Wizards without Embiid, so I believe the Sixers will still win this series if Embiid misses just 2 games. If he misses more, the Hawks might take it. Overall my prediction is Sixers in 6, but anything can happen.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #3 Milwaukee Bucks

Now this series will give us the most excitement from the Eastern Conference. The Bucks’ defense is one of the best in these Playoffs, and Jrue Holiday is a big reason why. Jrue Holiday can lock down either Harden or Kyrie, but then the other is able to score, then they also have Kevin Durant which will be the task for Giannis, who is also a great defender. The Nets, on the other hand, are stacked with veteran superstars who can take turns scoring. This series will be intense and should go to Game 7. As unstoppable as the Nets are on offense, no defender can stop Giannis’ offense. Giannis overcame Bam Adebayo in the recent series against the Heat, so I do not see the Nets doing a better job of containing him. This matchup will be offense vs. offense as both of these teams are able to score in a variety of ways, including from the 3-point line. The Nets’ stellar shooting starts with the Big 3 and continues with 3-point contest winner Joe Harris. However, the Bucks can also get hot from 3 as the Bucks currently hold the record for most 3-pointers in a single game at 29 earlier this season. We know Jrue Holiday and Middleton can get hot from three, but Bryn Forbes has taken a significant step-up in proving he can be a threat off the bench. This will be a long, high-scoring series, but in the end, the Brooklyn Nets have way too much superstar power and will be able to close their games more effectively. Nets in 7.

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