Now that’s how you close out the second round.
This past weekend saw a pair of Game 7s decide the Eastern Conference final, and the Los Angeles Clippers did what seemed like the impossible in closing out the Utah Jazz on Friday.
Now both conference finals are set and, even though the matchups might not be the most appealing from a national-marketing standpoint, having the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Clippers and Phoenix Suns in the NBA’s Final Four is still a good thing for the league.
The NBA is generally viewed as a league where major markets dominate, but of these four teams only the Clippers can be considered a big market, and they’re still just the second-fiddle team in Los Angeles anyway.
Having teams that the casual fan wouldn’t normally go out of their way to watch in the conference finals means budding superstars like Devin Booker on the Suns and Trae Young on the Hawks can also get better exposure, opening up new opportunities for the league to promote some of its younger, up-and-coming stars.
The NBA doesn’t necessarily need LeBron James competing for a title every single season.
Additionally, this is a conference final that also features three African-American coaches in Monty Williams on Phoenix, Tyronn Lue with the Clippers and Nate McMillan with Atlanta. That alone is a major win for the NBA.
Here are our NBA Power Rankings after the weekend.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
This might be foolish optimism, but seeing the Bucks finally breakthrough in a big game to knock off the Brooklyn Nets in Game 7 has to make you believe that this team can go the distance.
Yes, Mike Budenholzer still makes some baffling coaching decisions, and there’s some unnerving volatility seen from the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, but of the four teams remaining, the Bucks probably have the highest ceiling, still.
Against Atlanta, Milwaukee certainly looks like the more talented team and should be favoured. Then, when compared to the Western Conference finalists, even if you don’t think the Bucks are as talented as the Suns or Clippers, they still have the advantage of being the healthier team as all of their core players are all good injury-wise.
At the moment, it looks like the NBA championship is the Bucks’ to lose.
2. Phoenix Suns
No Chris Paul? No problem for the Suns. Not when they still have Booker.
The 24-year-old helped Phoenix take Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals with a ridiculous 40-point triple-double where he appeared to pay homage to his missing backcourt mate by killing the Clippers from the mid-range areas of the floor.
It’s unclear when Paul might be cleared from the COVID-19 health and safety protocols to re-join his team, but he may not be missed too much if Booker keeps playing like this.
There’s been a lot written and said about the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic being heralded as the NBA’s best young player, but given how well Booker has shown himself as a clutch performer in his first-ever playoff experience, that’s a conversation that may need to be re-visited.
3. Atlanta Hawks
If you had the Hawks making the conference final before the start of the playoffs this season, you’re either a time traveller or are just plain lying.
This was completely unexpected – unless you’re a member of the Hawks.
“For a team that had no all-stars, no all-defensive players, no all-nba players, this team is fighting.”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 17, 2021
The clip above is from after Atlanta took Game 5 over the Philadelphia 76ers, but it still applies.
Everyone’s counted out the Hawks thus far, and has eaten crow because of it. Can they keep defying the odds?
4. Los Angeles Clippers
For the Clippers, their entire season will likely come down to whether or not Kawhi Leonard plays in the series.
Leonard is dealing with a knee issue and didn’t travel to Phoenix with the team. The exact nature of the his injury still isn’t clear but it’s been reported that there’s fear among the Clippers that he suffered an ACL injury, something that would knock him out for the rest of the playoffs and probably part of next season.
The Clippers had a great moment when they knocked off the Jazz in six games, but it’s increasingly looking like their road will be ending.
Eliminated: Brooklyn Nets/Philadelphia 76ers/Utah Jazz
Though things ended in disappointment, the Nets and Jazz appear to have a foundation to build upon for next season.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, could be in for a major off-season remodelling program. It’s not a guarantee, but chances are high that Ben Simmons played his last game as a member of the 76ers.
Credit: Source link