I often hear from former NBA fans about how today’s game is vastly different from the basketball that they grew up loving to watch. The physicality, the rivalries, and the superstars of the past are longed for by those who grew up watching the NBA as arguably the most popular professional sports league for a given time in the 1990’s. At times I can relate. As a kid my father was a Yankees and Giants fan, so those were 2 teams I automatically “inherited” from him. The early 90’s New York Knicks however became special to me because it was the first team that I chose as my own. While it seemed like everyone else jumped on the Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls bandwagon, I was proud to root for a team who represented everything that New York was all about. They were tough, physical, and always seemed to play with a level of effort that was beyond their talent. Their rivalries with the Bulls, Heat and Pacers were must watch television year in and year out.
So do I miss those days? Of course. Humans are naturally programmed to look back on the days of the past with a sense of nostalgia and fondness. And sure there are some things about today’s game I’d like to see change. But I’d say to those who have written off the NBA – you’re missing out and it’s a great time to come back. This year’s playoffs have parity, young stars, and the series overall have been extremely competitive. Three of the four conference semifinal series are knotted at 2-2 with the Golden State Warriors jumping out to a 3-1 series lead over the Memphis Grizzlies who played last night without leading scorer Ja Morant.
Let’s take a quick look at where we’re at with each series and what the future may hold. Boston Celtics (2 seed) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (3 seed)
After the Boston Celtics knocked off the Brooklyn Nets in the first round it looked like they were destined to reach the Finals. The Milwaukee Bucks led by Giannis Antetokounmpo have been without 3x All-Star Khris Middleton, however they proven to be a formidable opponent. Last night the Celtics tied the series behind a career high 30 points from 35 year-old Al Horford and it looks like we’re in for a dogfight down the stretch. Giannis is the best player in the world right now, however the Celtics in my opinion have too much firepower with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and a host of great role players. If Middleton was healthy this may be a different series. Celtics in 7.
Memphis Grizzlies (2 seed) vs. Golden State Warriors (3 seed)
The Memphis Grizzlies were 20-5 without Ja Morant heading into last night’s Game 4 matchup with the Golden State Warriors. Golden State seemed flat all evening and the Grizzlies took a commanding lead into the 4th quarter. Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins went a combined 1 for 15 from deep. And then Steph Curry showed why he is the greatest shooter of all time and single handedly carried the Warriors with 18 points in the 4th quarter to squeak by the Grizzlies by 3 points. The Grizzlies are young, hungry and won’t back down without a fight, but without Ja Morant, this series belongs to Golden State. Warriors in 6.
Miami Heat (1 seed) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (4 seed)
If you’re looking for a series full of all kinds of crazy storylines look no further. The Heat looked like they were going to cruise to victory after going up 2-0, however once an injured Joel Embiid returned from a concussion and orbital fracture in Game 3, plans have changed. The Sixers have won 2 in a row and James Harden looked like the Harden of old with 31 points in Game 4. Going into Game 5 both teams are mirror images of each other – 107.9 PPG for the Sixers/106.6 PPG for the Heat, 39.8 RPG for the Sixers/39.9 RPG for the Heat, 22.6 APG for the Sixers/23.4 APG for the Heat. The Heat are a little bit deeper but they simply don’t have a player like Embiid who is one of the best players on the planet right now. If Tyrese Maxey and Harden can provide Embiid with the support he needs, I’m going slight lean to the Sixers – Sixers in 7.
Phoenix Suns (1 seed) vs. Dallas Mavericks (4 seed)
The Suns were another team who jumped out to a 2-0 lead and looked to have things going well in their favor. Then Chris Paul turned 37 years old on Friday and inexplicably COMBINED for 17 points and 11 assists in games 3 and 4. Luka Doncic also has been finally getting some support from his supporting cast which has opened up the floor for the Mavs. That said the Suns are way too good and have too much firepower to lose this type of series to an inferior opponent. Paul was also dealing with the distraction of a fan who put his hands on Paul’s family during Game 4 (column on fan behavior will be coming soon) and should bounce back just fine. The cream (almost) always rises and in this case the Suns have more talent. Suns in 6.
(NBA Playoff Bracket courtesy of CBS Sports https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/nba-playoffs-2022-bracket-games-today-schedule-tv-channel-live-stream-times-as-second-round-heats-up/ )