Words By Charlie Battern
This years NBA playoffs were already set to be unique with the off season being completely based in Orlando, but the underdogs have become full focus.
Although the last 9 months have been pretty unpredictable, the NBA playoffs seemed to be a fairly cut and dry situation. Going into it most people would have predicted that either of the L.A. Clippers or L.A. Lakers would have made it into finals from the west and from the east the clear favourite were the Milwaukee Bucks. The Denver Nuggets and Jimmy Butler have between them caused upset after upset so far this post-season.
Let’s start with the Nuggets. For the last few seasons this team has been viewed as a young, up-and-coming team with the likes for Jamal Murray (23), Michael Porter Jr (22) and Nikola Jokić (25) who qualified for the playoffs once in the last 5 seasons before this year. Jokić has often been named as one of the top centres in the league due to his superb passing ability and inside scoring but hasn’t always had the best teammates to help push the Nuggets.
There immaturity in the face of a challenge seemed as though it was going to repeat itself in the first round when they went 3-1 down to the Utah Jazz with Donovan Mitchell almost singlehandedly taking the Jazz to the conference semi-finals. But then the Nuggets woke up.
Denver fought hard against Utah in the last 3 games and ended up winning game 7 by just 2 points with Mike Conley missing a last second 3 pointer that would have sent Jokić and co. home.
Next for the Nuggets were the L.A. Clippers who were many people’s favourites for winning this year’s championship due to them having reigning finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in their roster.
Things hadn’t been so simple for the Clippers though as they likely would have been out of the playoffs in the first round if it weren’t for the Dallas Mavericks losing Kristaps Porziņģis half way through game 1 with a wrongful ejection and losing him in game 5 and 6 with a leg injury. Luka Dončić played amazingly every night but sadly for him he was on his own and the Clippers were too much for him.
After 4 games the Clippers were 3-1 up against the Nuggets and seemingly had the series finished. Although Paul George had been lacklustre in the playoffs the rest of the team carried on performing well and kept hopes high. But just like the Utah, when things came down to the wire, Denver came alive.
Jamal Murray was the catalyst for this comeback with him finishing game 7 with 40 points and made the Nuggets the first team in NBA history to win consecutive playoff series after being 3-1 down.
As of the 29th of September, Denver are 3-1 down to the Lakers in the Western Conference Final and too be honest, I’m backing them. They’ve been able to turn it on when it matters most, and this is there best ever chance at making it to the NBA finals.
Now to the Miami Heat. If the Nuggets have been a tale of getting up when you’re down and never giving up, well then, the Heat have been a tale of utter domination.
The Heat finished the regular season 5th with Jimmy Butler being a great leader for the team and Bam Adebayo and Gorgan Dragic having solid seasons. Not much was really expected of them in the playoffs due to them only having Butler as a star but boy, were we all wrong.
The first surprise came with them beating the Indiana Pacers 4-0 in the first round, which many thought would be a competitive series due to the similar rosters. But the biggest surprise came against the Bucks.
The Bucks were everyone’s favourite to make it to the finals due to their domination in the east and Giannis Antetokounmpo being seen as the natural successor to LeBron James as the best in the league.
To say it was a shock that Miami won 4-1 is an understatement. Butler showed the league that he is one of its best defenders, shooters, leaders, and players. Both he and Adebayo were able to quell Giannis’ threat and sent the Bucks home with their tail between their legs.
As of the 29th of September, the Heat are 3-2 up against the Boston Celtics which is another team that on paper they should lose to. I don’t think anyone who’s watched basketball doesn’t want to see Butler make it to the finals as he’s one of the most entertaining characters we have. It’s also so refreshing to have two underdogs make it so far into the post season with 4 of the last 5 finals being between the San Francisco Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This could be the start of a new, more open NBA where every team has a chance, and I can’t wait.