Last season’s Disney-hosted NBA Playoffs are firmly in the rear-view mirror as this season’s conference finals roll around. The over-achieving Atlanta Hawks return to the conference finals for the first time in six years, facing the coach that took them there, Mike Budenholzer, who’s taken his Milwaukee Bucks to their second finals under his reign.
In the West, Devin Booker reaches this stage of the playoffs for the first time with the Phoenix Suns hoping to get their first finals appearance since the days of Charles Barkley vs Michael Jordan in 1993, whereas the Clippers will be hoping to recover from their early defeat in the series and get further than they’ve ever managed before.
Phoenix Suns vs LA Clippers (1-0) - Western Conference Finals
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles & PHX Arena, Phoenix
When: Wednesday 23rd June, 2am (BST) (Every other night after)
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
The Phoenix Suns have taken the NBA by storm this season, with star man Devin Booker and veteran Chris Paul linking up in the ‘Valley of the Sun’ and flaming the best teams that they’ve come across, including a 4-0 sweep of the Denver Nuggets, making it look easy against the MVP Nikola Jokic.
This series in particular has already gotten underway, with Phoenix getting an early win away at the Staples Center. The LA Clippers managed to get through the top seeded Utah Jazz in six, thanks to an incredible game from Terance Mann that will go down in history, as they reached their first ever conference finals in the history of the franchise. Paul George’s fourth quarter dominance is also a key factor in this year’s playoffs, as he often struggles to find consistency until the final 12 minutes.
With the hot streak that Phoenix are on, as well as the hype behind them, it’s difficult to see the West’s representatives in the NBA Finals being from anywhere other than Arizona, even with the Clippers defensive expertise and experience in the form of Kawhi Leonard.
Milwaukee Bucks vs Atlanta Hawks - Eastern Conference Finals
Where: Fiserve Forum, Milwaukee & State Farm Arena, Atlanta
When: Thursday 24th June, 1:30am (BST) (Every other night after)
TV: Sky Sports Main Event
The Bucks and Hawks’ showdown comes off the back of two stunning seven-game series’, with the Bucks taking Brooklyn Nets to overtime at the Barclays Center and the Hawks managing to out-smart Doc Rivers’ Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night. Atlanta face their former coach Mike Budenholzer, who is criticised as of late for his approach in the playoffs and gaining a reputation as just a regular-season-specialist.
The Bucks comeback against the Nets may be put down to the injury crisis faced by Brooklyn, after some strong defending in the first two games of the series put them in a commanding lead and left many fans believing that the superteam was unbeatable. The Bucks will have to be a lot smarter on the court, utilising their attacking assets and not forcing Giannis Antetokoumpo to guard the paint, keeping Khris Middleton open for easy looks and letting Jrue Holiday carry the ball in transition later in the game. This Bucks team isn’t perfect and the Hawks know it.
Trae Young is no doubt the focal point of this Atlanta team and has been incredible throughout the last few seasons, but the achievements of his teammates such as Clint Capela’s dominance around the rim, John Collins finding space and Bogdan Bogdanovic picking up an average of 16 points per game, show they know how to attack smartly. Young proved on Sunday he can pretty much nail a three from anywhere, so it’s bound to be an enticing series.
A game seven would be no surprise after the way the East has gone so far.