It’s been a tremendous few days in the NBA and this week’s conference finals, which start on Tuesday night, have a lot to live up to after the elimination of both of last year’s finalists in dramatic fashion.
The Milwaukee Bucks were dispatched by the Boston Celtics on Sunday night, after a long series that saw the Bucks’ offensive momentum be halted by some strong defensive action from the Celtics. After a narrow first quarter, the Celtics brought the beatdown on the reigning champions and there was nothing that Mike Budenholzer’s side could do to defend. It was probably the worst game seven performance you’ll see this year, for all of about an hour.
Next on the agenda was the Dallas Mavericks hosting Phoenix Suns, the number four seed in the west against the top placed side after 82 games. Up steps Luka Doncic, who so far has been putting up post-season numbers that haven’t been seen since Michael Jordan was lifting Larry O’Briens with regularity.
The scenes at half-time said it all. Doncic laughed in the background of a well-timed camera zoom on the sombre Suns’ star man Devin Booker. The internet decided to throw in the halftime scoreline and away it went, humiliating the Suns more than Doncic and his Mavericks could on the court.
The Phoenix Suns really decided to take the heat off of Milwaukee’s plate (no pun intended, that was the Celtics), by following up their devastating loss with an even worse Game 7 performance.
The aftermath continued from both games. Milwaukee’s failure to get past Boston ups the ante on Giannis Antetokounmpo, despite him becoming the first player ever to notch 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in the same series. Rivals were quick to jump on the Bucks’ top dog, and the excuses were laid out in the form of an injured Khris Middleton.
It’s easy to blame injuries in any sport for a team’s failings. However on this occasion, it wasn’t just about how the Bucks played. The credit belongs to Celtics head coach Ime Udoka. A former disciple of the legendary five-time champion Gregg Popovich, he responded perfectly to a slow start in the first quarter, ditching his schedule of minutes for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and playing the pair together to help them get out of an offensive hole by the half-time whistle.
Using Payton Pritchard as a willing shooter instead of a more defensive-minded guard in Marcus Smart paid off, and by the time the final quarter arrived, the Bucks were all over the place, leaving plenty of easy three-point looks for the Celtics to close the game out. It was a masterstroke from Udoka, who is still in just his first year as a head coach and faces the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals this week.
In the west, less could be said about coaching. Booker had an uncharacteristically poor night at the office, whether it was ‘paralysis by analysis’, or it was the curse of being with a Kardashian, we’ll have to wait and see. Booker will be thankful that he wasn’t alone on the court, as Chris Paul became the latest to receive the heat post-game.
CP3 attempted just eight shots in Game 7 when the Suns needed another offensive outlet, something he was more than capable of performing at last year, and the Point God was outdone in defence as his opposite number, Doncic, dropped 30 points and 10 rebounds on him.
Up steps Patrick Beverley, an old enemy dating back to high school days when the pair met at a Nike x Lebron James Training Camp. His victory lap to celebrate Paul’s dismal exit was broadcast live on ESPN, opposite the vociferous Stephen A Smith, and he went in hard.
He denounced CP3’s defensive ability, criticised the decision to drop Deandre Ayton instead of Paul and went as far as to say no one in the entire league is afraid of the Phoenix Suns. “He’s a cone!” was the consensus from Big Pat Bev.
Chris Paul turned 37 on the day of Game 7. One would guess that his career is probably ending in the next 24 months if he gets the opportunity to get to another playoff series. It would be a great shame to see him leave the NBA having come so close to glory without ever tasting it, having been one of the best point guards of the modern era. Although somewhere, Patrick Beverley will be laughing himself to sleep.
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