2022 Playoff Thoughts
The NBA regular season has come to an end, and the Play-In tournament will start tonight. It has been an incredible season with a ton of different storylines, from one of the better MVP debates in recent years to young teams making a big leap while some established stars’ teams fell short of expectations. It’s time to take a look forward to the upcoming playoffs.
First, let’s quickly look ahead to the playoffs. There are a couple of different playoff series that will drive a lot of the stories and give a clearer big picture of who the real contenders are as well. For me personally, most of the intrigue comes in the Eastern Conference. There are two first-round matchups (one confirmed and one potential), that I will have a close eye on.
Boston Celtics vs Brooklyn Nets:
This matchup provides intrigue on every level. The history between Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics is well-documented and you can find an exhaustive amount of written pieces on the topic. Last season, some Celtics fans didn’t appreciate the way players were hugging Kyrie Irving after a Brooklyn win. It came off as bowing down from a “little brother” perspective. Well this season, the script has completely flipped. After a tumultuous start to the year, Boston has firmly placed itself in the NBA Championship contenders conversation. Led by a top-level defense with Marcus Smart and Robert Williams as anchors, and their young superstar in Jayson Tatum with co-pilot Jaylen Brown, the team is poised for a deep postseason run. In this series, we get to see this young, up-and-coming generation of talent go toe to toe with the established veteran stars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. While the Brooklyn Nets team has faltered much of the season, and I do believe there are some true roster flaws when the team is not healthy, it is impossible to ever count Kevin Durant out. For me personally, I still believe the Boston Celtics are the far superior team, particularly on the defensive end, and that is what leads to ultimate playoff success. I look forward to the shot of Kevin Durant hugging Jayson Tatum after Boston wins game 6 in Brooklyn to close out the series, with post-game reports that he encouraged Tatum to go all out and win the championship this season.
Philadelphia 76ers vs Toronto Raptors:
Outside of the looming threat of Brooklyn putting it all together in the post-season, the Toronto Raptors have got to be the matchup every top 4 seed in the Eastern Conference just did not want to match up with in the first round. The scrappy and potentially over-achieving bunch has a mix of post-season experience and young talent with high motors. This Raptors bunch is compiled of pests and there is not a challenge out there from which they would back down. On the flip side, for Philadelphia this will be a huge test and likely will show the true colors of what they traded for in James Harden. Joel Embiid has had an MVP-caliber season and has proven what he can do on the court. James Harden has had some flashes but is known to disappear in the spotlight. Philadelphia to me should be considered the highest-ceiling and lowest-floor team for this playoff run. Unfortunately for them, it starts off against Toronto who just won the regular-season series against them 3–1 and will not back down from the challenge. Doc Rivers has the unfortunate reputation of blowing leads in playoff series, and this will be even more compounded by the pairing with James Harden who has a similar reputation for fading in the playoffs. The final layer to this will be the absence of Matise Thybulle from every game in Toronto due to his current unvaccinated status. He is their go-to perimeter defender and will be sorely missed on the road. While Philadelphia should be able to get it together and come away with the win, don’t be surprised if you see Toronto win the series in 6 games, leading to the potential unraveling of the 76ers organization this offseason.
NBA Finals Prediction:
It isn’t sexy, but I think we are headed straight for a rematch from last year’s NBA finals: Phoenix Suns vs Milwaukee Bucks. While the Eastern Conference is going to be a difficult path, the Milwaukee Bucks have lined things up nicely. In round 1, they will get a Chicago Bulls team (yes my Chicago Bulls), who have looked helpless at times in this matchup. In the second round, they can anticipate playing whoever guts out the Brooklyn vs Boston series, wearing each other out significantly. Eventually they will face potentially Philadelphia OR Miami, but in no scenario will they be stuck playing both. Just like that, the defending champs can be back in the finals.
The Phoenix Suns, to me, are far and away the best team in the Western Conference, if not the entire NBA. They check all of the usual boxes: solid regular season, versatility in style of play, good defensive backbone, reliable bench depth, and previous playoff experience. It is rare that a team wins a championship the first time they make a deep post-season run. The typical progression is getting an increasing taste of winning, often followed by an emotional loss, that propels you to finally to the final step. This season, I think Phoenix is fully poised to pull this off and get Chris Paul that coveted NBA Championship, only Deven Booker will raise the NBA Finals MVP trophy.