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Looking ahead to the NBA Conference Finals no one anticipated

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Three of the four teams to make it to the NBA Final Four are not who you expected.

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I was lucky enough to attend eight Final Fours while I was coaching college basketball. I can confirm that the NCAA basketball Final Four is the best event in sports. Part of that comes from everyone being in the same city playing the games in the same arena. This year’s NBA Final Four has the same advantage — but it’s missing all the fans from the different teams in their team colors. But this is what we have, so let’s make the most of it.

At the end of this post, I will ask for your vote: Who are you rooting for in each conference? As a reminder, we ran a similar poll at the start of the playoffs. Spurs fan favorite in the Eastern Conference — Coach Bud’s Milwaukee Bucks — flamed out before the Final Four. Western Conference fan favorite Portland Trail Blazers did the same.

Now we are left with the Miami Heat (favored by 4% of Pounders) against the Boston Celtics (favored by 6%), which means 90% of you get to vote for a new team. In the West, we have favorite ex-Spur Danny Green and the Lakers (favored by 11% of SpursNation) in the long-anticipated crosstown match-up with the Clippers — (checking newspaper, because I turned off Game 6 when the Clippers went up 19 in the second half) — strike that. Apparently, the Lakers are playing the Denver Nuggets. Man, I need to stop turning off the television before the game is over. (The Nuggets were favored by 16% of Spurs voters.)

It is rare for a Game 1 of a series to be better and more interesting than a Game 7 of another series, but it happened. Miami vs. Boston Game 1 was so much better than the Clippers — Nuggets Game 7 that followed. For one thing, the game in the East had a classic ending. In an earlier post during the NBA hiatus, I wrote about the great basketball plays I missed the most — my Favorite Things (cue Julie Andrews). Those Favorite Things included:

“A dunk in traffic. A blocked dunk in traffic — all ball.”

Game 1 of the Miami - Boston series had that play. To make it even more special, Bam Adebayo’s blocked dunk happened in the last five seconds of overtime to preserve a two-point lead — one of the best clutch blocks ever. And at the highest altitude.

A fact not mentioned by the announcers or in any commentary I have seen is the Heat played a zone defense for Boston’s possession which ended in the blocked dunk attempt. By playing zone, the Heat ensured Bam would be there to protect the rim. Good coaching!

The game almost had a game-winning shot in regulation — Jimmy Butler’s three pointer with twenty seconds left put the Heat up by one. That shot also had a bit of this Favorite Thing:

“The pump fake which causes the defender to fly by, helpless.”

In overtime, Butler did have the game winning play with 13 seconds left, in the form of another Favorite Thing:

“A three-point play, the old fashioned way: The referee emphatically signals that the shot counts, the scorer springs off the floor after the foul to accept high fives, and drains the “and one”. (Yes, players do in fact shoot 100% on the free throw to make the ‘and one’.)”

And finally, Jason Tatum almost made the game-tying three at the overtime buzzer after falling down and getting back up:

“And, of course, we all miss the game winning play. The shot in the air as the buzzer sounds, the ball hitting the net to win the game. Or the defensive team — our team — coming up with a final stop to preserve the narrow win. All followed by teammates being teammates, coming together, whether in celebration, or commiseration, since only one team can win.”

Only one team could win in Game 7 of the Clippers - Nuggets series too. In my description of the Celtics - Raptors Game 7, I said that the game was not exciting, only tense. The Clippers - Nuggets Game 7 was not exciting or tense. Instead, as the second half unfolded, it felt more like “inevitable”.

It felt inevitable that the Nuggets would continue to roll over the Clippers in the second half of yet another game, and that the Clippers would not mount a meaningful response. Which is exactly what happened. As proof, the Clippers scored only 33 points in the entire second half of a game that they absolutely positively had to win. I was thinking about finishing this with “Typical Clippers” but will refrain because I have friends who are Clipper fans.

Other thoughts

1. If I told you before the game that the Clippers would have half as many turnovers (10) than the Nuggets (20), take 13 more shots, and have the same number of offensive rebounds and free throws, you would have told me the Clippers would surely win. The Clippers did not win, largely because they made only 34 of their 90 shots, with only nine made threes, while Denver made 38 of their 77, with thirteen threes.

2. Kawhi Leonard had the devil of a game: 6 made baskets, 6 rebounds, 6 assists. And he had a second half from hell, going 1 for 11 from the floor. Sorry, but I don’t have similar puns for Paul George, who made 4 shots, had 4 rebounds, and 4 fouls. PG-13 wasn’t much better than Kawhi in the second half, going 1 for 7 from the floor, including clanking a corner three off the side of the backboard.

3. Mark Jackson critique of the day: Jackson kept pontificating about how he would ask his stars not to take any rest at all in a big game. He doesn’t seem to realize that rest is a good thing. By letting players get some well-timed rest during a game, those players will play better in the minutes they are on the floor. Especially if those players are accustomed to getting rest breaks during the game, the rest allows them to rest both their bodies and minds for a few minutes. This isn’t rocket science.

As promised, the poll. Pick who you want to win in the East and in the West. Remember, this is not who you predict will win, but who you will be rooting for to take the next step to the Finals.

Poll

Who are you rooting for to win the Eastern Conference Finals?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Boston Celtics
    (132 votes)
  • 67%
    Miami Heat
    (274 votes)
406 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Who are you rooting for to win the Western Conference Finals?

This poll is closed

  • 83%
    Denver Nuggets
    (344 votes)
  • 16%
    Los Angeles Lakers
    (66 votes)
410 votes total Vote Now