NBA teams begin push for Larry O’Brien Trophy

Ben Tillisch, Sports Editor

Tipping off on April 12, the Eastern and Western Conference Play-in games, a 2021 addition to the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoff format, prefaced the first round match-ups that officially commence the competitive quest to conquer the NBA and raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

In the Eastern Conference, the Brooklyn Nets secured the 7-seed following a disappointing season. Then, the Atlanta Hawks defeated the Charlotte Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers to solidify their spot in the playoffs as an 8-seed. 

The Hawks’ run was short lived though, as the 2020 NBA Championship finalists Miami Heat led by defensive-minded coach Erik Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler bested the Hawks within five games in a best-of-seven series. Similarly, the Nets were quickly sent home, being the only team to be swept (losing the series 4-0) in the first round of the NBA playoffs. 

In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, and New Orleans Pelicans competed for the 7-seed and 8-seed spot in the playoffs. 

After an electrifying game between Clippers and Timberwolves, 2021 rookie of the year candidate Anthony Edwards and Karl Anthony-Towns led their team to the 7-seed with the help of Patrick Beverly’s inducing and charismatic presence. Then, the Pelicans affixed their spot as the Western Conference 8-seed after taking down the Spurs and Clippers. Like their Eastern Conference play-in counter-parts, the Pelicans managed to take league favorites Phoenix Suns to game six before being sent home, and the Timberwolves fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in a fierce match-up between young talent. 

Other Western Conferences first round match-ups include the battle between the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz in which Jalen Brunson and Luka Doncic led the Mavericks to a series victory within six games. Then MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets were bested by the Golden State Warriors in six games as well. 

Following their first round victory, the Mavericks duked it out with the Suns. Veteran Chris Paul and elite scorer Devin Booker led the Suns to a commanding 2-0 lead before Doncic rallied the Mavericks, defeating the Suns in Phoenix in game seven in blowout fashion. Despite Paul’s excellent Hall of Fame career, his resume still lacks a championship.

Then, the Warriors continued their dominance in the playoffs, sending the 2-seed Grizzlies home in six games. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies lacked star player and NBA Most Improved Player of the Year Ja Morant following a crucial injury sustained in game three of the series.

In the East, reigning champions, the Milwaukee Bucks moved on to the second round after beating the Chicago Bulls in a five game series. The Bucks then turned their attention to the Celtics. Lasting seven games, Giannis Antetokounmpo made a historical effort but fell short, as the young core of the Celtics were victorious against the athletically dominant champions.

The 2-seed Celtics will now face-off against the 1-seed Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The young core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart will battle against the established playoff force of Butler, Kyle Lowry, and Bam Adebayo. The Western Conference Finals will be played between the Doncic and Brunson partnership of the 4-seed Mavericks and the 3-seed Warriors’ led by the dominant playoff force of the ‘splash brothers’. The winner of each best-of-seven series will compete for the chance to be crowned as the 2022 NBA champions.