It is almost time for the NBA Finals! Both Conference Finals are finishing up this week, despite injuries to some major stars on all three teams. Kawhi Leonard, Trae Young, and now Giannis Antetokuonmpo have all felt the effects of the long season. However, their absence does not take away from the history being made by the four teams that are present.
The Phoenix Suns are in their first Conference Finals series since 2010. The Atlanta Hawks are in their first Conference Finals series since 2015. The L.A. Clippers are in their first Conference Finals series ever. Every single team feels the need to win, which is pushing them to put everything they have on the court. This makes these games more explosive, more competitive, and more entertaining for the fans watching around the world.
Luck has nothing to do with it
However, many look past those exciting games and focus exclusively on the injuries suffered along the way. They have led many to claim that these four teams have “lucked” their way into their current opportunity.
But isn’t every NBA Championship somewhat based on luck along the way?
Think about it…
-The 2020 Lakers were injured before Covid-19 paused the season. This “lucky” break gave them four months to rehab and get in the gym before competing against younger, healthier rosters
-The 2019 Raptors were “lucky” to be able to play a Golden State team without Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant.
-The Warriors were “lucky” they landed Durant. “lucky” Kawhi Leonard was injured in the conference finals. “lucky” Lebron James and the Cavs had fought through 18 games already in the post-season.
You could go on and on with every single Finals champion for the past 30-40 years if you wanted to. This season is no different.
Stan Van Gundy put it best on Twitter when responding to a user asking for an asterisk on this season.
Responding to the Arguments
If you listen to Twitter, the Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks only made it this far because of “luck”. Both get slandered daily because they were not predicted to make it this far. This is weird because the Suns had the second-best record in the entire NBA going into the post-season.
Sure, they had a hurdle to start their playoff journey in the Lakers, but how does that make them “lucky”? They also lost Chris Paul in that series to a shoulder injury. Is that “Lucky”?
“If Anthony Davis was healthy the Suns would’ve never made it out of L.A.”
Firstly, Davis has not been ‘healthy’ since his college days in Kentucky. Davis has racked up over 50 separate injuries since entering the league in 2012. Davis’ injury history was no secret or mystery when the Laker’s organization signed him.
However, even when Davis was healthy, the Suns starting five were still outscoring the Lakers’ starting five.
The Laker’s problems went much deeper than Anthony Davis’ injury. Their weak bench forced Lebron James to exhaust himself with 40-45 minute games. No other Laker could score consistently, which forced a bigger burden on Davis and James.
The Suns were the better team, not the “luckier” team.
“Denver didn’t have Jamal Murray!”
Firstly, this comment discredits the fact that the Nuggets had just beaten Damian Lillard and the Trailblazers. Lillard hit 50+ points one night and had three 30+ games on top of it, while the remaining starting five were averaging 12.3 points per night. If Jamal Murray’s injury was that devastating, then they would not have made it past the first round.
As a matter of fact, if Jamal Murray’s injury is so impactful, why are the Nugget 20-8 without him? That 20 includes wins over the Clippers, the Heat, the Grizzlies, and the Trailblazers.
However, they did make it out of the first round, thanks to Nikola Jokic, who was healthy. In the series with the Suns, Jokic was hitting 33 points a game offensively and dominating the paint defensively. Despite that effort, they could not win one game in the series and got swept.
“Kawhi Leonard is injured, these Clippers aren’t the same without him!”
The Clippers were able to beat #1 seed Utah without Kawhi Leonard. Twice actually. Despite Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell being healthy.
Paul George is playing the best basketball of his career. Terance Mann and Patrick Beverly are playing the best defense that any team has seen in these playoffs. Reggie Jackson has shown up in big ways.
“Embiid was playing with a tear in his meniscus! The Hawks would never beat a healthy 76ers!”
The Atlanta Hawks had just as difficult an opening to the playoffs as Phoenix did. First, they had to go to New York City and face the Knicks. New York had been waiting a decade for a playoff game and showed up big for their team. Despite that, the Hawks put the Knicks away in five behind a terrific series from Trae Young.
Then in the second round, they would meet the number one seed Philadelphia 76ers.
Despite being a significant underdog in the series, the Hawks fought harder and won the series in game seven.
Many would claim the Hawks were only able to beat the 76ers because of Joel Embiid’s lingering knee injury. This, of course, is untrue. The bigger concern for Philadelphia in this series was instead coach Doc Rivers and his point guard, Ben Simmons.
Doc Rivers could not put his starting PG in the game during the closing minutes of games. Why? Because he can not hit a free throw.
This is not ‘luck’, it was the 76ers refusing to address a problem for years and finally paying for it. It was Doc Rivers having to eat “the process”
“Well the Brooklyn Nets should be in the Conference Finals! Not Milwaukee, Atlanta would never beat the Nets!”
The Nets put all their eggs in three baskets: James Harden’s, Kevin Durant’s, and Kyrie Irving’s. That was their biggest problem. Two of those players (Durant & Irving) missed a combined total of 171 games since they arrived in Brooklyn last year. Harden has been out of shape all season and has been known to shrink in the playoffs. Both of these facts were something that the Nets had surely known before trading for him midway through the season.
So what exactly were they expecting?
“Antetokounmpo is hurt! The Eastern Conference Finals is no longer valid!”
In the same series, the Hawks have lost their main star, Trae Young, to an injury as well. Does that not even the field? Are both teams now without their main weapon?
The Bucks should be far better than a team without their star because they have been to the playoffs before. However, that does not discredit the work they have put in to get to this point. It especially does not discredit them if they make it to the next level.
So why would you diminish the Hawks for doing the same exact thing.
No matter who wins these Conference Finals, or the NBA Finals, the last thing that should be said about them is that they reached these games ‘easily’ or that their wins should have asterisks next to them because they worked just as hard as any teams who have had to make it to these games.