The playoffs create legends. Michael Jordan’s flu game, Magic Johnson playing center to win the NBA finals, and Allen Iverson’s stepover on Tyron Lue. The playoffs can also ruin players. Paul George becoming “Pandemic P”, the Houston Rockets go 0/27 from 3 in a game seven, and Nick Anderson missing four game sealing free throws to choke away game one of the 1995 finals. As the 2021 playoffs continue past the first round, it is important to see how some of the games best players responded to the call.
(1) Jazz vs (8) Grizzlies: In a pretty abrupt series, the Grizzlies took game one from a Jazz team with no Donovan Mitchell, in a game where Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant combined for 57 points. Rightfully so, fans did not overreact to game one, sensing the Jazz were going to keep a clean slate through the rest of the series, which they did. The Jazz won the next four games, despite 47 in games two from Ja Morant, but the Jazz continue to look for their first championship ever.
(4) Clippers vs (5) Mavericks: Easily the best series of the first round and the only one to go to game seven. The Mavs went out to a 2-0 lead thanks to Luka Doncic, and only Luka Doncic, who single handedly carried a team that lacked pazzazz. Down 2-0, Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers clawed back away from home to tie the series at two apiece. After a historic 42-14-8 performance from Doncic in game 5, the Clippers won the next two games to proceed to the next round and face the Jazz. Even though Luka was incredible, his teammates, mainly Kristaps Porzingis, blew this series and the Mavericks’ front office will have to make decisions this offseason.
(3) Nuggets vs (6) Trail Blazers: The MVP favorite Nikola Jokic went into this series knowing that he needed to be even better than he was during the regular season. Especially since Damian Lillard decided to have some of his best career games, scoring 34 points and 13 assists in game one, and 55 in a game five loss, which left the NBA world stunned. But Jokic answered the call, becoming the clear favorite for MVP, leading the Nuggets to win the series in six games.
(2) Suns vs (7) Lakers: For the first time in his 18 year career, LeBron James was eliminated in the first round. After making it out of the play-in game, the Lakers looked to be in prime position when the Suns’ star guard Chris Paul went down with an injury, limiting his minutes. However, superstar power forward Anthony Davis also came down with a groin injury in game 5, forcing Lebron to carry the load alone. Down 3-2 in the series, the Lakers needed a win at the Staples Center to live to fight another day. Unfortunately, Devin Booker decided to “Be Legendary”, scoring 47 points on almost 70% shooting, sending the Lakers packing. The Suns face the Nuggets in the second round, in a battle between two “championshipless” teams.
(1) 76ers vs (8) Wizards: Honestly, this series was a snoozefest. Only one close game, in which the 76ers lost their superstar Joel Embiid and were forced to rely on the horrific free throw shooting of Ben Simmons. However, the Sixers won in five games, but concerns over Simmons’ free throws are growing after the Wizards purposely fouled him, knowing he would miss at least one. But the 76ers don’t have much more than that to worry about for the future, as they seem to be one of the favorites to make the finals.
(4) Knicks vs (5) Hawks: As weird as it is, this was the only upset of the whole first round, and it wasn’t really close. The Knicks got their first playoff berth in eight years, and had a date set with Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks. After a last-second game-winner in game one for the Hawks, the Knicks won an electric game two, and never really got going for the remainder of the series. Young had a fantastic series, leading the Hawks in scoring every game, and Nate McMillain coached brilliantly to limit the Knicks’ three-point heavy attack plan. The Hawks will face a much more difficult series with the 76ers, but those five games proved that they could be a real threat.
(3) Bucks vs (6) Heat: The Heat came into the playoffs with intentions of repeating last year. They made it to the finals, beating Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks during their Cinderella story. Even though they were a six seed, many people tipped the Heat to win this series, and Jimmy Butler says he was “Stupidly locked in”. However, the Bucks came out hot, unable to miss from three after game one, completing the only sweep in the first round. Giannis and new point guard Jrue Holiday were phenomenal throughout the whole series, eliminating any threats on the defensive end, and shooting guard Bryn Forbes played the best basketball of his career off the bench. Butler was awful from the start, shooting less than 30% for the series.
(2) Nets vs (7) Celtics: There may not be a single team that can stop the Nets this postseason. With Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden all together, not a single team can match them. However, Jayson Tatum gave them a run for their money, scoring 50 in a game three thriller. Unfortunately, the Nets could not be stopped aside from that speed bump, they demolished the Celtics in the next two games, winning the series in five. After the series, GM Danny Ainge stepped down from his role with the Celtics, and coach Brad Stevens took over his spot. The Celtics will hope to find a new coach that could bring them over the top next season. The Nets will get to play the Bucks in the conference semifinals.
After the wonky 72 game season, the best of the best will face off in the conference semifinals, hoping to take the next big leap towards winning a championship.