The NBA Conference Finals kicked off with the Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat battling for an NBA championship.
The Los Angeles Lakers were the first ones to go out after getting swept by the Denver Nuggets 0-4 in their series. The Lakers attempted to rally back, but fell short 113-111. Out of 150 NBA teams who were 0-3 in playoff series, none of them successfully came back to win it all.
Either way, this final four was not expected, with a No. 7 seed (Lakers), who is now out, and No. 8 seed (Heat) who’s still in it, which has never been done before.
Quite a few teams ended their playoff runs a bit too early, which poses the question: What went wrong?
The Nets entered the playoffs as a No. 6 seed, but this is mainly due to having stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the roster for most of the season.
Around the February trade deadline, the team blew it up, trading both of their disgruntled stars. The biggest piece they received back was Mikal Bridges, who emerged as a star and will likely be an All-Star next season.
However, the team went 12-15 with Bridges. Having this current Nets squad for the whole season would not have resulted in a playoff berth.
This Nets team is too inexperienced and did not have the starpower or depth to make any noise in the playoffs. As a result, they were swept 4-0 by the Philadelphia 76ers.
After a playoff berth last season, the Timberwolves were desperate to start contending.
This led to them trading a huge package for former All-Star Rudy Gobert. They also doubled down at the trade deadline, bringing in Mike Conley. This depleted the youth on the roster and made it clear that Minnesota was making a push towards contention.
It did not work out for the Timberwolves, who finished with a worse record this year compared to last. They clinched a playoff berth by winning their second play-in game.
Unfortunately for them, they were matched up against the No. 1 seed Denver Nuggets and lost the series 4-1.
With a mix of aging veterans and stars in Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, it looks like the Timberwolves pushed all their chips in too early.
The Cleveland Cavaliers made a big splash by trading for All-Star Donovan Mitchell, pairing him with two All-Stars in Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen.
This team is extremely young and most of the team lacks postseason experience. This is likely a reason why they were eliminated so early and in a lopsided series.
The Cavaliers were the No. 4 seed and held homecourt advantage against the No. 5 seed Knicks. However, they were upset in a 4-1 series loss.
The Cavaliers are still incredibly young and have multiple years of contention with this young core. They will be back.
Los Angeles Clippers
Another year, another Clippers postseason derailed by injuries.
The Clippers have no significant weakness on their roster, with excellent star power, playmaking, defense, shooting and depth. However, their stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are not able to stay healthy.
The last two Clippers’ seasons ended largely in part due to injuries to one of their stars. This season, George was unable to play in a playoff game due to injury.
After a tied 1-1 series with the Phoenix Suns, Leonard went down with an injury, effectively ending the Clippers championship hopes. New addition and former MVP Russell Westbrook tried to will the Clippers to victory, but they were outmatched without their two stars.
The team lost the series 4-1, the product of another injury riddled season for the Clippers.
The Bucks going out the way that they did was one of the biggest surprises of the postseason.
They were the first seed, with many picking them to win it all after doing so in 2021. However, their superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo went down with an injury during Game 1. He also missed games 2 and 3.
Despite this, the Bucks were able to win a game without him, making it a 2-1 series in favor of No. 8 seed Miami Heat when he returned for game 5.
Surprisingly, the Bucks proceeded to drop both the next two games, becoming the first 1st seed in 12 years to lose to a No. 8 seed.
It isn’t fair to blame this loss solely on the injury to Antetokounmpo. With him back, they suffered a collapse in games 5 and 6, having a double-digit lead both times.
After losing the series 4-1, the Bucks fired their coach Mike Budenholzer and are looking to make improvements to return to the NBA finals.
The Atlanta Hawks made a deep playoff run in 2021, but have not been able to see the same success since.
They made a big move to acquire All-Star Dejounte Murray to add defense, scoring and playmaking to the roster. However, they finished with a worse record this season compared to the previous.
Led by star Trae Young, the Hawks finished the season as the No. 7 seed and were matched up against the Boston Celtics.
The Hawks were able to keep the series competitive, winning two games. However, they suffered a 4-2 series loss.
This Hawks team is still relatively young, but it does not look like this core can develop into a contending team. The Hawks need to make some roster changes to avoid being a perennial early playoff exit.
The Grizzlies finished as the No. 2 seed for the second consecutive year. However, their season ended earlier than many would have thought.
Led by All-Stars Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., they were favored against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Grizzlies finished the first two games with a 1-1 tied series, winning the second game despite an injury to Morant.
They soon found themselves in a 3-1 hole that they could not climb out of, losing the series 4-2.
Grizzlies fans should not panic, as this team is still extremely young, with Morant and Jackson Jr. both being 23 years old. They also have Desmond Bane, who seems due for an All-Star nod.
This team will continue to develop their talent, and should be a force for years to come.
The Kings made the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Regardless of the outcome, this is a win for Kings fans. Unfortunately for them, they were matched up against the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, and despite being a No. 3 seed, they had their work cut out for them.
Led by All-Stars De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, the Kings fought hard to advance over the Warriors.
The Kings went up 2-0, but dropped the next three games. They were able to force a game 7, which they lost. They fell 4-3 to the Warriors.
The Kings are a young team and many players on the roster just experienced the playoffs for their first time. The Kings will look to build off of this season and hope to pose a threat next year.
New York Knicks
The Knicks surpassed expectations this season. Making the playoffs was not a sure thing for this squad, but they were able to make the second round for the first time since 2013.
After defeating the Cavaliers with ease, they were matched against the No. 8-seeded Heat.
The only Knick to consistently show up in this series was recent free agency addition Jalen Brunson. Brunson attempted to will the Knicks to victory, but the supporting cast around him, including All-Star Julius Randle, crumbled.
The Knicks became the second victim of the Heat’s surprise run, losing the series 4-2.
The Knicks have found a gem in Brunson, but they need to acquire more talent that can step up when it matters most. Randle does not seem to be that type of player. The Knicks should look to add another proven star if they want to raise their ceiling.
The Suns crashed and burned in the second round, despite going all-in on superstar Kevin Durant before the trade deadline. Durant was paired with fellow superstar Devin Booker. They were also surrounded with star caliber players in Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton, with the former being a perennial All-Star.
They had the most talented team on paper, but were not able to execute against the Denver Nuggets. Paul and Ayton were neutralized for most of the series, having subpar games before both going down to injury.
The Booker and Durant show was not enough to topple the Nuggets, despite climbing out of a 2-0 hole to tie the series. The Suns lost the series 4-2.
The Suns are in a tricky situation with Paul and Durant being 38 and 34 respectively, and Booker being 26. They will attempt to run it back next season, hoping to get a different result.
If they are not able to win, the future will start looking bleak in Phoenix due to the pieces sent out in the Durant trade.
Golden State Warriors
The defending champions’ hopes of a repeat were squashed by the Los Angeles Lakers. Stephen Curry showed out every night, but his supporting cast failed to produce consistently.
The Warriors had almost an identical roster compared to their championship season, but their championship was won by a combination of Curry leading the team and the role players showing up.
This series, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins were all streaky, each having a few poor games. Curry was unable to lead the Warriors to victory, but the series was close.
The Warriors lost 4-2 to the Lakers. With their core of Curry, Thompson and Green entering the later stages of their careers, this might be the beginning of the end of the Warriors’ dynasty.
The 76ers blew another chance at a deep playoff run this year. With league MVP Joel Embiid, it looked as though the 76ers were poised to finally make the Eastern Conference Finals, a feat that Embiid has not yet achieved.
The 76ers also boasted former MVP James Harden and young star Tyrese Maxey. With Embiid out for game 1, the 76ers still managed to scrape a win.
Embiid played the rest of the series, jumping out to a 3-2 lead over the Boston Celtics. However, they suffered a collapse in game 6, and ended up losing the series.
The 76ers lost the series 4-3. With Embiid and Harden being 29 and 33 respectively, the 76ers timeline to win a championship is rapidly shrinking. Harden is a Unrestricted Free Agent this offseason, and he is not guaranteed to return to the team.
Losing Harden would be catastrophic. The 76ers need to re-sign Harden and retool the roster around the core three of Embiid, Harden and Maxey if they want to finally break through and make a deep run.