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The Broadside

The Student News Site of Central Oregon Community College

The Broadside

The Student News Site of Central Oregon Community College

The Broadside

The 2023 NBA playoffs has been historic, but familiar faces knock on the championship’s door

Despite not being up to his standards in Game 6, Tatum showed out in a win or go home Game 7 at TD Garden, where he torched the Philadelphia defense for a Game 7 record 51 points in a 112-88 Boston victory. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum trotted up the court with a surprised look on his face after drilling yet another step back 3-pointer in the third quarter of Boston’s Game 7 matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers. It extended the Celtics’ lead to 65-55, a part of a 28-3 Celtics’ run that ended in a 112-88 Boston victory which advanced them to the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in the last four seasons. 

Tatum finished the game with 51 points, breaking a record set just two weeks prior for most points in a Game 7 matchup by Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry. Their performances make them the only two players in NBA history who have scored 50 points in a Game 7 after 75 years without a single performance of that caliber. This is only part of the craziness that has defined the 2023 NBA postseason. 

After the first round, there was one of every seed remaining in the semifinals (a 1-seed, 2-seed, 3-seed, etc.). That marked the first time in NBA history that all eight seeds had advanced past the first round, courtesy of major first round upsets by the 7-seed Los Angeles Lakers and the 8-seed Miami Heat. Miami is the first 8-seed to make the conference finals since the New York Knicks went on a miracle march to the NBA Finals in 1999, and the Lakers are the first 7-seed to make the conference finals since the Seattle Supersonics did it in 1987. 

In 2020, the NBA was forced to discontinue the season due to COVID-19.  They finished the end of the regular season and playoffs in the “bubble,” which were neutral courts stationed in Orlando at the Walt Disney Resort. Due to the unusual circumstances of the playoffs, many considered the then champion Los Angeles Lakers to be a fluke, with many putting an asterisk next to their dominant title run where they went 16-5 on their way to their franchise’s 17th championship. Three years later, the same four teams that made the conference finals in 2020 are the last four standing in 2023. 

The Lakers had a rocky start to the season, getting out to a 2-10 start that gave them just a 0.3% chance to make the playoffs according to their analytical department. Injuries to superstar forwards LeBron James and Anthony Davis had held the team back in 2021 and 2022, and they still struggled to maintain their health this season. Davis missed five weeks after going on a dominant stretch in November, and James missed a month after the all-star break because of a foot injury. 

Anthony Davis (3) and LeBron James (6) both missed over 25 games this season, but both were able to carry the load individually while the other missed time to propel the Lakers into the playoffs, joining five other teams in NBA history to finish with a winning record after starting 2-10 or worse. (Adam Pantozzi/NBAE/Getty Images)

Despite all those setbacks, Lakers GM Rob Pelinka was able to scrap a team together at the trade deadline, where Los Angeles added the depth necessary for them to make a playoff run. L.A. went from the 13-seed in the conference to 7-seed, winning their play-in game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in an overtime thriller. They then upset the second seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, following up their dominant performance by knocking out the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the semifinals. The Lakers are now the Vegas betting favorites to win the conference for the first time all season, and the second team to start 2-10 or worse and win multiple playoff series in NBA history. 

Ahead of the Lakers is the Denver Nuggets, who are back in the conference finals for the first time since the NBA bubble. The Nuggets have made two conference finals this century, with both of them being losses to the Lakers. Denver is led by the same duo that made them the first team ever to make two 3-1 series comebacks in a single playoff run. Guard Jamal Murray has bounced back from injury struggles that halted the team’s success in 2021 and 2022, and the front office has put the right pieces around two-time NBA MVP center Nikola Jokic to make them a serious title contender. Jokic dominated the last round, putting up averages of 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.3 assists in the Nuggets’ 4-2 series victory over the Phoenix Suns. He was also dominant in the first round against Minnesota; averaging 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9 assists in a 4-1 series victory. 

In the east, the story isn’t much different than the west. Like the Lakers, Miami has gone on a miracle run of their own thanks to superstar forward Jimmy Butler, who went nuclear in Miami’s first round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, who had finished with the best record in the league during the regular season. With Miami up 2-1 in the series, Jimmy would drop 56 points in Game 4 and 42 points in Game 5 to close Milwaukee out. He finished the first round with a ridiculous average of 37.6 points per game, on a blistering 59.7% field goal percentage. While Jimmy wasn’t as electric in the second round due to an ankle injury suffered late in Game 1 against the New York Knicks, Miami would still come out on top in six games to make their third conference finals in four years. 

Miami will meet Boston for the third time in four years, with both of the previous contests in this long tenured rivalry making for a fantastic viewing experience. In the bubble, Miami won the series 4-2. Boston got their revenge last season with a 4-3 series win that sent the Celtics to the Finals for the first time in 12 years. This year’s matchup will provide an opportunity to settle the score for both sides, but Miami will have to overcome enormous odds with ESPN analytics, giving Boston a 97 percent chance to win the series. 

If the Lakers and the Heat can continue their miracle runs, they will give the fans a rematch of the 2020 bubble championship. If the Lakers face the Celtics, the matchup would decide which franchise has the most championships in NBA history, with both teams sitting at 17 all-time title wins. If the Nuggets advance, it will give Jokic an opportunity to add a Finals win to his already impressive trophy case at 28 years old. If either Miami or Los Angeles won it all, they would become the lowest seed to ever win the championship. 

It’s been three years since the bubble, yet here the fans are awaiting the same matchups as before. Despite all the roster turnover in the last three years, the stars of the four teams remain the same. Some may call it fate, others may call it scripted, some may even still believe it’s a fluke. Regardless, the 2023 NBA playoffs have been exhilarating and unique. However, through all the chaos this year proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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