The Brooklyn Nets are shut out of the NBA playoffs after being swept by the Boston Celtics while the Golden State Warriors suddenly emerge as the new championship favorites.
While the majority of the playoffs are still ongoing and have yet to be decided, there are already a number of interesting topics to discuss.
From Golden State’s “three-headed monster” to major injury concerns, here are the main talking points in the action so far.
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GOLDEN STATE’S ‘THREE-HEADED MONSTER’ PUTS NBA ON NOTICE
It took just 11 minutes in Games 1 and 2 for the Golden State Warriors to issue a warning to the rest of the NBA. Whatever you want to call them – The New Death Lineup, Fast Five, Dash and Splash, Tidal Wave – Golden State’s new line of small balls are deadly.
You do not believe me ? Ask Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone after that roster beat his team 47-18 in just 11 minutes in the first two games of the playoff series.
Malone had a very different name for the Warriors juggernaut, drawing inspiration from Greek mythology to liken it to a “three-headed monster”.
“It’s like Cerberus,” Malone added, referring to the multi-headed dog that guarded the gates of the Underworld.
“The efficiency with which they do this is probably scarier than anything else.”
The numbers paint a pretty complete picture, not just how scary this Golden State lineup is, but how doomed Denver was from the start, even with the reigning MVP on its roster.
At the rate they’re going, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole could become the first trio of guards in the past 50 years to average more than 20 points each, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Poole’s rapid rise in particular took notice in the NBA considering he averaged just 10.4 points per game in the Warriors’ first two seasons off the bench.
Pushed into the starting unit as Curry was relieved of injury, Poole exploded to average 28.7 points in the first three games of the series.
Suddenly the Nuggets couldn’t just focus on defending Thompson or Curry anymore, they had to face Poole as well.
Even Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green made a couple of crucial 3-pointers in the series win.
“You’ve got three guys capable of putting up 30, 40 points,” Nuggets coach Malone said.
“Jordan Poole had 30 points in Game 1, he had 29 tonight. Steph Curry is the sixth-biggest man in the Playoffs. They get a guy off the bench like that, 34 points, five threes… and then [there is] Clay Thompson.
Green described it as “passers heaven” and “heaven”, adding that the only “weak shooter” in the small lineup is Wiggins and yet he continues to empty his own buckets.
“They’re out there laughing, dancing,” Nuggets guard Monte Morris said earlier on the show.
“Damn that’s embarrassing.”
Granted, the Nuggets were always going to be one of the best matchups for the Warriors, but have no doubt, the rest of the league is warned. The Warriors are there and are now the new favorites to win the title.
NO NETS, NO LAKERS… IS THE NBA SUPERTEAM DEAD?
It wasn’t the NBA playoff series we were expecting. The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t even make it to the play-in tournament and the Brooklyn Nets went out in the first round.
It’s the first time in 17 years that LeBron James or Kevin Durant haven’t made the second round of the playoffs.
Seventy-two percent of NBA general managers had tipped the Nets to win the Finals in the 2021-22 NBA survey, while the Lakers were backed by 17% of respondents.
And it’s easy to see why both have been heavily backed to be title contenders. The Lakers and Nets were filled with top-notch talent. The others just couldn’t compete.
The concept of Superteams is nothing new in the NBA, with the past decade alone being dominated by the LeBron James-led Miami Heat and the 2016-19 Warriors. But this season risks being a turning point, a warning that the biggest names won’t always guarantee success.
Whether it’s Kevin Durant’s injury, the vaccine stalemate with Kyrie Irving or growing discontent with James Harden, the Nets have struggled to bring their trio of superstars together this season.
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In fact, the three have only played 16 games together for 364 minutes. And then, when Harden was traded for Ben Simmons, all talking heads talked about how this could be the decision to catapult the Nets straight into title contention.
Forget all the other drama or the fact that Simmons hadn’t been on the pitch for almost 10 months, the Aussie was a big name and with undeniable talent on both sides.
Simmons did not end up returning to the field. And it was no better in Los Angeles, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis struggling with injuries while Russell Westbrook’s form was problematic from the start.
A quick look at the teams remaining in the playoff race proves that superstar power isn’t always the obvious model for a championship. Just look at the Memphis Grizzlies, who managed to not only stay afloat, but also hold a 20-5 record without their biggest name – Ja Morant.
Or the Eastern Conference top seed, the Miami Heat. Of course, they have Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo among others. But none is a superstar like Durant or James.
“They don’t have a mega superstar in the way we talk about Giannis and the Bucks or even how Tatum has emerged this season with the Celtics,” WNBA player Chiney Ogwumike said. ESPN approaching the playoffs.
“I think the lack of respect really comes from [how] we are talking about one or two players for many of the top five in the East whereas with this team, their strength is to do it in committee.
The Heat built that committee with draft picks and a host of solid role players, which only went to another level with the additions of Butler and Lowry.
The NBA Superteam may not be dead, but the idea that it is better path to a title is. It can speed up success, but there’s only so much you can control in the field.
FAVORITES ROCKED BY INJURIES… SO WHO’S WORST?
It looked like the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns were destined to meet again in the Finals. Phoenix was easily the league’s best team in the regular season while Milwaukee finished third in the East and would only improve in the playoffs.
Instead, both title favorites suffered big injury setbacks, which begs the question – who is in the best position now?
Devin Booker (Suns) has strained his right hamstring and could miss two to three weeks while Khris Middleton (Bucks) faces similar time on the sidelines with a sprained left MCL.
Booker’s injury has an immediate effect on Chris Paul, who, at 36, would have been given maximum rest time before the second round.
Without Booker, the Suns will be pushed to a minimum in Game 6 and it takes its toll on Paul, who had just four points in a 118-103 loss in Game 4.
To go all the way to the title, Phoenix needs to get the most out of Paul, but using him early to just get past the first round is a major concern.
Without Booker, the Suns had to rely on Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson to step in.
Luckily for Milwaukee, they don’t have the same problem as Giannis Antetokounmpo is only 27 and has already proven himself capable of handling the heavy load.
They also had a much easier game in the first round and dismantled the Chicago Bulls to get close to advancing to the second round. What makes Middleton’s potential semi-final absence really concerning is who the Bucks would be up against – the Boston Celtics.
Keeping Antetokounmpo is obviously very different from keeping Kevin Durant, but you still can’t ignore how well Boston has done to silence him and Kyrie Irving.
Milwaukee already had question marks over their second unit heading into the playoffs and while Grayson Allen has stepped up, doing so against Boston is a whole other challenge.
BOLD TATUM CALL FROM BOSTON GREAT
Washington Wizards superstar Bradley Beal thinks Jayson Tatum can be something special. How special? The kind of “next face in the league” special.
Last month, while speaking on Draymond Green’s podcast, Beal revealed a conversation he had with the 24-year-old when he was younger, telling him: “You’re going to be a million times better than me”. “To see it happen so fast like that is really crazy,” Beal added.
And in the first set of the playoffs alone, Tatum took a big step towards becoming that “next face of the league.”
Celtics great Paul Pierce went so far as to write on Twitter that he thinks Tatum “maybe [sic] surpassing Kevin Durant before our eyes in the NBA hierarchy”.
It’s a bold call, but if you were leaving this streak alone, there’s no doubt that Tatum has taken it to the next level and overtaken Durant as the best player on the court.
After all, while Tatum may be best known in the league as a lethal scorer, he really made a difference defensively, helping stop Durant and the Nets as a whole.
“He’s been that all year for us,” Boston coach Ime Udoka said of Tatum.
“We talked about our team as a collective unit being the number one defensive team and that’s asking everyone to buy. He doesn’t always get the credit for it because of his scoring prowess. “
Tatum averaged 29.5 points and 7.3 assists per game over the series while shooting 41.9 percent from 3-point range. His 18 points in the series were also the most by a Celtics player in a four-game sweep.
Add to his career-high six interceptions on Durant in Game 3 and it becomes clearer that the 24-year-old is truly ready to take over, even faster than Beal could have imagined.