It’s getting pretty freaking unfunny how quickly the playoffs can flip narratives. The NBA’s Eastern Conference is supposed to be the superior of the two, with the three best records belonging to Milwaukee, Boston, and Philadelphia, and four of the top six marks overall. The first round was going to reinforce that, yet the one and four seeds lost in five games, the Celtics needed six tries to finally put down Trae Young, and Joel Embiid is reminding us of why we have to be talked into the 76ers at the beginning of each year.
The only team in the East that’s its best postseason self year-in and year-out is Miami, and the Heat lost a play-in game in a non-competitive fashion before turning into a pack of pitbulls but not until losing their second-best scoring option. The case for which conference is walking away with the title heavily includes the Heat, and that should tell you all you need to know about which way I’m leaning.
Out West, at least the results are following a form of recognizable logic: One seed wins in five, as does the team featuring Kevin Durant, with Steph Curry- and LeBron James-led teams a win away from the second round. Boston is still the favorite to take home the title, but four of the top six franchises on that list — Phoenix, Denver, Golden State, and Los Angeles — hail from the West.
The Warriors and Lakers are giving me nightmares of another title run, Durant and Devin Booker are doing their best Benicio Del Toro Sicarios impressions, and Nikola Jokić shrugged off the biggest frontline he’s going to face like they were kindergartners. I’m assuming there are odds for which conference is going to win the title, and that the payout for the West isn’t that great.
Something amiss about the Celtics
That something is Jayson Tatum. I keep waiting for the MVP candidate from the first half of the season to reappear, and for whatever reason, we’re getting the version of Tatum that’s sort of settling for threes while only hitting 33 percent of them, going 21-of-60 from deep against Atlanta. The Hawks were able to throw a bunch of bodies at him, and take the ball out of his hands, so the increased attention is a contributing factor, as well.
It’s nice that Jaylen Brown is playing so well, but this is the postseason. The 1A alpha dogs are supposed to be cooking with napalm a la Booker or Jimmy Butler aka Playoff Jimmy. We’ll likely see a more effective Tatum against the Sixers because perimeter defense is optional in Philly, but both potential ECF foes have wings to throw at Boston.
This is incidentally the case for Boston still being the title favorite because other than the Warriors, the remaining West squads don’t have the greatest personnel to stop the likes of Brown and Tatum. (That’s assuming Sacramento or Memphis are done.) Look at what Kawhi Leonard did in his healthy minutes against Phoenix, or Anthony Edwards’ series facing the Nuggets. It could be a field day for the C’s granted they get there. However, that’s a big leap to make with the question marks cropping up like crazy in the latter half of the first round.
If you listen to Celtics’ fans, they don’t fully trust the point guard spot, or at least the way Joe Mazzulla is managing it late in games. There was a lot of Marcus Smart and Al Horford during the 16-6 run the Celtics used to put away the Hawks in Game 6, and that’s troubling considering how Smart has looked this year, and Horford’s age.
Boston is legitimately lucky this didn’t go to seven, and that they didn’t fully join the other two East teams whose regular-season form completely melted away once the playoffs started. While it may be anybody’s year writ large, I’ll take anybody from the West over the East until further notice.