Tipping off the NBA playoffs

Breaking down which NBA teams could go the distance

It’s that time of the year, folks. The NBA playoffs have begun, and odds are you are rooting for one of your hometown teams. I myself must admit that I am pulling for my Boston Celtics, but for the purposes of this article, let’s take a closer look at the overall landscape of this year’s playoffs.

Starting in the Western Conference, the two favorites are No. 3 Golden State Warriors and No. 1 Phoenix Suns. While Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies have been stellar all season to earn themselves the No. 2 seed, they have gotten off to a rocky start against No. 7 Minnesota.

While it is never easy to question a talent like Ja Morant, even if he elevates his team past Minnesota, he will likely go head to head with eight-time All-Star Stephen Curry. With it being Curry’s 13th year in the NBA, the 34-year-old veteran has been outstanding in the first round, averaging 27.7 PPG on 48.2 FG%. With the way the Warriors are playing right now, I would expect them to make the Western Conference Finals over Memphis or Minnesota.

The question now is: who will the Warriors face in the Western Conference Finals? Of the teams remaining, one stands out from the rest: the Phoenix Suns. Led by 10-time All-Star Chris Paul and three-time All-Star Devin Booker, the Suns are looking for vengeance after losing in last year’s NBA Finals.

In addition to this star duo, the success of the Suns is largely reliant on the performance of their 2018 first overall pick and star center, Deandre Ayton. He is now playing in the final year of his rookie contract and will become a restricted free agent by the end of the 2021-22 season. With his back against the wall, Ayton will prove his worth by taking care of business in the paint this postseason; Expect Ayton to help the Suns through to the Western Conference Finals.

Let’s move over to the Eastern Conference bracket. With Boston sweeping the Brooklyn Nets (4-0), the Celtics have clinched their spot in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Bucks and Heat have advanced in five games and the 76ers look likely to join them, making the conference semifinals Miami vs. Philadelphia and Milwaukee vs. Boston.

In the Milwaukee vs. Boston matchup, it is difficult to predict who will come out on top. While Giannis Antetokounmpo is unstoppable when he is playing at his best, Boston has proved in the Brooklyn series that they know how to defend super-stars on the playoff stage.

Led by Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart, the Celtics kept Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant in check on several occasions, most notably in Game 3 when the star duo combined for a shocking total of 32 points. Not to mention, Celtics star Jayson Tatum is playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 29.5 PPG in the Brooklyn series. Between their dynamic offensive threat combined with their lockdown defense, expect the Celtics to make it to the Eastern Conference finals over Milwaukee.

The Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers matchup is also a curveball. With Joel Embiid now playing through a torn ligament in his thumb for the remainder of this postseason, one can only assume that his abilities may be limited from here on out. Additionally, the sixers’ second-best player, James Harden, has not been playing well offensively in their current series against Toronto, averaging just 18.4 points across 5 games.

With the way the tides are turning in Philadelphia, even if they move past Toronto, it is unlikely they will have the firepower to beat the Miami Heat in a seven-game series.

Therefore, we are left with four teams battling it out in each of the conference finals. In the West, my prediction is that the Warriors will win the series. While it will be a dogfight between star veterans Steph Curry and Chris Paul, a key factor is the recent hamstring injury of Devin Booker. Hamstring injuries are notorious for lingering after the initial strain, and if Booker is not at his full strength as the Suns progress in this postseason, I favor a healthy Warriors’ side.

As for the Eastern Conference Finals, I predict that the Boston Celtics will take care of the Miami Heat. After losing to Miami in the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics will look to prove a very simple point: they are more experienced and ready to win than ever before. Beating Miami will be a testament to how far this Boston team has come, and if they perform as they did against Brooklyn, expect the Celtics to head into the NBA Finals in less than six games against the Heat.

With my prediction of a Golden State Warriors vs. Boston Celtics NBA Final, the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy could fall to either of these two sides. While I believe that this series will play the full seven games, I do have the Boston Celtics winning this year’s NBA Finals. Boston has not hung a championship banner since 2008, and if they have proven anything since the All-Star break, it’s that they can’t be beaten if they are on top of their game.

If Boston continues to maintain their current level of offense and defense, Celtics fans will be celebrating on Boylston Street come June. #BleedGreen