With the Philadelphia 76ers’ sorry loss to the upstart Atlanta Hawks, 103-96, Monday morning, the Final Four cast for this year’s National Basketball Association season has been set with the remaining four teams—the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks in the East, and the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers in the West–making sure a new champion, at least in the last half-a-century, is crowned sometime next month.
Yeah, championship favorites the Los Angeles Lakers went down in the very first round, 4-2, courtesy of the Suns, while the super-team Brooklyn Nets and the Philadelphia 76ers made their respective exits via Game 7 upsets from the Bucks and the Hawks. Much earlier, last year’s East champs the Miami Heat and 2020 West finalist the Denver Nuggets were both unceremoniously shown the door by the Bucks and the Suns, respectively, via humiliating 4-0 sweeps while the top-seeded Utah Jazz was sent fishing by the Clippers in just six games even after dropping the first two matches, even with them finishing the series with superstar Kawhi Leonard in street clothes.
Now, with the title favorites all resting their heels for next season’s opening, almost all nursing major injuries to key personnel, the four teams left standing guarantees a new city will be celebrating in about a month’s time.
You see, in recent years, most of those who remained in the hunt for the 2021 title have a pretty solid regular season, only to falter in the playoffs where it really mattered.
Take the Bucks for example. They ruled the East’s roost in the regular season in the last two years prior to this one but always come up short. In 2018-2019, they met eventual champions the Toronto Raptors bannered by Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry against regular season MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference Finals and fell in just six games. The following year, they again blitzed the opposition in the regular season but faced eventual NBA finalists the Miami Heat in the semis, where they again conked out and were eliminated in just five games.
The only championship for the Bucks came eons ago in the 1970-1971 season, where Alcindor, who we now call Kareem Abdul Jabbar, led them to the franchise’s first and only championship by overpowering the Washington Bullets, 4-1.
The other East finalists, the Atlanta Hawks, most NBA fans of today have a more difficult recollection of their glory years. The last time that the Hawks ever reached the Eastern Conference Finals was in the 2014-2015 season, and even then they were immediately massacred by the returning LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-0.
But with sleek shooter Trae Young orchestrated their every play, there is a lot in store for these young Hawks this season.
Actually, the Hawks, which calls St. Louis their address then, won the NBA title in 1957-1958 after Bob Pettit steered them to a 4-2 Finals return engagement victory over an injured Bill Russell and the depleted Boston Celtics. A year before that, Boston scalped them for the NBA crown via a 4-3 Finals decider.
As for the Western Conference finalists, the Los Angeles Clippers will be playing in strange territory as this is the very first time that they will reach the conference finals since joining the NBA in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves. Actually, they are minutes away from their first crack at the conference crown last year but their engine suddenly died on them, losing the last three games to the Denver Nuggets after leading 3-1.
For the last 51 years or so, the Clippers have always been the Lakers’ illegitimate brother that only deserves to be languishing in the Staples Center basement. This year, they have the opportunity to play first fiddle over their more illustrious brother by winning the West Conference finals and marching to their first NBA Finals behind the resurgent Paul George and the presently-injured Kawhi Leonard.
The other WestCon finalist, the Phoenix Suns, is no stranger to the bright lights, having sashayed in the glory in 1992-1993, when a short but stocky power forward in the name of Charles Barkley brought the Suns to the grandest stage of all, only to be ran roughshod over by the defending champions the Chicago Bulls seeking their first of two Triple Crowns under the leadership of Michael Jordan.
Prior to this season, the most recent best showing of The Valley happened in the last score, when the tandem of two-time MVP Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire led them to the WCF, only to be ambushed by the LA Lakers of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Now, with Chris Paul out indefinitely, the Suns will have to rely on Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton to bring them to the Promised Land.