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3 Big Questions Before We Enter the NBA Playoffs


 Is this the Celtics year?

There is no denying that the Boston Celtics have been the best team in basketball this year and are the favorites to win the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Routinely, the Celtics have been a dominant team in the regular season, placing top 4 in the Eastern Conference every year for the past 7 years outside of the weird year during covid in 2020-21, when they finished seventh. But after failing to win the title again last year, the Celtics’ management decided to make some changes.

This year’s Celtics team is much different than the team that fell short in the Eastern Conference finals last season. In the offseason, the Celtics traded away starters Marcus Smart and Robert Williams to the Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers. In return, they received back “unicorn” forward Kristaps Porzingis from Washington.  Also, they acquired all-star defensive guard Jrue Holiday from Milwaukee for basically a sandwich. This new squad has been dominant this season. Kristapas Porzingis gives their defense more of an identity with a true shot blocker to protect the paint and he can stretch the floor with the long ball. Jrue Holiday is a great defensive guard who can guard anyone 1-4. Their two all-stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are having stellar seasons. Tatum is averaging 27 points, 8 rebounds and nearly 5 assists a game. Brown is averaging 23pts, 6 rebounds and 4 assists a game. 

Despite having great regular seasons, the Celtics have not been able to get to the finish line.  The Celtics have been to 4 Eastern Conference Finals and 1 NBA Finals over the last seven years. Most credible experts have the Celtics as the favorite to win this year’s NBA championship. Disregarding my personal hatred of the Boston Celtics and the agony I felt from the choke job the Sixers put up against them last year, I truly believe they will not be the ones holding up the Larry-O’Brien Trophy. Why? Two words: Nikola Jokic. Nikola Jokic is on his way to a 3rd MVP in the last 4 years and is the best player on a dominant Denver Nuggets team running the Western Conference. In the two games against the Celtics, Jokic has dominated all facets of the game. In Boston, he dropped a ridiculous 34 points , 9 assists, and 12 rebounds. In their next matchup in Denver, he had another monster game with 32 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds. As good as the Celtics are, they really don’t have an answer for Jokic.  If you send a double team he is such a good passer that Aaron Gordon will beat you with thunderous alley oops or kick out threes to Michael Porter Jr. And not to mention Jamal Murray and his stardom in the playoffs. While it seems inevitable that the Celtics will go to the finals, it appears less likely they will take down Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets.         

Could this young Thunder team make some noise in the playoffs?

The Thunder are a young, talented team with what I would consider 1 and a half stars in six-year professional Shai-Gilgeous Alexander (25) and second year rookie Chet Holmgren (21). This season, the Thunder placed first in the Western Conference in front of the Wolves and the Nuggets who are second and third with the same record. (57-25) In comparison to last year’s 10th seeded (40-42) play-in team, they are now the best in the west. Quite an impressive turnaround if you ask me. The Thunder have checked all the boxes this year. Shai is having a 1st team all-NBA caliber season. He is second in the league in scoring (30.1) and is dishing out 6 assists along with grabbing 6 boards every contest. And he is leading the league in steals. (2) Additionally, they have other great role players in Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey. And, most of all, their team has been healthy all year long which is a major improvement from last year. Playoff experience is the only thing this young Thunder team may lack. Outside of Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, veteran Gordon Hayward and bench player Isiah Joe the rest of the team has had little to no playoff experience. 

This Thunder team is as young as most college teams.  One of the more astonishing facts I saw the other day was the comparison of the current Thunders team to the current UNC team. The average age of the Thunders team is 23.9 while the average age of UNC’s team is just lower at 22.2. Having a great regular season team does not always translate to the playoffs. Many great young teams routinely suffered early exits from the playoffs, like the early Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen Bulls teams in the late 80’s, the Shaq and Kobe LA teams in the late 90’s and even the KD, Westbrook and Harden teams in the early 2010’s. Despite having a talented team and a dominant regular season, how will this young Thunder team react when faced with NBA playoff pressure?

  How has the Play-In Tournament affected the NBA Playoffs? 

Playoff basketball is far different than what it was 10-15 years ago and the inclusion of the Play-In tournament in 2021 has given lower seeded teams the opportunity to make deep runs in the playoffs. Last year, the 7th seeded Lakers made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals despite a mediocre regular season. Additionally, the 7th seeded Miami Heat went on an incredible run from their second play-in game to the NBA finals. 

What is the reason for all of these improbable upsets? Playoff performers. In the past, the 1st round was merely a warmup for most 1 and 2 seeded teams. Most 7th and 8th seed teams in the past were mediocre teams who just managed to slip into the playoffs with a borderline .500 record. Last year was different. Despite being underdogs, the Lakers beat the Grizzlies and Warriors in 6 games en route to a Western Conference Finals appearance against Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. In the Eastern Conference, the Heat rolled through an injured Bucks team in 5 games and a well-orchestrated Knicks team in 6 games.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat met the second seeded Celtics. They went on to win in 7 games besides blowing a 3-0 series lead that led to a 7th game in Boston. And who did they run into in the finals, Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. Despite coming up short, these two .500 teams beat contender teams and all-star players in their impressive playoff runs. The main reason they came this far is because of the play of great players they had; Lebron James and Jimmy Butler. Time and time again, hall of famers Lebron James and Jimmy Butler have cruised through the playoffs dominating the competition on the way. And that brings me back to my point, lower-seeded teams are not a guaranteed first round exit anymore. Many teams do not have to have a great regular season to have a chance in the playoffs. As long as you have playoff performers on your team, you will have a chance to hold up the Larry O’Brien Trophy come June.

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About the Contributor
Josh Scarpello
Josh Scarpello, Writer
Hi, I'm Josh Scarpello, and I am a sports and opinion writer for The Abingtonian. In my free time, I play basketball for the school and love to play golf with my Dad. For The Abingtonian, I am excited to give updates on anything Philly sports, happenings in the sports world and some of my bold opinions. I'm excited to write for The Abingtonian in my last two and a half years of high school.

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    LindaApr 17, 2024 at 12:16 pm

    The BEST Article that I have read about the NBA! Thank you Josh!