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Top 10 Takeaways from the 2021 Playoffs

Marshall is a Wisconsin realtor and mentor who coaches inner city youth who may not have the access to play otherwise.

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A Quick Top Ten

As an NBA fanatic, playoff basketball is something I look forward to every year. Eagerly I might add. I must admit I didn’t have that same anticipation for Plathese playoffs. With the condensed schedule following the shortest off-season in North American sports history, I was not expecting much in the form of dramatics this year. Thank God I was wrong. We got to witness some amazing, even historical performances when it mattered the most this year. We also had more than a few let downs due to injuries that will create ‘what-if’ scenarios for the next decade or so. We saw the first ever NBA play-in mini tournament in what felt like a pseudo pre-post season? It was weird, but exciting nonetheless. Now that the 2021–2022 season is nearly upon us. I think I’ve had quite enough time to reflect. I am ready to share my key takeaways from the 2021 playoffs. Hold onto your hats. Some of these may surprise you.

#1) The Miami Heat’s 2020 Finals run was a fluke.

Let’s kick this one off with a bang. The 5th seeded Miami Heat making it all the way to the finals last year was an aberration and a stroke of dumb luck. They defeated an Indiana Pacers team that practically stumbled into the playoffs, a Bucks team that was mentally unavailable, and then beat the Celtics fair and square. Not trying to take anything away from them, but this season shows that what happened in the Bubble was likely circumstantial. The Bucks team they defeated last year had just did the NBA’s first ever protest and set precedent for the rest of the league by refusing to play a playoff game. Those same Bucks swept them this year. All the talk about the Heat surrounded Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and their young core with Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Kendrick Nunn. Most of those players had down years this season, did nothing in the playoffs, and won’t even be returning for next season.

#2) Damian Lillard vs Nikola Jokic was the best matchup of the entire playoffs.

Dame put on a show versus the Denver Nuggets. It was honestly insane! It was reminiscent of watching a veteran painter create a masterpiece. Somehow though, with each stroke of his brush, Nikola Jokic was able to match him. Play for play, point for point, those two absolutely went at it! Dame was fighting through double and triple teams and still hitting ridiculous shots. The Joker was getting covered one on one and ate whenever he wanted to. It was shooting pyrotechnics versus passing wizardry. Every time Dame hit another step back, Joker hit another clumsy looking turnaround. This series had it all; dazzling passes, deep three’s, poster dunks, buzzer beaters, heat checks, role players stepping up, matchup nightmares, mental warfare. It’s a shame it only lasted six games. Ultimately, it came down to which star got the most help.

#3) Steph Curry should have won the MVP award.

I know I just hyped up the Joker and everything I said is true. He played great in the playoffs, all year long really. He was worthy of winning the MVP and is the first center to do so since Shaquille O’Neal did back in the 1999–2000 season. All that’s well and good, but did you see Wardell Stephen Curry Jr. this year? He’s just the guy commonly known for being the greatest shooter ever. He averaged more points and just as many assists and with much more style and efficiency. He gave the fans what they wanted to see and they came to see him shoot. So, he let it fly. He shot a career high 12.7 threes per game this year, yet still made 42% of them. He’s also the oldest player to lead the league in scoring since Michael Jordan. The only knock against Steph is the number of games he lost this year, but are we truly blaming him for that? With Klay Thompson being injured, James Wiseman getting injured early on and Steph as the only true ball handler on the team, I just can’t hold that against him. Jokic had 48 games of 21 PPG, 4 APG and 4 RPG from Jamal Murray and had the better roster overall. Steph Curry had the better individual season in my humble opinion.

#4) Luka Doncic is better than Kawhi Leonard.

I almost wanted to say this after last year’s playoffs, but forcefully stopped myself. This year’s playoffs all but confirmed it. Luka the Don has now surpassed Kawhi Leonard in my NBA rankings. While Lebron, Giannis, and Durant all jostle for the top three spots, number four and five would fluctuate between Kawhi and Steph. Luka is now firmly planted at number five. It took Kawhi and Paul George seven games to eliminate Luka after he single handedly took them to six the year before. And he did it while making some legendary plays along the way. While Kawhi was more efficient, he was also content with allowing PG and Rajon Rondo to orchestrate the offense. Luka doesn’t even have that as an option. Leonard averaged a decent 4.6 APG, but that’s not even half of Luka’s 10.3. They tied in RPG and Luka had the slightly higher PPG at 35.7. Kawhi is 29 years old and arguably showing signs of decline already with all the load management over the past four seasons. Luka is simply getting better and better. Kawhi may not have a chance to prove himself next year, but I don’t think it will even matter. The Don has made it clear to the entire world he is going to be a problem for a very long time. I’m convinced that if they play again, the Mavs will be the ones to come out on top.

#5) Giannis Antetokoumpo finally, truly earned the respect of his peers.

Giannis Antetokoumpo is an NBA Champion and Finals MVP. He just cemented his name in the history books and amongst the pantheon of NBA greats. He’s one of just three players in NBA history to win MVP, Finals MVP and DPOY, joining Jordan and Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon. Coming into this season, Giannis was under all the pressure to leave and go make a super team in a bigger city. He chose to sign the supermax putting even more pressure on his shoulders. The Bucks played out the entire season to make sure they got the Miami Heat in the first round, mounting even more pressure to bounce back from last year’s humiliation. He had enormous pressure to perform against Kevin Durant, the player he’s been compared to since he entered the league. Some would argue he’s surpassed KD, I’d agree. He had to face the reality of a devastating injury against the Hawks and had to feel helpless watching his team go to war without him. I can’t imagine the pressure he had to feel wanting to repay them against the Suns and prove all the doubters wrong. No matter how you felt about him coming into this year, you can’t deny that you look at him a little differently now.

#6) Coach Budenholzer saved his legacy.

If he did nothing else, Coach Mike Budenholzer saved his legacy and reputation. He was on the cusp of being remembered in the same breath as the D’Antoni’s of the world. Great regular season coaches with rigid systems and playing styles that can’t win. After quite a few playoff disappointments and few head scratching moments, it was easy to see why. But he broke through. He narrowly escaped that label and did so with Jeff Teague at his side. Teague became an All-Star under Bud who became a first time All-Star head coach after winning 60 games with Atlanta in 2016. Teague bounced around a bit after that and never quite found his footing. Coming to the Bucks with Bud’s system already in place was like a match made in heaven. They’ve had their best seasons together. It was great to watch their journey come full circle.

#7) The point guard hierarchy in the NBA has changed.

Most lists and surveys had Ben Simmons ranked as one of if not the best point guard coming into this season. Most of us didn’t blink an eye. We all saw the videos of him working on his game over the summer. We hear all the talk about how great his defense is and how well he can run an offense at his size. You remember Steph is coming off an injury and Dame just has to cool off at some point, right? You start to believe it. Then the playoffs come around and you remember he won’t shoot. Forget “can’t” for a second, he literally won’t! Simply refuses. It’s mind-boggling. Trae Young walked into his building, bad cut and all, and proved he is just plain better. While Simmons ran the Sixers offense into the ground, Ice Trae ran circles around their defense. He is Atlanta’s offense. They aren’t the only two that should be switched either. Guards like Chris Paul, Ja Morant, Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox should all be moving up while others like Kemba Walker, John Wall, Dennis Schroder, and Kyle Lowery should probably come down a few pegs.

#8) Devin Booker is the best shooting guard in the league and will be 1st team All-NBA next season.

Point Guards aren’t the only ones that need to be shuffled either. Devin Booker just proved he is the best 2-guard in the league. James Harden basically disqualified himself when he forced his way to Brooklyn. Those three should be unstoppable and therefore cancel each other out. Jaylen Brown is not close offensively. Jamal Murray isn’t consistent enough. Bradley Beal isn’t half the leader and just records empty stats at this point. We haven’t seen Klay Thompson play in years which means, Zach Lavine is the only one with a legitimate argument here. I still lean towards Book with his track record in clutch moments. I think the next season will be his best.

#9) Injuries are the only thing that prevented another Los Angeles Lakers repeat.

Even as a lifelong Milwaukee Bucks fan, it was tough to watch the Lakers go out in the first round. Specifically, it was tough to watch Lebron James suffer his first ever first round playoff exit. It was obvious he and his partner in crime, Anthony Davis, were limited in what they could do on the court physically. They just weren’t themselves. Somehow though, Lebron still managed to get two games from the Western Conference Champion Phoenix Suns and was the only player on his entire team to have a positive +/- in the end. Literally every Laker, besides Lebron, was a negative when they were on the court and they still won two games! I’m not convinced that a healthy Lakers team playing against the same Suns, Nuggets, Clippers and Bucks wouldn’t have won each of those series and hoisted another trophy this year.

#10) The Play-in Tournament is here to stay.

Like it or not, the NBA Play-in is here to stay. The league feels like they struck gold with this idea due to all the ratings and extra fan attention the tournament garnered. It gave media pundits and sports shows something clamor over and even I can admit it added some intrigue to the end of the season. Some would argue it just added unnecessary stress, but who am I to judge. All I know is it gave us Lebron versus Steph again, and who doesn’t want to see more of that?

Just missed the cut:

Rudy Gobert is a defensive liability; Ben Simmons should have won DPOY award.

Jrue Holiday is who Patrick Beverly claims to be.

The center position is alive! Deandre Ayton ranks 3rd.

The Warriors should have drafted LaMelo Ball.

The Memphis Grizzlies young core is underrated.

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