NBA Conference Finals: Doncic and Curry face off, Butler next in Tatum’s sights
The Mavericks will face the Warriors in the Western Conference final, while over in the East the Celtics take on the Heat.
It almost feels as though using the Ron Burgundy ‘boy, that escalated quickly’ GIF would be a little too on the nose.
The NBA Conference semi-finals proved to be just as dramatic as we all hoped, with two of them going all the way to all or nothing Game 7s.
In the East, despite a bit of a comeback once Joel Embiid returned from injury, the Philadelphia 76ers were unable to halt the number one seed Miami Heat, while defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks are also out after going down in Game 7 to the Boston Celtics.
Over in the West, the Golden State Warriors overcame the Memphis Grizzlies in a tempestuous series defined by Ja Morant’s knee injury, while a sensational performance from Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks saw them destroy the Phoenix Suns in their own backyard in Game 7 on Sunday.
They may not be the Conference Finals many predicted, but they will be absolutely covered in compelling narratives, so Stats Perform is here to take a look at what should be two fascinating contests to determine this year’s NBA finalists.
Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
Perhaps this pairing was to be expected given they are the one and two seeds respectively in the East, but with Giannis Antetokounmpo in their corner and an NBA championship to defend, many will have expected the Bucks to get the better of Boston.
The Celtics showed their mettle, though, in particular Jayson Tatum, who is averaging 28.3 points per game (PPG) in the postseason.
Tatum’s 6.1 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game are supported by an impressive average of four turnovers as the 24-year-old has set about trying to drag his team all the way.
He has not been alone though, with Jaylen Brown averaging 22.2 PPG, while an unlikely hero emerged in the 109-81 win against the Bucks on Sunday as Grant Williams top-scored with 27, the first time he has done so for the Celtics. Williams hit seven of the Celtics’ 22 made three-pointers in an incredible shooting barrage.
The Heat took full advantage of an Embiid-less Sixers in the opening games of their series with Philadelphia before losing their 2-0 lead, only to see it out 4-2.
Jimmy Butler shone throughout and is averaging 28.7 PPG in the playoffs so far, as well as 5.4 assists and 7.5 rebounds.
His 32 in Game 6 helped ease any nerves about going to a decider, while even the 40 he managed in defeat in Game 4 made the Sixers work harder than they should have had to.
The Celtics won two of their three meetings with the Heat in the regular season, but Miami were triumphant last time out in late March, winning 106-98 at TD Garden thanks to 24 from Butler and 23 from Kyle Lowry, who may not feature in Game 1.
Lowry injured his hamstring in Game 3 of the Heat’s first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, and is a doubt for the start of this series.
Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
Can you stop Luka Doncic, or do you just watch in awe and hope the ball pops before he can score?
That probably won’t be the question Steve Kerr and the Warriors will be asking, but they will certainly have to come up with some way of dealing with the dangerous Slovenian.
Doncic is averaging 31.5 PPG from his 10 playoff games so far and was unsurprisingly trending on social media on Sunday as his own personal scoring was such that he was single-handedly matching the Phoenix Suns in the first half at Footprint Center.
His 6.6 assists and 10.1 rebounds per game in the postseason also show how dominant he has been, but that should not take away from the fine work going on elsewhere in Jason Kidd’s team.
Having had to carry the Mavericks through most of the first round against the Utah Jazz in Doncic’s absence, Jalen Brunson demonstrated his worth with 24 against the Suns in Game 7, while Spencer Dinwiddie posted 30 points of his own too.
The Warriors are unsurprisingly just as good at spreading the wealth, even if Stephen Curry – like Doncic – is leading the way with his 26.9 PPG in the playoffs.
The three-point assassin is tied with team-mate Klay Thompson for shots from beyond the arc, with both sinking 42 efforts in the postseason so far, which emphasises the importance of Thompson as well, who has averaged 20.4 PPG.
Jordan Poole is playing his part too with 19.3 PPG, including a 50 per cent success rate on field goal attempts, making 74 from 148.
Dallas may have the upper hand going into this one, not just because of their complete undressing of the Suns in Game 7, but also because they won three of the four games against Golden State in the regular season, with Doncic scoring 41 in their last meeting in early March.