Image credit: Egorova Svetlana

NBA Finals: Those who made it and those who didn’t? 

227 days from the start of the season, and 47 days from when the NBA became actually worth watching, the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks will meet head-to-head in the NBA finals. This will be the 23rd appearance in franchise history for the former, only the third for the latter, but still a big deal for both as only one team will come away with the coveted Larry O’Brien trophy, named after the legendary NBA commissioner who presided over the introduction of the three-point line. Perhaps in the future they will rename it to the Adam Silver trophy, a recognition of his achievements in presiding over the introduction of foul-baiting, flopping, and above all, Ben Simmons. 

But why is this NBA finals trophy such a big deal? Well, buckle up, it’s time for a quick history lesson. 

Let’s start firstly with the teams who didn’t make it to the NBA finals. Among them include the Lakers, Warriors, and Suns, three teams who had high expectations coming into the season, owing to the aura of LeBron James, waning dynasty of the Warriors, and the Big Three down in Phoenix. However, as the season progressed, it became clear that aura is not enough to win a title, and that, unbeknownst to Lakers fans, a team has to actually play together and win games to have a shot at making a deep playoff run. Similarly, it seems like the Warriors decided to self-sabotage, with Steph Curry getting injured seven times this season, Klay Thompson taking on a new role as the water boy, and Draymond Green deciding to make the on-court switch to MMA. To top it all off, the Warriors pulled off an all-time choke the play-in against their state rivals the Sacramento Kings, where Klay’s four rings didn’t stop him from shooting 0-10 or being blown out by 30 points. In contrast, the Phoenix Suns at least made the playoffs, and though Durant was exposed by a man who was starting elementary school as he was starting in the NBA, and Booker was proved unworthy of the NBA 2K23 cover, they can take minimal comfort in the fact that they got swept by the eventual Western Conference Finals runners-up. 

“…a team has to actually play together and win games to have a shot at making a deep playoff run.”

Noticeably omitted from the discussion above were some other favourites to win the title, in the OKC Thunder, Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers as these were more unfortunate losses. The Thunder started strong as the first seed, met the Pelicans who were a straight sweep, but lost to the Mavs in two times three, almost won, but ended up losing by one. (Shai should make that his next Instagram caption, I hope you see what I did there…). Similarly, the reigning Denver Nuggets did all NBA fans a favour by sending the Lakers to Cancun in the first round, and pushed the Timberwolves to the final game of the series where they decided it was far enough and sulked the game away with 30 seconds left. Finally, the Clippers also started strong, after having the first season in years where both Paul George and Kawhi spent more time in basketball jerseys than Nike tech fleece. Yet it wasn’t enough, as they crashed out to the eventual finalists in the Mavericks, with no help from Westbrook’s now trademark single figure outing. 

Any NBA fan will have noticed by now that all teams mentioned to this point have been in the Western Conference. Any NBA fan will also know that the reason for that is because of the dire lack of competition in the Eastern Conference this season, where the first seeded Celtics were able to go a huge 14 games clear of the second seeded Knicks. Indeed – though unreliable, and unaccredited sources may make libellous claims that I stated Jalen Brunson to be the best guard in the league at a point – there really was no hindrance to the Celtics walking to the NBA finals. The lack of formidable competition in the Eastern Conference has led to the Celtics losing only two games so far in the postseason, whilst Jaylen Brown was able to dispel criticisms of his $300m dollar contact, winning the Eastern Conference Final MVP against a team who could neither prevent him from scoring 119 points against them, nor force him left. This has led to many critics noting how “favourable” their finals run has been, having not really been “battle-tested.” 

In contrast, the Dallas Mavericks faced three of the formidable teams mentioned above, taking both the Clippers and Thunder to six games, and beating the Timberwolves in five, in a series that was closer than the numbers look, and duly reminding Anthony Edwards to be humble as it appears the insufferable Michael Jordan comparisons had inflated his head and weighed down his shooting hand in the closing games.  

So, who really is the favourite to win it all? Again, critics have their cards on the Boston Celtics, who are 4/9 favourites whilst the Dallas Mavericks are 13/8 underdogs. This can only be expected with such a strong team, over half of which has NBA finals experience, whilst the other half includes a centre who resembles myself in stature, standing at an impressive 7 feet and 2 inches. Further, their achievement this season should not be downplayed, as winning 64 games to attain the first seed by such a large margin cannot be explained away by sheer luck, after all, it is the reason they were consistently ranked first in power rankings and favourites to go all the way as far back as April. Nevertheless, the Mavericks have shown that they are a force to be reckoned with, as Stan Van Gundy (controversially, yet not incorrectly) labelled Kyrie and Luka the “most talented backcourt of all time,” they should not be counted out before it has begun.  

With this series being a chance for Tatum to get his first ring at only 19 years old, Brown to get the first of five rings that he promised Taylor Rooks he’d have in six years – six years ago, Luka to earn some respect and substantiate the LeBron comparisons, or Kyrie to get revenge against the team that scorned him and the institution that kept him out of the NBA 75 anniversary team, the stakes have never been higher. One thing is for sure, this series will go down to the wire, and is one not to miss. 

Image description: Boston Celtics in a previous Eastern Conference Finals