The NBA playoffs second-round games are ongoing and apart from the Larry O’Brien championship trophy, there is more at stake for the teams and some of the players involved.
This will be a historic championship for any of the eight teams that end up winning it. Philadelphia 76ers are the most recent NBA champions still in the running and they last won the championship in 1983.
Milwaukee Bucks in 1971 and Atlanta Hawks in 1958 are the only other winners, the remaining five teams have never won a championship.
Which team will end their championship drought this year? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/1QWjrYQHCg — Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 7, 2021
Failure is not an option
The only downside to being a super team is the immense weight of expectation that comes with it. The team with the best players simply has to win the championship or get slated, those are the rules for the clear favorites.
So far, the Brooklyn Nets have been living up to the billing. They finished the regular season as the second seed in the East despite several injuries to a number of players. The trio of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden helped them brush aside the Celtics in five first-round games.
Brooklyn beats Boston 123-109 and wins the series 4-1 🔥 Harden: 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists Kyrie: 25 points, 3 assists, 9/14 FG KD: 24 points, 4 rebounds, 8/16 FG Nets-Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semis 🍿 pic.twitter.com/565yZrydOh — Overtime (@overtime) June 2, 2021
And although Harden picked up a hamstring injury, the Nets were still good enough to win the first two games of their Eastern Conference semifinals match-up against the Milwaukee Bucks.
These results and performances would be applauded if they were put up by any other team but for the Nets, it’s the bare minimum. For super teams, only a championship is considered impressive and even then, the legitimacy of the title will be contested, Kevin Durant and LeBron James know what I’m talking about.
As for Milwaukee Bucks who face a second-round exit to the Nets, failure to win this year will cement their status as the ultimate postseason chokers. Giannis and his fellow Bucks finished the regular season top of the Eastern Conference in both the 2018-19 and the 2019-20 seasons but failed to make it to the finals on either occasion.
After another great regular season this time finishing third in the East, they face a second consecutive second-round exit.
Siri has got to take it down a notch. pic.twitter.com/PzBjlamGFw — Ben Schwartz (@rejectedjokes) June 8, 2021
The front office solved the issue of Giannis having no help and Jrue Holiday’s addition has made the Bucks look like real contenders at times. Other key pieces like P.J Tucker, Bobby Portis, and Donte DiVincenzo coming of age this season might have had the Bucks fans dreaming of a ring.
As a result of their latest losses to Brooklyn, they now trail by two games to nil and those dreams must now be turning into nightmares, a recurring one of annual postseason choking.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s legacy is also on the line. He might be a two-time league MVP for his regular-season performances but the momentum never carries over into the playoffs.
Some other teams have exceeded their pre-season expectations so far and have become real contenders.
Philadelphia 76ers were expected to make the playoffs but not as the first seed. Doc Rivers led his men to the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference ahead of Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The same applies to the Utah Jazz who led the Western conference as well as the whole league in wins.
We’ve got another action-packed doubleheader on TNT 🍿 #NBAPlayoffs @ATLHawks vs. @sixers // 7:30pm ET @LAClippers vs. @utahjazz // 10pm ET pic.twitter.com/D77TikDpv5 — NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 8, 2021
Both of these teams risk losing the progress on a fantastic regular season if they don’t consolidate with a championship.
Seizing the moment and capitalizing on a good year as the Raptors did in 2019 should be the goal, teams fall apart easily in the NBA.
The Pheonix Suns are a young vibrant team that finished second in the Western Conference regular season and sent LeBron James packing in the first round.
At the heart of that young team is 36-year-old, Chris Paul whose legendary status cannot be contested and is most likely on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Chris Paul tonight: 21 PTS 6 REB 11 AST 1 TOV He is the first player aged 36 years or older with a 20/5/10 playoff game since 1965. pic.twitter.com/PSR0TsAxdy — StatMuse (@statmuse) June 8, 2021
However, this might be the veteran’s last chance to secure that elusive championship ring.
Speaking of last chances, remember how the Clippers were clear favourites to win it all last year until Luka Doncic showed up?
Well, they have a stronger roster this year and they’ve only just cleared the Luka hurdle, leaving a potential clear path to the championship.
One @NBA Playoff Snapshot: @LAClippers 126, @dallasmavs 111 (Game 7). pic.twitter.com/Cmy3qewmMc — RealGM (@RealGM) June 7, 2021
Only a small matter of beating the number one seed in the Western Conference, Utah Jazz.
This could be the last chance for the duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to finally do what they were brought to LA to do.
In conclusion, every team left in the playoffs fancy themselves potential champions, they already came this far so why stop here? Despite the presence of a super team, the remaining teams have a real shot at winning (or at least making the finals), so it’s a wide-open race.
As a result, whoever wants it the most wins and whoever doesn’t win will be left to lick their wounds in regret.