With the Utah Jazz eliminated, here is your rooting guide for the remainder of the NBA playoffs
Whichever team wins the NBA Finals will be breaking a long NBA title drought.
This year’s NBA playoffs have been the best we’ve seen in a while.
For a decade, it was a given that LeBron James and the Miami Heat or Cleveland Cavaliers would make an appearance from the East. From 2015-2018 it was even worse. Before each season started, pretty much every analyst predicted the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers would match up, and they were right.
The 2021 NBA playoffs have been a breath of fresh air compared to that. It’s the most wide-open the playoffs have been in a long time, and it’s been fun to watch.
Whichever team wins the NBA Finals will be breaking a long NBA title drought — the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers have never won an NBA championship, the Atlanta Hawks last won in 1958 and the Milwaukee Bucks last won in 1971.
There are no superteams here — each of the remaining four teams has a strong argument to win the championship.
With the Utah Jazz out, here is your rooting guide for the rest of the NBA playoffs.
The Suns and the Jazz are similar in a lot of ways.
Both have been some of the best franchises in the NBA — the Jazz have a .544 winning percentage all time, good for fourth in the NBA, and the Suns have a .531 winning percentage all time, which places them seventh — but have never won an NBA championship.
Both franchises peaked in the 1990s — the Jazz with John Stockton and Karl Malone in 1997 and 1998 and the Suns with Charles Barkley in 1993 — only to fall at the hands of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.
Both franchises were exciting in the mid-to-late 2000s, led by star point guards. Phoenix made the Western Conference Finals in 2005, 2006 and 2010 with Steve Nash running the show; Utah made the Western Conference Finals in 2007, led by Deron Williams.
Recently, both teams have drafted star guards (Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker) and big men (Rudy Gobert, Deandre Ayton), both picked up veteran point guards (Mike Conley, Chris Paul) and both wear jerseys that represent the beauty of the West.
Whatever your feelings are about Chris Paul as a player, it is cool that he has shirked super teams and has come in and turned around the Suns team, and it would be nice to see that rewarded with a title. Plus, the Suns have beloved former Jazzman Jae Crowder, who made the perfect inbound pass on Deandre Ayton alley-oop dunk on Tuesday.
JAE CROWDER INBOUNDS IT TO DEANDRE AYTON FOR THE DUNK TO PUT THE @SUNS UP 2-0!#ThatsGame #NBAPlayoffs#WeAreTheValley pic.twitter.com/ltuQI6lxNl— NBA (@NBA) June 23, 2021
The fans that have stuck with the Clippers for all these years may be among the most loyal in the NBA. Prior to this season, the Clippers hadn’t made a Western Conference Finals appearance in over 50 years as a franchise. Since arriving in Los Angeles in 1984, the Clippers were flat out horrible for so many years, and when they finally got good during the Blake Griffin and Chris Paul years, they were never able to find success in the postseason. Meanwhile, the neighboring Lakers won eight championships in that time frame. Any fan who has remained loyal to the Clippers and didn’t jump ship to cheer for the Lakers deserves to see a championship.
The Clippers are simply resilient. They have been down 0-2 twice in the playoffs, against the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz, and both times have rallied to win the series. Without star Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers are an underdog against the Suns, but I would not count them out, even though they are facing a familiar 2-0 hole against the Phoenix Suns after a heartbreaking last-second loss that featured Paul George missing two free throws and a Deandre Ayton alley-oop dunk at the last second. If the Clippers can overcome another 2-0 deficit and win without their best player on the floor, it will truly be an underdog story.
Again, comparisons abound between the Jazz and Bucks, mostly centering on their big men.
Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo are two of the best centers in the NBA right now and both signed contract extensions to keep them with their teams through the foreseeable future. It was especially refreshing to see Antetokounmpo re-sign with the Bucks as he could have had his pick of any team in the NBA in free agency.
Both clubs are small-market teams that have found success recently, but have been unable to get over the hump in the playoffs as of late. Pretty much every player on Milwaukee is easy to root for. Milwaukee beat the superteam Brooklyn Nets in Game 7, sending James Harden and Kevin Durant packing (guard Kyrie Irving was injured), setting up the most wide-open playoffs in quite some time.
Milwaukee is looking to make its first NBA Finals appearance since 1974 if the Bucks can beat the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. After four consecutive playoffs exits, it would be fun to see the Bucks break through.
The Bucks have some local talent to root for, too — Utah State’s Sam Merrill and BYU’s Elijah Bryant are on the team.
One of the best storylines in the playoffs has been the emergence of Atlanta guard Trae Young.
Young has put up great numbers in the regular season during his three years in the NBA, but has proven that he is able to carry a team throughout the playoffs this year.
“Ice Trae” has been ice cold, averaging nearly 30 point a game in the first round against the New York Knicks, not rattled in the slightest when Big Apple fans hurled obscenities at him throughout the game. After that, the Hawks were able to overcome the No. 1 seed Philadelphia 76ers in seven games. Young averaged 29 points throughout the series and has just been a joy to watch.
Atlanta showed true grit, overcoming a 26-point deficit for a Game 5 win over Philadelphia and then grinding out a Game 7 win, even when Young went 5-for-23 from the field.
If Young can guide the Hawks to a Finals appearance — their first since 1958 — this early in his career, it will be a truly impressive performance.