While legends like LeBron James and Kevin Durant have been booted unceremoniously from the NBA playoffs, two new superstars have been born—Boston Celtics forward Jason Tatum and Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant.
The Lakers’ LeBron James is obviously the biggest name in the sport, but despite joining forces this year with one-time MVP Russell Westbrook and eight-time All-Star Anthony Davis, the Purple and Gold failed to even QualifiedPlay-in games for the playoffs. (The play-in game was devised in the first year of COVID to try and bring suspense and excitement during the “Bubble Tournament.” Bottom line: it means really bad teams now have a chance to make the tourney, and the Lakeshow couldn’t even manage that. Urgent humiliation.
Kevin Durant joined forces with Kyrie Irving, James Harden and others to create a new SuperTeam in Brooklyn. Results: Harden requested a trade mid-season (which was granted), Irving missed a bunch of games because he wouldn’t bend the knee regarding the COVID vax and thus the powers-that-be wouldn’t let him play home games in the Big Apple, and not surprisingly, the Nets were just blasted out of the playoffs in a stunning four-games-to-none utter beatdown.
Are SuperTeams dead? It looks like it.
There are still some elder statesmen left in the playoffs, of course, including Golden State’s incomparable Stephen Curry, who just ousted the Denver Nuggets, and the pugnacious but highly-effective Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns, who Friday dropped 33 points to send the New Orleans Pelicans on a fishing trip:
However, the main story in this tourney is the rise of the Young Guns.
Jason Tatum is a well-known player. He was drafted #3 in Duke’s 2017 draft and has paid instant dividends. He’s been a solid player, but the Celtics have not enjoyed ultimate success in the playoffs, which is where the Real Greats earn their reputations. He’s brought the C’s to the Eastern Conference Finals twice, which is an accomplishment, but he hasn’t been able to break into the Finals.
This could all change in the coming year. The Nets were the heavily-favored team. In an embarrassing sweep of four games, he scored 29.5 points, grabbed 4.5 rebounds and had 7.3 assists. In short, he’s been sublime.
Meanwhile, Ja Morant didn’t come out of nowhere either; he was selected #2 out of Murray State (the Murray State Racers, seriously?) He quickly became a sensational example of absurd athleticism, providing jaw-dropping moments after each game. Friday saw him close the Minnesota Timberwolves door and provide a crucial offensive rebound and assist with Tyus Jones’s three-pointer.
Think he’s not special? Take a look at these photos:
The moribund Grizzly team has been brought back to life almost by him alone. He scored the winning layup on Tuesday after a spectacular dunk during the third quarter, which brought delirium to his team as well as the fans. Now that series is in the books and it’s on to Golden State.
Tatum has not brought his team yet to the Holy Grail of the Finals, unlike Tatum. Though he may not be allowed to do so this year due to the competition, Tatum has put up impressive numbers with an average of 27.4 points and 6.7 assists for the year.
We haven’t even mentioned Devin Booker, who though he’s been injured, is yet another emerging A-level talent. While he played on Friday and scored 13 points, we will see what happens once he’s fully recovered.
Don’t expect “old men” like Milwaukee center Giannis Antetokounmpo, Golden State guard Stephen Curry, and Phoenix point guard Chris Paul to go quietly into the night—figure at least one of them to be there at the final buzzer. The story of the playoffs thus far is the rise of new NBA stars, with LeBron James and Kevin Durant being expelled early.
The next round will begin Sunday. Make sure you have popcorn on hand.