Suns Implosion, Doncic Needs Sidekick

Suns Implosion, Doncic Needs Sidekick

The 2021-22 NBA season is officially over after the Golden State Warriors defeated the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, but we have a few closing shots on the 2022 NBA Playoffs which included a high amount of blowouts because of teams living and dying by the 3-point shot. We share some afterthoughts on the Phoenix Suns implosion in one of the most bizarre performances in Game 7 history, why Luka Doncic is a superhero, he needs a trustworthy sidekick if the Dallas Mavs want to win a title, and how the Milwaukee Bucks missed a chance to win back-to-back titles when Khris Middleton went down with an MCL knee injury.

Memphis Grizzlies Ja Morant 2022 NBA Playoffs Suns Mavs Doncic Bucks After thoughtsJa Morant from the Memphis Grizzlies takes flight against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs. (Image: Porter Lambert/Getty)

The Warriors began the playoffs with Steph Curry coming off the bench while slowly ramping up his minutes after missing the last couple of weeks of the regular season with a foot injury. The Warriors picked off the Denver Nuggets in five games, beat the Memphis Grizzlies in six games, and knocked out the Dallas Mavs in five games to reach the NBA Finals. After losing Game 1 to the Boston Celtics in the 2022 NBA Finals, the Warriors won four out of the next five games to win the 2022 NBA championship, which marked a fourth title for Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and head coach Steve Kerr.

The fight for the top seed in the Eastern Conference came down to the final weeks of the season, with four teams jockeying for the top positions. The Celtics swept the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, then needed seven games to knock out Greek Freak and the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semifinals, and needed another seven games to defeat the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Before the 2022 NBA playoffs become a distant memory, here’s some quick thoughts on some of this year’s playoff teams…

Nets: A Sweep Grows in Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Nets were a shitshow all season, yet that didn’t prevent bettors from backing them to win the championship from as early as last summer. I know, I know… backers were not betting on the Nets so much as they were betting on Kevin Durant. When you’re the best player in the NBA like KD, of course you’re going to get a significant amount of money riding on your shoulders. It was a maelstrom of bad beats for the Nets this year with Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status, KD’s knee strain, Joe Harris’ ankle, the James Harden and Ben Simmons trade, and Simmons’ sore back. The Nets are still a popular pick to win the title next season, and one of four co-favorites at +600 odds to win the 2023 NBA championship.

76ers: Behind the Mask

Joel Embiid should’ve won the MVP this season, but he finished a close second. Embiid was a true warrior this postseason and gutted through a pair of painful injuries. He played with a busted thumb for most of the playoffs and then missed two games with an orbital fracture, which is why he wore a mask for the remainder of the Miami Heat series. Ben Simmons was the fall guy last postseason’s disappointment, and became a pariah for the entire city of Philadelphia. This time around, Harden drew the ire of fans because the superstars never showed up in the playoffs. So, what happened to Harden? Was he 1) injured, or 2) old, or 3) both. Oddsmakers do not have much faith in the 76ers working out their issues in the offseason, because Embiid and the squad are +1400 odds to win the championship next season.

Bucks: Missing Middleton

Let’s be honest, the Bucks almost defeated the Boston Celtics in the conference semifinals without Khris Middleton in the lineup. Once Middleton went down with a knee injury, the Bucks never had a shot at becoming a repeat champion. Greek Freak gave it his all, but the Bucks missed a chance to deliver a coup de grace when they blew a 3-2 lead at home. This postseason made it very obvious that they made a huge mistake letting PJ Tucker leave, and they also need a better back court because Grayson Allen just wasn’t cutting it. The Bucks are +750 odds to win the 2023 NBA championship next season.

Heat: Jimmy Butler Almost Did It Again

Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat almost pulled off a second trip to the NBA Finals in the last three years. However, injuries to veteran point guard Kyle Lowry and Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro came back to haunt them. It was still an impressive run by Jimmy Buckets, who put the team on his back even with a bum knee, and were just one-made 3-pointer away from knocking out the Celtics and locking up another berth in the NBA Finals.

Celtics: Great Run, But Need a Better Bench

The Celtics have a great core with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, but their lack of a bench hurt them in the NBA Finals. They did not have a reliable scorer like Jordan Poole from the Warriors who could give Tatum and Brown some much needed rest. Sure, Tatum could not hit a layup to save his life, and he definitely faded at times in the fourth quarter. But, you really cannot fault Tatum because the entire team ran out of gas after grinding their way to the NBA Finals by winning back-to-back seven-game series against the Bucks and Heat. A banged-up Robert Williams III was also an issue in the NBA Finals, even though the gutsy big man played through a knee injury.

Then again, if the Bucks had a healthy Middleton against the Celtics, then it’s the Bucks and Warriors in the NBA Finals. You can also make an argument that if Butler hits that trey vs Celtics, it’s the Heat and Warriors in the Finals. The Celtics are co-favorites to win the title next year. Ime Udoka is a great coach, and It’s crazy that he guided the Celtics to the NBA Finals in his rookie season. The Celtics are co-favorites at +600 odds to win the title next season, but they’ll have a target on their backs and face fierce competition in the east with the Bucks, Nets, and Heat on a mission to win the championship.

Black Hole Suns: Game 7 Implosion

We thought the Phoenix Suns could win the title this year after getting a taste of the limelight as the runner up in the 2021 NBA Finals. Heck, the Suns smoked the competition in the regular season and won 64 games, even with Chris Paul out for a month with a fractured thumb. However, the Suns lost their mud in the conference semifinals. Someday there will be a 30 for 30 documentary on what really happened to the Suns in Game 7 of the conference semis when they were obliterated and embarrassed in one of the craziest elimination-game asskickings in NBA history. Was CP3 hurt? Did their crazy owner have something to do with their downfall? Was there a bigger issue with Deandre Ayton that the Suns covered up?

The Suns had a much better squad this season, which is why it was disappointing to see them fail to reach the NBA Finals. There’s too many questions to ask in the offseason, but the bookies gave the Suns favorable odds at +900 to win the title next season. Did the Suns shoot their load and miss their window to win with an aging CP3? Will CP3 have to go elsewhere (like the Heat) to finally win a title? Did Ayton spend his last game in a Suns uniform after NBA Coach of the Year Monty Williams benched the big man in Game 7? Will Kylie Jenner dump Devin Booker over all this?

Grizzlies: Ja Kneegate

We love Ja Morant. We’ve never been shy about it and felt he should’ve been the NBA MVP this season. Morant and the upstart Memphis Grizzlies had the Golden State Warriors on the ropes in the conference semifinals before the knee incident. Morant was averaging 38.3 ppg before he missed the remainder of the series with a bone bruise and knee injury. The Grizzlies claimed the injury was caused by Jordan Poole, who inadvertently grabbed Moran’ts knee while fighting for a loose ball. However, video replays show that Kneegate is just hot air, and that Morant probably injured his knee earlier in the game on a defensive play. Credit the Grizzlies, who kept fighting without Morant in the lineup. That’s the kind of fire and grit from that could get the Grind City Grizzlies to the NBA Finals someday. Next year? In two years?

Mavs: Super Luka Needs a Sidekick

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavs pulled off a huge upset in the second round when they picked off the Suns in Game 7. But did the Mavs really crush the Suns, or was the damage self-inflicted? Doesn’t really matter, because the Mavs were knocked out of the playoffs by the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. It was a heck of a run, but the Mavs learned a valuable lesson in defeat because they lacked the firepower to keep up with the Warriors. Doncic cannot do it all by himself, especially when the Mavs need to shoot 40-plus treys a game to beat you. Every superstar needs a sidekick.

Michael Jordan kept falling short of the mark until the Chicago Bulls added Scottie Pippen to the starting five, and then they won six titles. Shaquille O’Neal needed the addition of Kobe Bryant to restore the LA Lakers to their championship glory. Doncic needs another star in Dallas to help shoulder the load in the postseason. The Mavs were right that ‘The Unicorn’ wasn’t going to be that guy, but until the Mavs find Doncic some help, they’ll continue to smack their heads on the Western Conference ceiling.

Warriors: Splash Brothers Win Again, Wiggins Redemption

If the Warriors didn’t win it this year, then all of the NBA beat writers would pen similar think pieces about the Warriors making a run in 2023 with a mixture of veterans with championship pedigree and a new generation of players like Jordan Poole and Jonathan Kuminga. Well, now that the Warriors are the NBA champs, there’s no reason they cannot run it back once again next season. They have a group of young players that can keep carrying the torch for the team, but the Splash Brothers have plenty of gas left in the tank so long as they can remain healthy.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the real X-factor — Andrew Wiggins — who probably deserves his very own column. The former #1 pick in the NBA Draft that had a lackluster career playing in the Western Conference hinterlands with the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Warriors made a risky trade to acquire Wiggins, but his transformation into a valuable role player and defensive stopper is one of the reasons why the Warriors won the title.

In case you were wondering, the Warriors are +600 odds to win the 2023 NBA championship.

Check out all of OG’s coverage of the 2022 NBA Playoffs and the 2022 NBA Finals.

Author: Justin Graves