NBA Playoff Wrap-up: Two New Superstars Have Arrived

NBA Playoff Wrap-up: Two New Superstars Have Arrived

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 qualify for the play-in game 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. Utter humiliation.)

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant teamed up with Kyrie Irving and James Harden for yet another 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? 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:

But the real story so far in this tourney has been the emergence of the Young Guns.

Jason Tatum is not an unknown quantity; he was picked #3 coming out of Duke in 2017 and paid immediate 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.

That could change this year. He just dispatched the aforementioned, heavily-favored Nets in a frankly embarrassing four-game sweep by averaging an eye-opening 29.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 7.3 assists in the series. 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?) and quickly has gone on to provide endless jaw-dropping highlights of ridiculous athleticism.  Friday, he shut the door on the Minnesota Timberwolves and closed out the series with a key offensive rebound and subsequent assist on a three-pointer from Tyus Jones.

Think he’s not special? Watch these highlights:

He has almost single-handedly brought the moribund Grizzly franchise back to relevance.  On Tuesday, following a monstrous dunk in the third quarter that brought his team and the fans to delirium, he nailed a last-second layup to win a game that had looked unwinnable just minutes before. Now that series is in the books and it’s on to Golden State.

Like Tatum, he has not yet brought his team to the Holy Grail known as the Finals. He may not be able to this year, either, given the competition, but he has been putting up some extremely impressive numbers, averaging 27.4 points on the year and 6.7 assists.

We haven’t even mentioned Devin Booker, who though he’s been injured, is yet another emerging A-level talent. He played Friday, scoring 13 points, but it will be interesting to see what happens when he is up to full speed.

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. But with LeBron James and Kevin Durant being sent packing early, the story of these playoffs so far has been the emergence of a new generation of NBA superstars.

The next round starts Sunday. Get your popcorn ready.

Editor’s note: this article was corrected after publication. We wrote in error that James Harden was sent packing, also. Harden is still in the playoffs, albeit not with the Nets. 

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