NBA Conference Finals Will Be Some of the Best Basketball No One Will See

AP Photo/Matt York

In NBA news — remember that league? — the Phoenix Suns continued their 2021 tour of Los Angeles in much the same fashion as Godzilla tours Tokyo. Having defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of this year’s playoffs, yesterday the Suns defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 120-114 in the first game of the NBA Western Conference Finals. The winner of this series will take on the winner of the Atlanta Hawks-Milwaukee Bucks series for the NBA Championship.

Of the four teams remaining, only Milwaukee and Atlanta have won a title. The Bucks triumphed in 1971 behind Lew Alcindor before he publicly changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, returning to the finals in 1974 and losing to the Boston Celtics. The Hawks’ lone championship and Finals appearance came in 1958 when they were the St. Louis Hawks. Since moving to Atlanta in 1968, including this season, the team has made the conference finals four times. Phoenix has made it to the Finals twice, losing in 1976 and 1993. This is the first Clippers team in the franchise’s 51-year history to make the conference finals. Suffice it to say, the most useless advice imaginable to any of the teams is “act like you’ve been here before” because they haven’t.

It is difficult to envision four teams the NBA could be less enthused about championing its brand than these four. Star power, in a league where everything is star-driven, is at a minimum. There are Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in Los Angeles, but they play for the Clippers, who barely register as an afterthought in their hometown. The Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, but other than seeing how many ways people can mispronounce his name, he remains known only to hardcore hoop fans. The Suns have Chris Paul and Devin Booker, who are great at winning; name recognition, not so much. The Hawks have Trae Young, who has all the makings of a great villain except for the minor detail of playing for a team most Atlanta residents don’t know exists.

Unfortunately, the NBA has done such a thorough job of driving away fans that many people will miss these semi-finals regardless of who is or is not participating. They will be missing some terrific basketball. Yesterday’s Suns-Clippers matchup was a tight affair from start to finish, with multiple lead changes alongside Davis and Booker playing to their full potential. The Bucks-Hawks matchup will showcase Antetokounmpo and Young, with Antetokounmpo being the better overall player versus Young, a massive points-scoring assassin who lives for the pressure-packed big play. The teams’ hometown fans, be they either of the lifelong or lifelong who were born around two weeks ago category, will be going berserk; back at NBA headquarters in New York, the suits are most likely going berserk wondering if they can hype Tuesday of next week’s draft lottery instead of, oh, actual games being played by winning teams.

Ah, well. Get woke, instead of go broke get ignored even when you’re giving people what they want. You know — entertaining sports events?