NBA Fact or Fiction: Is Nuggets-Celtics the NBA Finals We Deserve?

By | March 9, 2024

Each week during the 2023-2024 NBA season, we’ll dive deeper into some of the league’s biggest storylines in an effort to determine whether the trends going forward will be more based on fact or fiction.

[Last week: LeBron James scoring 40,000 points is more impressive than you think]

This week’s topic: Is Nuggets-Celtics the NBA Finals we deserve?

The NBA has had five different champions over the past five seasons, and the league has been praised for its equality and breadth of talent, but have we really seen a finals between the two best teams since 2018, when the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers met for an unprecedented fourth series in a row?

And even then, the title winner was a foregone conclusion.

You could say that the 2019 Finals, when the Warriors faced the Toronto Raptors, featured the top two teams, but the outcome was marred by injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. The 2020 bubble was more a test of will than skill. The absence of stars left the Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers without serious contention in 2021. The Warriors and Boston Celtics may have been the most talented teams in 2022, but one was a dynasty in its twilight years, the other was ill-prepared. to meet the moment, and Denver was still missing Jamal Murray. The Nuggets broke through in 2023 – against an eighth seed in the finals.

In other words, the Celtics and Nuggets have been circling each other for years, and they’re now fully formed, realizing their potential as the two clearest favorites we’ve had on either side of the bracket in a while.

DENVER, CO - MARCH 7: Nikola Jokic (15) of the Denver Nuggets steals the ball from Jayson Tatum (0) of the Boston Celtics during the second quarter at Ball Arena in Denver on Thursday, March 7, 2024. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/ The Denver Post)

Give us the final we deserve.

Thursday night in Denver we were treated to a nationally televised preview, and the emerging rivals did not disappoint. It felt like a playoff game, even before the opening tip, as soon as TNT’s Chris Haynes reports this that the Nuggets skipped a visit to the White House to prioritize their shot at No. 1, and that the Celtics released a questionable Jaylen Brown to play on a sacroiliac strain. Both teams popular this.

The 48 minutes of hoops felt no different. The Celtics matched Nikola Jokić’s return from rest with Jayson Tatum and double bigs, a lineup you might see in June. We saw a random explosion from a role player at home: second-year winger Peyton Watson, whose 11 points for the Nuggets felt like double that. Both teams nearly forced shot-clock violations on back-to-back plays midway through the fourth quarter. And Jokic yelled so loudly at referee Tony Brothers that he almost stopped playing. This was postseason basketball.

It was also a litmus test of how the series could go. The Celtics were too dependent on three-pointers (29% on 38 attempts), turned the ball over too much (12 times, leading to 16 points for the Nuggets), and finished quarters poorly (Denver outscored them by a total of 22- 6). in the final minute of each of the four quarters), as Tatum didn’t show another performance in the spotlight (15 points on 5-for-13 shooting and five turnovers) and head coach Joe Mazzulla tested some bizarre lineup combinations (i.e. double bigs during Jokic’s rest?). Same old flaws.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets were as advertised. They beat everyone with a thousand cuts — almost literally Thursday, as Aaron Gordon repeatedly found space behind Boston’s defense. He’s the place of a human dunker, a moving target for Jokic’s cannon. They don’t need 3s to win – a good thing, as they shot 4-of-21 from distance (19%). They were lit from everywhere, especially from mid-range, where they shot 61.5% from where the Celtics funneled them. And Jokic (32-point triple-double) did the rest, backing everyone, including Kristaps Porziņģis, close enough for his footwork to find a clean look at the net. Like clockwork.

So why would we expect anything other than Denver’s three straight wins against Boston? Don’t expect Denver to win by an eight-point margin (19-11) in transition every time. Hope Mazzulla never plays his seventh, eighth and ninth men at the same time in a play-off match. Figure Tatum makes that wide open corner 3, he had to give Boston the lead almost 50% of the time in the final minute.

Well, maybe not in it That moment, but you get the idea. Both games between the two teams this season came down to the last minute. Since the 2018-19 season, when the Nuggets made the playoffs for the first time in the Jokić era, they are 6-6 against the Celtics, who are +48 in those meetings. Boston wins a lot of blowouts. Denver runs in close games. Either way, this is our best shot at the first Game 7 in a finals since 2016.

Do not you believe me? Who better to throw to the Nuggets? The Milwaukee Bucks’ 15th-ranked defense? The Philadelphia 76ers and a hobbled Joel Embiid? The heat again? Boston’s ceiling is easily higher than any other team in the Eastern Conference. The top-rated offense and second-rated defense. The 11.1 net rating that rivals some of the most dominant teams in NBA history. These are real.

You’ll need every ounce of it against a Western Conference that’s looking less and less formidable for the defending champions. The Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t won a playoff series since 2016, let alone three. The Minnesota Timberwolves just lost Karl-Anthony Towns to knee surgery. Who would have guessed that James Harden’s Clippers would disappear late in the season? And everyone else is struggling to stay out of the play-in tournament. What new hell could a first-round series with Denver – easily the West’s best team since the All-Star break (7-1, +10.1 net rating, now one game out of No. 1) – bring to them? are.

Denver and Boston are the finals you want. It’s time for the league’s class to step onto its brightest stage.

Provision: Fact. Nuggets-Celtics is the NBA Finals we deserve.

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