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A Legendary Start to the NBA Playoffs

Manny Shklar

Managing Editor

As with every year, 2023’s NBA Playoffs are providing fans with more and more unforgettable moments. As the remaining four teams gear up for the Conference Finals, it’s easy to forget how special this postseason has been. Some players seemingly returned to their prime while others were unable to perform on the biggest stage. Now, as the Finals shortly approach, we can look back on some of the most memorable games, statlines, and plays throughout the start of the playoffs.

As Steph Curry dribbled around four Kings’ defenders and smoothly laid the basketball through the hoop, it became clear to everyone watching that the generation-defining guard had made history yet again. From being the best shooter in NBA history to winning the first unanimous MVP award, Curry’s name is already etched in basketball history. This time, though, Curry was breaking the record for the most points in a game seven. On a night when Steph made 20 shots, including seven threes, it felt like no one could come close to this feat. Two weeks later, rising superstar Jayson Tatum scored 51 points in his own game seven. Tatum’s ridiculous night led his team to the Eastern Conference Finals, leading them one step closer to the ultimate goal. This performance seemed out of place, despite Tatum’s season average of 30.1 points per game, as he had an extremely inconsistent series in general against the 76ers. Tatum scored nearly 40 points in game one, but just seven in game two. He was particularly bad in the first half of most games, as he was struggling to even make one field goal early into the game most nights. However, Tatum has always been known for his resilience as he battled back to have the best game of his short career.

Tatum’s game seven statline was outstanding, but the only reason he got that opportunity was because of James Harden. Harden, the 76ers point guard, has set numerous scoring records in his long career but transitioned into much more of a facilitator in more recent years. In game one, however, without his teammate and league MVP Joel Embiid, Harden had to carry his Sixers. “The Beard” delivered, pouring in 45 points to easily have his best performance since being traded to Philly a year and a half ago. This was not a one time performance either; Harden dropped 42 points in a game four victory, including both the game-tying and game-winning buckets. Harden has also been one of the main reasons for the Sixers’ playoff woes this year, as he had possibly the worst game of his career in game seven. No matter his inconsistencies throughout the series, it’s hard not to root for a player like Harden when he turns back the clock to have a vintage game.

The Western Conference Finals will feature the best one-on-one matchup fans could ask for, as the LA Lakers will play against the Denver Nuggets. Both teams have future hall-of-famers manning the center position in Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic. Davis, known as AD, is perhaps one of the best defenders to ever play, as he touts four All-NBA defensive team selections, while Jokic has been an offensive powerhouse over the last few seasons, allowing him to win two MVPs and compete heavily for a third one this season. AD has averaged over three blocks and one and a half steals in the playoffs thus far, including six games with over four blocks. It will be exhilarating to watch him cover Jokic, who has averaged a 30 point triple-double in the postseason while shooting over 50% from three. Although both teams have notable other players such as LeBron James and Jamal Murray, all of the attention will be on these two superstars for the entire series.

A final key, but unfortunate, part of the playoffs has been the shocking number of injuries to occur. Superstars like Embiid, Grizzlies’ guard Ja Morant, and Kings’ guard De’Aaron Fox each suffered impactful injuries that played roles in their teams’ early exits. The most notable ones were those of Milwaukee Bucks’ forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler. Giannis’s injury was the main reason the top seeded Bucks got eliminated by the Heat, but Butler’s typical playoff performance trumped all. He’s averaged seven more points per game in the playoffs than the regular season and led his eighth seeded team to the Eastern Conference Finals. He suffered what could have been a horrific back injury early in the second round, but in true Jimmy Butler fashion he bounced back better than ever.

Now we can watch two amazing conference finals matchups and excitedly await what promises to be an intriguing Finals matchup. Even with so much more history to be made this year, the 2023 NBA playoffs have provided us with legendary moments already.

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