After a nearly five-month hiatus from play and two months of action at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., the final two teams remaining in “the bubble” punched their tickets to the NBA Finals and are ready for battle. The Los Angeles Lakers, the top seed in the Western Conference, and the Miami Heat, the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, have both run through every opponent they’ve faced during the playoffs and are primed to take the crown.
The 2019-2020 NBA season has definitely been the most bizarre on record with extreme highs and devastating lows. Opening night took place on Oct. 24, 2019, and no one across the league, or the world for that matter, could ever have imagined a global pandemic would put a halt to virtually everything for so long. Coincidently, what occurred on Wednesday, March 11, in the NBA became a catalyst for America’s fear of how dangerous COVID-19 really is.
The mayhem started when Utah Jazz all-star center and former two time defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert contracted the coronavirus, the first known case of the deadly disease in any of the four major North American professional sports. This sparked NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s immediate shut down of operations, as well as the quarantining of anyone who tested positive or came in contact with a case for a minimum of 14 days.
Fast-forward to July 30: the NBA was officially back in full form with 22 of the 30 teams who held the best records up until mid-March. Here, they competed in “seeding games” for the top eight spots in each conference.
By Aug. 17, the stage was set for the playoffs, but the sold-out, loud playoff atmosphere that usually takes place in each arena could not happen this year with COVID-19 surging. Instead, the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex had virtual fans on jumbotrons, and each team playing had a handful of fans cheering them on, their faces visible to the players and whoever was tuning into the games.
Senior Hunter Meshanic was lucky enough to be a virtual fan for one of the NBA’s seeding games between the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks. “I became a virtual fan with a group of friends, one of whom had a seat as a virtual fan and we all rotated through the screen,” Meshanic said. “I saw myself on TV and on Bleacher Report and my seat as a virtual fan was right above [NBA Hall of Famer] Shaquille O’Neal. It was really cool being able to see myself on TV, especially on a big channel such as ESPN.”
In the rounds leading up to the finals, there have been some epic series across the league. Some went the maximum distance of seven games in a best of seven format where each team is vying to win four to prevail.
Junior Isaias Wooden is disappointed that his favorite team, the Boston Celtics, got knocked out of the playoffs. Regardless, he loved that this year’s action was full of surprises. Isaias then elaborated about which playoffs outcomes were most shocking to him. “I had expected the [Milwaukee] Bucks to go further,” he said, “and I never anticipated that the [Denver] Nuggets would play so well.”
After dropping game one in the first round against the eighth seeded Orlando Magic, the Eastern Conference regular-season champ Bucks dominated the rest of the series, coming out on top 4-1. Back-to-back league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had a monster series, filling up the stat sheet in all possible areas and sending the Bucks onward into the playoffs.
In the second round, the Bucks were outclassed by a young and poised Miami Heat team, led by veteran all-star guard Jimmy Butler, center Bam Adebayo, and guard Goran Dragić. It was a surprise exit for Milwaukee, ending what was one of the best seasons in franchise history.
On the other hand, The Denver Nuggets, the third seed in the Western Conference, have been the Cinderella story of the NBA playoffs this season. Down 3-1 to a well-coached Utah Jazz team, the Nuggets battled back from elimination, winning three games in a row thanks to guard Jamal Murray, all-star center Nikola Jokić, and forward Jerami Grant. They would next take on a star-studded Los Angeles Clippers team, the second seed in the Western Conference.
Once again down 3-1 in the series, the Nuggets came back from double-digit deficits in games five, six, and seven, stunning the NBA world and sending the Clippers home packing. Valiant efforts by both Murray and Jokić once again propelled the Nuggets into the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009, making them the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit twice in the same year as the playoffs.
The Conference Finals in the East was between the number five Miami Heat and the number three Boston Celtics. With the emergence of rookie first-round sensation Tyler Herro, the Celtics were no match for Miami, and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra is taking his team to the NBA finals for the fifth time and the franchise’s sixth appearance overall. He will be going up against a familiar face in the finals, LeBron James, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time and former Heat star, who led the team to back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.
Junior Aaron Rotter is intrigued by the matchup between the Heat and the Lakers in the NBA Finals. “I think the Heat have been super exciting to watch, and I think they are definitely not a team to be underestimated,” he said. “That being said, LeBron and [forward/center] Anthony Davis are too much to handle in the end. Lakers will come out on top.”
Junior Teddy Crowther said he was locked in on watching the return of the NBA. “The NBA playoffs were awesome this year because it brought a sense of normalcy back into our lives,” he said, “and showed us some really competitive basketball. I enjoyed watching and the playoffs were very entertaining.”
The NBA starting back up again and maintaining a safe environment for all teams has been a welcoming site to viewers across the globe who missed watching their favorite teams play for many months.