The champion Milwaukee Bucks along with the Brooklyn Nets reign supreme in the Eastern Conference. However, while 2021 Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo takes his victory lap; amidst help raising the franchise’s first championship banner in 50 years, the jury’s still out on whether Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving can reach the promised land in 2022.
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From the final week of the 2020-21 regular season till Game 3 of its Eastern Conference semifinal matchup against the Bucks, Brooklyn went full-throttle.
2021-22 Eastern Conference Elite: The Bucks, Nets
Entering Game 3 winners of nine of their previous 10 matchups, withstanding a 2-0 lead in their best-of-7 series, the Nets were heavily favored to head to the Eastern Conference finals before a pair of critical injuries, respectively, rattled the star trio’s dominance.
43 seconds in of Game 1, Harden injured his right hamstring before a right ankle sprain in Game 4 ended Irving’s season. Kyrie was forced to take in the remaining three games in street clothes from the sidelines while a deteriorating Harden wasn’t himself, especially in Game 7 when Durant needed him most.
Harden responded from his five-point dud in Game 5 with 16 points and 7 assists in a losing effort — which set the stage for a classic Game 7 matchup at Milwaukee that ended in thrilling fashion. We’ll never know if Durant’s foot-on-the-arc 3-point attempt — which would have forced second overtime in the 115-111 series-clinching defeat — would have salvaged Brooklyn’s season. However, one thing’s certain; the Nets are still a force to be reckoned with.
But, what about the Celtics?
How Will Celtics Compare Vs. The Bucks, Nets?
What’s the next step in their respective development? How will they lead? How will they respond to a new head coach in Ime Udoka? The answers to these questions could lead to an unforeseen return to the Eastern Conference finals, where the 2019-20 Celtics’ run ended two seasons ago.
Brown, who’s currently on the mend, will continue rehabbing his way back from left wrist surgery. In the meantime, all eyes will be glued to Tatum.
And, in many ways, they already are.
Tatum Goes Off Vs. Bradley Beal, RJ Barrett & More
After a recent photo of a swollen Tatum lifting weights surfaced online, per BasketballIsLife on Twitter, this week, fans took note of Jayson’s gains and can’t help wondering if this will be the year they’ll see the third pick in the 2017 NBA draft compile an MVP-caliber season.
Furthermore, Tatum balling out against Washington Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal, New York Knicks’ RJ Barrett, among others, during a recent pick-up game, added more fuel to the fire.
His best highlights include him zooming past Beal for a loud dunk, along with numerous takes to the rim in transition. Through nobody’s fault but Tatum, who continues to elevate his game year after year; the expectations have risen.
Blame Jayson for his playoff career-high 50-point performance in Game 3 of the Celtics’ first-round series, which handed a fully healthy Nets team their only playoff loss in 2021. And as Team USA’s sixth man at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, it was Tatum’s contributions that led to a dominating finish by the U.S. — which went far from unnoticed when he helped guide his team to winning games in the latter rounds, including the final against France, where Jayson earned his first Olympic gold medal.