NBA Finals Continue in the Bubble


Annie Xu ’22

The Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers face off in the NBA finals.

To say this National Basketball Association (NBA) season has been unpredictable is an understatement. From the meteoric rise of new stars, such as Jamal Murray and Tyler Herro, to the utter collapse of pre-bubble championship favorites the Los Angeles Clippers, the season has been a bright spot amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Twenty-two teams, eleven from each conference, were invited to play and live in the “bubble” located in Walt Disney World on July 7, after a season suspension starting in March. Players isolated in the “bubble” to protect themselves from COVID-19. However, questions about players’ mental health, new rules, new playoff seeding structures, and the adoption of virtual fans lingered on fans’ minds. 

The season resumed on July 30, with each of the top 22 teams in playoff contention playing in eight seeding games. In these eight games, the Devin Booker-led Phoenix Suns and th Damian Lillard-led Portland Trail Blazers took the league by storm. The Suns, who nearly everyone counted out pre-bubble, muscled their way to an undefeated record. However, the Suns were knocked out by an even more impressive Trail Blazers squad, which rallied from behind to secure an eighth-seed playoff berth. Damian Lillard was crowned Bubble MVP.

First-round playoff matchups saw the clashes of dominant forces in what many believed was the best first round in NBA history. First, the red-hot Trail Blazers stole game one from the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. The win caused chaos among sports commentators, with Colin Cowherd proclaiming the Trail Blazers the best 8th seed in league history. However, Lebron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers’ supporting cast quickly ravaged the Cinderella story. 

On the other side of the NBA, the first round was a breeze for the Eastern Conference teams, with three sweeps (a 4-0 victory) and one gentleman’s sweep (a 4-1 victory). The rest of the first round in the West also panned out well for the favorites, as the Denver Nuggets fought back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Utah Jazz. Denver’s run of improbable comebacks did not stop there. In the conference semifinals, the Nuggets, whose young roster was talented but inexperienced, shocked the championship favorite L.A. Clippers, once again coming back from being down 3-1. 

In the East, the ultra-young Miami Heat challenged and nearly swept the Eastern Conference’s 1-seeded Milwakee Bucks. Miami’s young stars, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, in harmony with the seasoned veterans, Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, and Jae Crowder, were too much for two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to handle. Antetokounmpo fumbled away opportunities to clinch multiple games and hobbled off the court following a game 3 loss.

The Boston Celtics’ victory in an intense seven-game series with reigning NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors, marked the rest of round two. In the West, the Lebron James-Anthony Davis combo overpowered the small-ball driven Houston Rockets lineup, advancing to the conference finals.

The NBA conference finals, once again, challenged the image commentators and experts painted pre-bubble. In the East, it was the first time the competitors were neither the one-seed or two-seed. Out West, Denver had taken the breath out of half of Los Angeles’s fan base. 

The conference finals, however, did not play out as surprisingly as preceding rounds. Though game three of the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Denver Nuggets was marked by an Anthony Davis buzzer beater, both series were over before game seven. In the East, Miami established itself as a legitimate contender for the NBA crown. Out West, Lebron James reminded everybody of his legacy.

These upsets in the semifinals decided the unlikely finals matchup between the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers. When surveyed, 65% of 35 Hotchkiss students believed the eventual victors would be the Lakers, while the other 35% firmly stood behind the Miami squad. Forty-five percent believed that the game would end at six games, 29% favored five games, 23% believed the series would extend to seven, and the rest thought it would be a clean sweep.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat play game 5 on October 9 where the Miami Heat will fight to play a game 6.


Author’s Analysis:

The NBA playoffs, especially the finals, are star-driven. No matter how many players scoring 15 a night you have, the big stage is for big-time players. The Lakers have arguably two of the top five players in the league in Lebron James and Antony Davis, while the Heat’s best player, Jimmy Butler, is border-line top 15. 

The Heat got to the Finals behind the explosive play of Rookie Tyler Herro, All-Star Bam Adebayo, and veteran Goran Dragic, although they all lack critical playoff experience. The Heat has no answer to the Laker’s dominant big man in Davis and cannot afford to double James without giving up an open three. 

Although Eric Spulstra, the Heat coach, is a multiple-time champion and proven leader, even his heroics cannot overcome the flaws of a young and small Heat roster. 


Final Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers win in five games

Finals MVP: Lebron James