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2021 Eastern and Western Conference Finals Predictions

Conference finals predictions

The 2021 Eastern and Western Conference Finals have begun, so it is time to make some predictions as to who will represent their conferences in the NBA Finals. Compiled here are the TGH staff’s predictions for the teams that will be duking it out in the NBA Finals.

Ben Hendricks (VP of Sports Content)

The Clippers have been a very sleepy team. The Dallas Mavericks, carried completely by one player, Luka Doncic, took the veteran-laden Clippers to seven games. Phoenix, on the other hand, has blown through their competition. This includes the defending champion Lakers and 2021 MVP-led Nuggets.

Now, Los Angeles is without the best player in the playoffs, Kawhi Leonard, indefinitely. That did not prove to be a problem in Games 5 and 6 against the Jazz, but NBA fans should not lean on the entire team shooting the lights out of the building from distance in every game. Meanwhile, Chris Paul continues his revenge tour, proving he was the rightful MVP for taking this team to a level that almost no one saw coming.

In the East, the Hawks just finished a seven game series in which they benefitted from Ben Simmons almost inexplicable amount of shooting regression. Trae Young continues to transform into an offensive superstar on the NBA’s biggest stage, while the role players prove this team is actually fairly complete.

The Milwaukee Bucks are probably the hardest team to suss out. They looked dead in the water after falling down 0-2 to the Brooklyn Nets. They continued shooting and playing decent defense to push the series to seven games, however, culminating in an OT win for the ages. That being said, two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is miserable at the free throw line and the Bucks really only had to beat Kevin Durant and an essentially one-legged James Harden.

In the end, fatigue and injuries might be the things deciding these series. That being said, the Clippers are too talented and play defense too well to let these Suns beat them, despite their declining health. The Bucks are the healthiest team left in the playoffs and will take advantage of the upstart Hawks.

Western Conference: Clippers-4, Phoenix-3

Eastern Conference: Bucks-4, Hawks-2

Spencer Poole (NBA writer)

The Clippers have fought tooth and claw for their first Conference Finals appearance in franchise history. Kawhi Leonard carried them to a round one comeback versus Dallas, but his knee injury in round two forced LA to adapt. And adapt they did. The Clippers showed they don’t just rely on their superstars after great shooting from Terrence Mann and Reggie Jackson propelled them to a game six victory over the Jazz.

As for the Suns, they’ve had little to no trouble during their playoff run so far. A quick dispatch of the defending-champion Lakers in the first round was impressive enough, but they then followed it up with an even more dominating 4-0 sweep of the Nuggets. It’s truly been a team effort down in Phoenix, with guys like CP3, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikail Bridges all playing critical roles on the roster. 

Phoenix scored a hard fought victory in game one, even without the services of Chris Paul. And with a Kawhi Leonard return looking less and less likely, I just don’t see the Clippers having the personnel to get over the hump.

Conference finals predictions
Young is becoming an NBA superstar in the 2021 playoffs.(Photo by Nick Wass/AP Photo)

The Hawks are certainly the surprise team of the Conference Finals. A late season surge propelled them to the five seed and their momentum has continued throughout the first two rounds of the playoffs. Against Philadelphia, they benefited from woeful performances from  Simmons and Harris in the last few games, but credit has to be given to Trae Young for his great facilitation even when his shot wasn’t falling. 

For Giannis and the Bucks, they survived a grueling seven game series against title-favorites Brooklyn. After taking down KD and semi-available James Harden, they have to be confident of handling anyone left in the playoffs. Giannis has been great, but the big question is whether Middleton and Holiday will be able to step up consistently. 

Atlanta’s done great to make it this far, but I don’t think they have what it takes to stop Giannis, especially not if his co-stars are cooking as well.

Western Conference: Suns-4, Clippers-3

Eastern Conference: Bucks-4, Hawks-1

Zachary Russell (NBA writer)

After each team played and won a hard-fought seven game series, the Bucks and Hawks will face off for a chance to make the NBA Finals. In this matchup, the underdog Hawks will have to shoot the lights out if they want to have a chance of winning the series, as well as finding a defensive matchup for Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is easier said than done. While the Hawks are electric on offense behind Trae Young, they lack the perimeter defense to make it tough on Giannis, who will attack the basket and find the open man when the defense collapses. This series might be competitive at points, but Atlanta will have a tough time slowing down the Bucks.

With Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul’s return to the court still in question, the Western Conference Finals is making for a very interesting matchup. Devin Booker had a spectacular Game 1 and led Phoenix to the win after the Clippers had played just two days earlier. Against the Jazz, Paul George lifted his team in a way we hadn’t seen in a while. Whichever team gets their star back first, almost certainly Phoenix will have an advantage. But if the Clippers can continue getting great minutes from their role players as George leads the way, it will be a very close series.

Western Conference: Clippers-4, Suns-3

Eastern Conference: Bucks-4, Hawks-1

Theo Lin (New York Knicks writer)

Conference Finals prediction
George may have to will his team to the Finals by himself (Photo courtesy of AP)

The Clippers’ journey to the Western Conference Finals has been eventful, to say the least. A tense seven-game series against the Dončić-led (and at times Porziņģis-burdened) Mavericks illustrated the relative stability of this team against the next potential face of the league, and the comparatively uneventful dismantling of Utah in six demonstrated LA’s depth—as Terrence Mann’s career night certainly showed. The loss of superstar Kawhi Leonard will undoubtedly be felt by the team’s otherwise up-and-down cast: for example, it seems that every week fans rebuff their own opinions on Paul George. Like a metronome swinging from the horrible to the historic, George has alternately been “Pandemic P” and “Playoff P” this season. In short, the success of the Clippers in their first few games against the Suns entirely hinges on which of these iterations of Paul George shows up. 

The mobile and athletic DeAndre Ayton will likely run circles around the slower, more traditional Ivica Zubac, and Devin Booker will look to continue his stretch of dominance in the wake of Chris Paul’s absence due to league protocols. Indeed, this Suns team has been a pleasant surprise, to say the least. They earned their sea legs against the defending champion Lakers in the first round, and absolutely rattled the Nuggets, led by league MVP Nikola Jokić, in all of four games. Offensively, this squad is exciting, and this campaign has proven their capacity to win. The Clips remain their toughest challenge yet, but Monty Williams’ squad looks to be ready to compete at the highest level.

Bucks basketball has at times been called “boring,” “confusing,” and “ugly,” and all this may be true: Coach Budenholzer has made some enigmatic decisions in his tenure with Milwaukee, and their come-from-behind series win against the Nets showcased all of this team’s typical wackiness. On the bright side, Khris Middleton has been the guy down the stretch as of late, and Giannis Antetokounmpo—free throws aside—has been tremendous as ever. The loss of Donte DiVincenzo with a foot injury has led to several fantastic games from Pat Connaughton off the bench, and P.J. Tucker’s continuing defensive intensity and floor spacing has been a delight to watch. Milwaukee remains the team to beat, however clumsy they continue to be.

The Hawks, led by the transcendent Trae Young, a defensively-improved John Collins, and prime-Drummond doppelgänger Clint Capela, secured victory in shocking fashion over the 76ers on Sunday, proving that they’re not a side to take lightly. A solid supporting cast of players such as Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, and Kevin Huerter certainly match the Bucks’ depth, but the question remains as to whether or not their stars can match up to Milwaukee’s two-way firepower. Indeed, McMillan’s squad should be infinitely confident following their performance against Philly, but there’s no doubt that they’ll be met punch-for-punch by the equally adrenaline-fueled Bucks.

Western Conference: Suns-4, Clippers-3

Eastern Conference: Bucks-4, Hawks-2

Adam Hushion (NBA writer)

The Phoenix Suns have been the hottest team in the NBA playoffs. After beating the reigning champion Lakers, Phoenix swept the Denver Nuggets with this season’s MVP, Nikola Jokic. The Suns also feel like the most complete team remaining in the playoffs with their combination of shooting and size. The loss of Chirs Paul hurts but reports have indicated that he’ll likely be back at some point this series. Meanwhile, Devin Booker has proven he can run the offense for stretches with great results, Deandre Ayton has played his best basketball and role players like Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Cam Payne have stepped up. The Clippers on the other hand have had to claw through a seven game and a six game series back-to-back to reach this point. With Kawhi Leonard likely missing the remainder of this series, it’s unlikely the Clippers will be able to get through the rolling Suns.

Lets face it, the Atlanta Hawks are not supposed to be here. Trae Young has changed a lot of minds and proven himself as a superstar in the making and his teammates have given him all the support he needs. That being said, Atlanta’s win over Philadelphia last round felt more like a collapse by the Sixers than a coming out party for this young Hawks team. Alternatively, the Milwaukee Bucks should feel great about their playoff chances. After sweeping last year’s Eastern Conference Champion, the Miami Heat, they proceeded to win a dog fight of a seven game series against the Brooklyn Nets who had Kevin Durant playing some of the best ball of his life. The Bucks have the best player in the series, an array of defensive options to throw at Trae Young, and much more playoff experience, if they keep their foot on the gas, they should win this series easily. 

Western Conference: Suns-4, Clippers-2

Eastern Conference: Bucks-4, Hawks-1

Andrew Hess (Washington Wizards writer)

The Los Angeles Clippers have surprised NBA fans and pundits alike this postseason. After folding like bad origami in last year’s playoffs, LAC has shown an amount of heart that just was not there a season ago. They have twice now battled back from 2-0 deficits to win a series, including winning four straight games against the number one seeded Utah Jazz in the second round. Tyronn Lue’s small ball allowed them to completely trivialize Rudy Gobert’s defensive impact last round by forcing him to play perimeter defense. However, with Kawhi likely out for the remainder of the playoffs due to a knee injury, the Clipper’s chances are slim against such a talented and cohesive Phoenix Suns team. Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams has led this team to the promised land with Chris Paul as his right-hand man. One could attempt to downplay their success by claiming it has come against teams with injures stars, but they are 2-0 with Chris Paul unavailable to health and safety protocols and not making excuses for themselves. DeAndre Ayton has been a revelation for Phoenix in the playoffs, and Devin Booker just posted a 40 point triple-double. Phoenix is peaking at the right time and playing beautiful basketball. It is hard to see a scenario where the Clippers beat them without Kawhi Leonard, especially if Chris Paul returns for game three.

The Milwaukee Bucks have proved more doubters wrong than any team in the playoffs this year. They started off with a bang by sweeping the Miami Heat, who unceremoniously dispatched them last summer in the Orlando Bubble in just five games. Now, after defeating the Brooklyn Nets in seven games in an all-time battle between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant, things are looking bright for Milwaukee. With the title favorited Nets out of the equation, the spunky upstart Atlanta Hawks are the only team standing in their way. Nobody thought that Atlanta would make it this far, and the fact that they took down a number one seed in the Philadelphia 76ers should not be understated. But Philadelphia was a great matchup for Atlanta for a lot of reasons, most crucially because the 76ers did not have anyone who could expose Trae Young as a defender and take him off the dribble. Ben Simmons had an embarrassing series, and none of the 76ers other wing players are known for their ball-handling ability. It will be a different story against a backcourt of Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. Where things get interesting is that Atlanta has an offense much better geared towards games that are close late, where Trae Young can create his own shot and Antetokounmpo struggles. As long as Milwaukee can jump out to early leads, they should be in a comfortable position the whole series. Ultimately, expect Milwaukee to physically impose themselves in this series, and look at the matchup between Antetokounmpo and Clint Capela for an indicator of who is winning the physical battle.

Western Conference: Suns-4, Clippers-1

Eastern Conference: Bucks-4, Hawks-1

Featured Image courtesy of Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

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