It’s impossible to ignore what’s right in front of us, the NBA chose to follow through with the shortest offseason in league history (71 days), and now we’re witnessing a postseason where numerous stars and high usage/minutes players have gone down with injuries of varying severity. Correlation is not causation, but it certainly doesn’t feel like much of a leap to connect the dots. Some of these injuries would’ve happened either way, the shortened offseason didn’t have much do to with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving spraining their ankles, but nonetheless you get my point.
With that disclaimer in hand, the on-court product has still been pretty fun through the first several weeks of the playoffs. Specifically, there have been a few out-of-nowhere reclamation projects that have been really fun as well as several young players having their “I’ve arrived” moment. This is called Canis Happy Hour in part because we’re going to try to just enjoy a few of these fun stories throughout the postseason, and almost every team remaining has at least one player we can point to as being a fun story.
Let’s get to it.
Atlanta Hawks - Trae Young
So much of Young’s game had been met with skepticism throughout his first few years in the league. Some of it still may be warranted, as it’s likely that either Milwaukee or Brooklyn would be able to target him better on defense in the Eastern Conference Finals. The important part there is not necessarily the defensive question, though, it’s that the Hawks are on the verge of making the freaking Eastern Conference Finals behind the stellar play of Ice Trae.
Trae has checked pretty much every box during this postseason run, and it may have reached it’s crescendo last night as the Hawks erased a 25-point third quarter deficit on their way to taking a 3-2 lead in Philadelphia over the top-seeded 76ers. This is a third-year player who has figured out how to score and facilitate while facing a defense with three All-Defensive team players all zoned in on stopping him.
Trae is that dude. If Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, and Joel Embiid can’t stop him in the PnR, there’s nobody who can. He is the real deal, and it’s been an absolute joy to see him and the Hawks somehow play both the role of the underdog and the villain all at once. Now, the Hawks are going home with a chance to take down the number one seed and advance to the ECF ahead of schedule.
Trae Young:— Sarah K. Spencer (@sarah_k_spence) June 17, 2021
"When you talk about underdogs, for a team that has no All-Stars, no All-Defensive players, no All-NBA players, this team is fighting. We're in the 2nd round of the playoffs and I think we've just had that chip on our shoulder all year of being overlooked."
Brooklyn Nets - Jeff Green and Blake Griffin
This is a two-for-one featuring a couple of vets who have proven to be vital for a wounded team clinging to championship aspirations.
Uncle Jeff has bounced around the league, but did his best Steph Curry impression in Game 5 against the Bucks to support Kevin Durant, going 7-for-8 from three. It is really hard not to root for Jeff Green. Seeing him evolve with the modern NBA and shift from a prototypical small forwards when he entered the league to a small-ball center now has been awesome.
JEFF GREEN HAS 24 POINTS ON 6-6 3 PT pic.twitter.com/pvU9SFbWQM— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 16, 2021
We can debate the semantics of why it was this way, but Blake was pretty much left for dead in Detroit. Some of that probably had to do with his own effort-level and engagement on a rebuilding team, but he’s truly been a revelation in Brooklyn. It’s been really fun to watch. He’s not the athlete he once was, but he’s been a better defender than I expected and his shooting and playmaking from the center spot has opened up a few things for the Brooklyn offense. The Nets need to win one of the next two against Milwaukee to advance. If they’re going to do so, Uncle Jeff and Blake will have to play big once again.
Phoenix Suns - Everyone?
There hasn’t been a more fun team to watch in the playoffs than the Suns. After a bit of a feel-out process early in the season, Devin Booker and Chris Paul look like the dynamic and dangerous back court that we thought they could be entering the season. On any given night either of them could beat you, and their games are quite literally built for the postseason.
Paul looks like he’s found the fountain of youth, but Booker’s passing has been the most notable thing from this back court to me. He’s finding guys on the skip passes to the corners that he would not have made early in his career. Not to mention, Booker looks like a true killer who has no problem rising to the moment. This won’t be his last trip to the WCF, if I had to guess.
You also can’t say enough about Mikal Bridges and DeAndre Ayton. These guys both look like stars. Ayton has been the subject of some ridicule for simply not being Luka Doncic, which was never fair to him, but he’s looked like a legitimate stud in the postseason that Phoenix is lucky to have. The guy just played Nikola Jokic to a draw or better. He’s leaned into being a finisher around the rim and a fantastic defensive presence, while Bridges has expanded his game beyond the simple “3-and-D” moniker. He’s attacking closeouts aggressively and with force. This Suns core is a problem, and they’re the current betting favorites to come out of the West.
Lastly, we have to give a shout-out to Cam Payne. Payne was literally out of the league not too long ago, and now is an indispensable part of the Suns operation. I don’t think they beat the Lakers without Payne’s play, given the shape Chris Paul was in for that series. If you’d told someone in 2019 that Cam Payne would swing a playoff series against LeBron James, you’d have been laughed out of the room. Now, Payne has turned it around and made himself a legitimate part of a title contender.
Los Angeles Clippers - Paul George and Reggie Jackson
I’ve made more jokes about Paul George and the Clippers than anyone, but my goodness has George been impressive, capped off by his 37/16/5 Game 5 against the top-seeded Jazz. It was reminiscent of his moments as a younger player going toe-to-toe with peak-LeBron in those great Pacers-Heat series’. He didn’t settle, and attacked Rudy Gobert at will. That version of Paul George is simply one of the best players in the NBA, full stop.
Paul George this playoffs:— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 17, 2021
He’s scored 30+ in three straight games. pic.twitter.com/ZT7J5ss7QN
It was fantastic to see George answer the bell, and he really has had a great postseason in general that has flown under-the-radar because of how great Kawhi Leonard was before his injury. I am truly happy for Paul George on a personal level. He had his chance and answered the bell. There is no more slander for Playoff P.
As for Reggie Jackson, Mr. June has come through and given the Clippers the extra juice they’ve needed. I don’t think they beat Luka and the Mavs without his shotmaking, and the shooting regression we’ve been waiting for has never come. Jackson is playing like a legitimate stud. After being bought out by Detroit last season, he seems to have found a home.
What’s really fun about this one is that both of these guys are tight. George and Jackson go way back, and Jackson once called George his best friend in the league. Now, even without Kawhi, these two have the Clippers on the brink of the first Conference Finals appearance in franchise history.
I know it’s been a brutal year and postseason with injuries. This wasn’t meant to “distract” from that or carry water for the league, but simply just to highlight some of the feel-good stories. Let’s take these good vibes into the rest of the work week and through the weekend. Cheers, team.