This year’s NBA Playoffs are a little bit different than usual. Not only did they start a lot later than in years past, owing to delays caused by coronavirus shutdowns, but they’re also full of quirks and monumental firsts.
The fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks upset the Eastern Conference’s #1 team, the Philadelphia 76ers, in the conference semifinals round. This is only the second time that a team with no representatives on the NBA’s annual all-star squad made it to the final four of the playoffs. (The first: the Indiana Pacers did the same in 1991.)
Over the last three decades, the NBA has been dominated by title-hogging dynastic teams like the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, and Golden State Warriors. Whoever wins it all this year will represent some new blood. The Atlanta Hawks last won the NBA championship in 1958 and haven’t been to the Finals since 1961, back when they were the St. Louis Hawks.
The last time the Hawks contended for a title, the other three teams still in the playoffs — the Suns, Clippers, and Bucks — didn’t exist yet.
As for the other final four teams, the Phoenix Suns have never won a championship and neither have the Los Angeles Clippers. In fact, it’s the first time in the team’s 51-year history (including stints as the Buffalo Braves and San Diego Clippers) that they’ve made it as far as the conference finals.
Of the last teams remaining, only the Milwaukee Bucks have won a title — but that was way back in 1971, before any member of any playoff team was even born.
The last time the Atlanta Hawks reached the conference finals was in 2015, when they were coached by Mike Budenholzer, who currently hosts the Milwaukee Bucks…their opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The 2021 NBA Playoffs mark just the second time (it also happened in 1994) that both conferences’ #1 seed got knocked out
before the final four.
This year’s final four in the playoffs is completely different from last year’s. Last year’s finalists — the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, Miami Heat, and Boston Celtics all earned early exits. In fact, both Atlanta and Phoenix missed the playoffs entirely last year. Phoenix hasn’t played in a postseason since 2010, breaking the second-longest playoff draught in the NBA.
In a historic first, three of the four teams in the NBA’s final four are coached by African-American men: Nate McMillan (Atlanta), Tyronn Lue (Los Angeles), and Monty Williams (Phoenix).