The 2022 NBA conference finals are in full swing. While most experts are betting on the Golden State Warriors to claim the Larry O’Brien championship trophy, the other contenders are not ready to capitulate ahead of time.
The NBA 2022 playoffs are full of surprises, inspiring us to go down memory lane and take a look at some of the previous champions.
1. Golden State Warriors
With five consecutive appearances in the NBA finals from 2015 to 2019 and three trophies, the legacy of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Steve Kerr is cemented. Fans are still debating what would have happened if Kevin Durant stayed with the team that helped him earn two rings.
The Warriors redefined the league by focusing on long-range shots, something Curry and Thompson excel in. And with a coach like Kerr, who was known as a reliable three-pointer, it’s not surprising that Golden State changed the style of the league. After winning the titles in 2015, 2017, and 2018, many teams borrowed their recipe for success. Yet the Warrior is not retreating, something apparent from the 2022 campaign.
2. Toronto Raptors
After 24 seasons in the league, the Toronto Raptors won a title in 2019, beating the Warriors in a six-game series. Some basketball fans think the title comes with an asterisk, considering Kevin Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon in game 5. However, injuries are part of the game, and the Raptors were competitive in previous matches when the Warriors were at full strength.
The entire Raptors playoff campaign was contested, and after a comfortable start against the Orlando Magic, Toronto struggled with the Philadelphia 76ers in a seven-series dual. The drama was resolved with a buzzer-beater moment in game 7 by the biggest addition for the season – Kawhi Leonard. Traveling to Milwaukie for the Eastern finals was easy, only thanks to the short distance between the two cities.
However, Leonard and the rest of the squad managed to overcome Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. The small forward proved his worth against the Warriors and received the MVP award for his contribution to the first title in Toronto’s history.
3. LA Lakers
When LeBron James announced he was moving to Los Angeles, nobody was surprised, as many believed King James would revive the Lakers. LeBron’s first season in LA didn’t go according to plan – injuries and a weak roster distanced him from the playoffs. Things got more serious in the following year after Antony Davis got recruited via a trade deal with New Orleans.
Davis was a huge boost for the Lakers, but critics think the biggest help for the Lakers in the 2020 season was the pandemic that forced a prolonged hiatus in the regular season. The break allowed James to catch his breath and enter the bubble in Orlando, fresh and hungry for a title.
The finals were not something anybody predicted after Miami Heat’s young team led by Jimmy Butler brushed aside the competition in the East. However, the vigorous Miami team was no match for a veteran like James, who managed to secure his fourth ring and gave the LA Lakers the 17th championship title.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
Some teams stay in the shadows for years, being perceived as sparring partners for the real contenders. This is a role the Milwaukee Bucks played in the East for decades until the Greek Freak got drafted in 2013. The power forward made the Bucks a force in the East, and many believed the team would reclaim past glory, considering the Bucks were a champion in 1971.
For the 2020-2021 season, the team signed Jrue Holiday, who, with Kris Middleton, provided the support Giannis required on the perimeter to win the 2021 title. The finals started in Phoenix Sun’s favor after the team won the first two games. Sports experts were convinced that the experienced Kris Paul and the talented Devin Booker would not let this opportunity slip. However, the Bucks made a comeback and won four games straight.
5. San Antonio Spurs
The 2014 San Antonio Spurs were a veteran team with three titles. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili had played together for 14 years at that point and were coached by the legendary Gregg Popovich. In addition, Kawhi Leonard was part of the team.
After losing the finals in 2013 to the Miami Heat, they were not in the mood for a new failure. The 2014 finals were a repeat of the previous season, but this time San Antonio outscored Miami in four out of five games, claiming the fifth title in team history.
If the playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that no team should get overlooked. While some teams strive to justify their favorite role, others are happy to prove their worth. In bettor’s terms – there isn’t a safe bet per se. This is what makes the NBA a challenging and thrilling market to bet on and even more interesting to follow.