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Duke in the NBA: Conference finals

In just his third NBA season, Jayson Tatum has played like a superstar throughout the playoffs.
In just his third NBA season, Jayson Tatum has played like a superstar throughout the playoffs.

The conference finals are well underway, and the NBA bubble is emptier than it’s ever been. However, three former Blue Devils remain in the playoffs, gunning for the first ever bubble championship. So far, their performances have ranged from historic to negligible, but at the end of the day, all that matters is what college they went to. Over the next week, Duke’s playoff presence will be in jeopardy once again, and the former Blue Devils will have to put in career performances to ensure the survival of their teams.

Jayson Tatum

The Celtics have had almost no rest after their seven game series against Toronto, and were thrown headfirst into another series with a formidable Miami Heat team. And as the player who gets the least amount of rest on the Celtics, it’s a miracle that Jayson Tatum hasn’t collapsed yet. Over the last week, Tatum averaged 42 minutes, 25.3 points and 11 rebounds per game. At only 22 years old, Tatum is showing that he’s not willing to wait or compromise for greatness. He is playing with a fire that would make his idol Kobe Bryant proud.

Despite his unbelievable individual performance, the Celtics were unable to eke out wins in either of their first two games. While the margin of defeat was within five points, a 2-0 position is a disheartening place to be. Fortunately, something clicked in Game 3, and Boston pulled out an essential win. Tatum can’t take all the credit, however. He has had consistent help from Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, all of whom are averaging at least 20 points per game in the series. 

Duke wins in the west

You may be thinking, “How has Duke won in the west already? The conference finals have barely started.” That is true, however, the Blue Devils have an ace in the hole this year. Regardless of who wins the Eastern Conference Finals, we can be sure of one thing: Duke will be represented in the 2020 NBA Finals. With Mason Plumlee and Quinn Cook holding down the supporting casts on the Nuggets and Lakers respectively, there is no scenario where a Duke player doesn’t appear on a Finals roster. 

Whether said Duke alumni plays a significant role is a different question. Plumlee and Cook have seen very little action in the Playoffs thus far, although Plumlee has been a reliable role player. While used sparingly in Denver’s game seven against the Clippers, Plumlee contributed a respectable stat line in his Game 1 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. He put up nine points, four rebounds and three assists, but the Nuggets still lost by a 12-point margin. On the other hand, Cook was benched for the entirety of the Lakers-Rockets series after very restricted minutes against the Trail Blazers, in which he recorded 10 points and four assists off of 19 minutes. Not much has changed as Cook played three minutes in Game 1 and none in Game 2.

While Plumlee and Cook may be at each other’s necks in the coming weeks, Duke fans can rest easy knowing that they’ve already won the series, regardless of outcome.

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