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Duke in the NBA: Recapping the Conference Finals

After the Lakers' win and the Celtics' loss, Quinn Cook becomes the sole former Blue Devil remaining in the NBA playoffs.
After the Lakers' win and the Celtics' loss, Quinn Cook becomes the sole former Blue Devil remaining in the NBA playoffs.

Three Blue Devils entered the NBA Conference Finals; only one remains. After a global pandemic shut down play and players have spent nearly three months of isolated life in Orlando, Fl., the NBA will finally crown a champion for the 2019-20 season within the next few weeks.

Jayson Tatum

Former Duke forward Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics entered the week in a 2-1 deficit to a Miami Heat squad peaking at the most opportune time. In game four, the scoring prowess of Heat rookie Tyler Herro would prove too much for Boston. The Kentucky product notched a team-high 37 points while the Celtics struggled early in the game. After failing to score altogether in the first half, Tatum would finish with 28 points and nine rebounds en-route to a heartbreaking three-point loss. Down 3-1, Boston was then faced with an NBA bubble fatality against a Heat team that had only lost two games in the NBA playoffs. Tatum continued his trend of strong performances after halftime with a 17 point third quarter, leading his team to an impressive 13-point win. Unfortunately for Tatum, the Heat would prove to be too hot to handle and the Celtics would be exiled from Disney World with a 125-113 loss in game six. Despite the loss, fans have plenty of room for optimism. In only three seasons, Tatum has reached the Conference finals twice and has yet to miss the playoffs. This year he averaged 23.4 points and seven rebounds and three steals per game, all of which are career highs. At the tender age of 22, Tatum has already proven that he can be the franchise centerpiece for a title-contending team, and is only at the beginning of what should be a long and prosperous career.

Mason Plumlee

Forward Mason Plumlee played a nontrivial bench role for the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Plumlee’s most memorable moment of the NBA restart came at the end of game two. With 2.1 seconds left and a one-point lead, the Lakers sought to inbound the ball and score a game-winning basket. Lakers big Anthony Davis sprinted to the left side of the arc, caught, the inbound, and drained a relatively uncontested shot to win the game for Los Angeles. Prior to the inbound, Plumlee was guarding Davis, and many media members and fans assigned blame to the former Blue Devil and teammate Jerami Grant failing to communicate properly on defense. The Nuggets season eventually ended in a short five games to James, Davis and the Lakers. Plumlee finished the 2019-20 postseason with a quiet 2.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game.

Quinn Cook

The lone Blue Devil player remaining, Quinn Cook, hasn’t seen the court much in the playoffs. Cook saw action in four playoff games thus far, averaging 2.5 points per game in his appearances. Even with limited minutes this postseason, Cook could potentially receive his second NBA championship ring, adding to his legacy as a team-player and winner initiated at Duke.

Duke Alumni Executive and Staff on Finals Teams

NBA Champion, former Heat forward, and current Vice President of Basketball Development & Analytics Shane Battier played for Coach Mike Krzyzewski for four years, including the 2001 championship season. Miami Heat CEO Nick Arison also attended Duke in the early 2000s, serving as a team manager for Coach K for all four years, including as a team manager for the same championship team. Both will have the chance to add another title to their already impressive resumes.


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