The NBA kicked off the season by celebrating the milestone of its 75th NBA season. Teams across the league showcased the celebration by incorporating the diamond logoman on courts, merchandise and digital content. Prior to the season tipping off, a list of the top 75 players in the past 75 years — the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team — was released featuring today’s NBA superstars as well as legends of the game.
Overall, it had been two years since COVID-19 stripped the NBA of its standard-season format. But in 2021-22, the NBA’s players, employees and fans were able to recover from the shortened 2020-21 season and receive the fruits of a full NBA offseason.
Teams bore witness to a new face of the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo and the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks, which sent many squads back to the drawing board to enhance their rosters.
The Los Angeles Lakers started things off by shipping Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezel Harrell and a 2021 first-round pick to the Washington Wizards for nine-time All-Star and former Kia MVP Russell Westbrook. Additionally, they signed former scoring champion Carmelo Anthony in free agency. The Chicago Bulls joined the fray by picking up DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball in separate sign-and-trade deals. And after a meltdown in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals, the Philadelphia 76ers made it clear they were firm on parting ways with star guard Ben Simmons. As for the Bucks, they kept their championship core mostly intact.
COVID-19 has forced fans out of stadiums and prominent events which raised questions about the vaccination status of players and fans. In order for arenas to be full, teams were mandated by the state to implement the policy of a vaccine or negative COVID test. Four NBA teams — including the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors, and Toronto Raptors — chose to have an arena-wide vaccine mandate with no exception for unvaccinated guests.
Once the games began, the Golden State Warriors started off the season hot and were soon the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference behind the exceptional play of Stephen Curry. Golden State rolled along despite not having All-Star guard Klay Thompson in the mix as he continued to recover from a pair of leg injuries. Instead, Golden State relied on its budding youngsters like Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins as well as mainstay Draymond Green and others. Aside from the Warriors, the Memphis Grizzlies and Utah Jazz remained in the hunt as did the Phoenix Suns — the reigning West champs — in a West chase that was as exciting as ever.
Throughout the season, Curry continued to further etch his name in the 3-point shooting record books. He opened the season trailing Ray Allen by 141 for No. 1 on the NBA’s all-time 3-pointers made list. The moment he passed Allen couldn’t have come on a bigger stage: at Madison Square Garden in front of Allen and fellow Hall of Famer Reggie Miller. He clinched the mark with 7:32 left to play in the first quarter against the New York Knicks and an epic celebration ensued.
In the East, the Nets started off hot and were in the thick of the chase for No. 1 with the Bucks. Despite Kyrie Irving’s absence due to his vaccination status, the duo of Kevin Durant and James Harden kept Brooklyn afloat until Durant suffered an MCL injury in early January. That left Harden as the lone offensive threat and, with Irving’s absence lingering, Harden forced his way out of Brooklyn via a three-team trade that put Simmons on the Nets.
The Boston Celtics were 17-19 when 2021 came to a close and the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference. But from there, the Celtics took flight, amassing a 34-12 record in the 2022 portion of the season to seal the No. 2 seed in the East. The same couldn’t be said for the Lakers, who saw their newly formed trio of James, Westbrook and Anthony Davis fail to stay healthy or find chemistry all season long. Davis went down with a knee injury in mid-December, beginning a domino effect of injuries for the superstar big man. By season’s end, the Lakers were 33-49 and missed the postseason.
All-Star weekend in Cleveland featured a celebration of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team by gathering all the legends of the past and present. With each member in attendance sporting tailored NBA logoman blazers, each inductee — living or deceased — was introduced during halftime of the All-Star Game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and others gathered at center court, but it was Michael Jordan who stole the show as he was introduced last to complete the celebration.
The ascent of Ja Morant played a significant role in the surprising success of the Grizzlies. The former Kia Rookie of the Year enjoyed his first All-Star berth in 2021-22 while willing the Grizzlies to the West’s No. 2 seed. And despite being the lone star on his team, Nikola Jokic dazzled with his all-around play and secured his second consecutive Kia MVP, all while leading the injury-plagued Denver Nuggets to the No. 6 seed.
First-year coach Willie Green led one of the biggest turnarounds in NBA history in New Orleans. After the Pelicans got off to a 1-12 start — in large part because of the eventual season-long absence of Zion Williamson — things slowly turned around. February’s trade for Blazers star guard CJ McCollum paired with the rise of rookie Herb Jones and overall solid team defense powered New Orleans to a surprising Play-In Tournament berth.
The West’s Play-In Tournament featured the return of Paul George to the Clippers as L.A. squared off against the playoff-hungry Minnesota Timberwolves. The Wolves rallied past the Clippers to seal the No. 7 seed in an emotional, nail-biting game. From there, the Clippers lost to the Pelicans as Brandon Ingram and McCollum finished off a thrilling second half of 2021-22 with Play-In wins against L.A. and the San Antonio Spurs to seal the No. 8 seed.
In the East Play-In, Irving — who had returned to full playing status a few weeks earlier — led Brooklyn past the Cleveland Cavaliers for the No. 7 seed. The Atlanta Hawks, a conference finalist a season earlier, beat the Charlotte Hornets and the Cavs in the Play-In to grab the No. 8 seed.
Overall, the playoffs opened with the Suns as the No. 1 seed in the West and the Miami Heat in the same spot in the East. The first round went as expected, with the higher-seeded teams winning each series. However, that round wasn’t without its storylines. Ingram and the spry Pelicans gave a strong effort against the Suns in a series that went six games. In Dallas, All-Star guard Luka Doncic began a strong postseason run with a dominant showing against the Jazz as the Dallas Mavericks won that series, 4-2. Perhaps the most notable series was in the East, where Boston swept Durant, Irving, and the once-favored Nets.
The conference semifinals were set. In the West, it was Suns-Mavs and Grizzlies-Warriors, while in the East the Heat took on the Philadelphia 76ers and the Bucks and Celtics renewed their rivalry.
Thompson’s return to the Warriors in early January energized the Warriors and the playoffs. In the playoffs, Golden State needed Thompson (and the rest of the Warriors’ crew) against the upstart Grizzlies and Morant. After Morant went down with a knee injury in Game 3 of the series, Golden State took control and wrapped it up by Game 6. The Suns-Mavs series went the distance thanks in large part to the play of Doncic. He decimated Phoenix with his passing, rebounding and scoring, averaging 32.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game in that series. He was at his best in Game 7 in Phoenix, though, delivering 35 points, 10 rebounds and four assists as Dallas blew out the Suns in Phoenix to reach its first West finals since 2011.
An unfortunate injury to All-Star forward Khris Middleton in the playoffs hampered him and factored into the Bucks’ repeat hopes being dashed. Despite a herculean effort from Antetokounmpo in the East semis, Tatum and Brown delivered in the end as Boston prevailed in Game 7. The Heat took down the Sixers in six games as Philadelphia was hampered by a less-than-fully-healthy Joel Embiid (facial injury) and a disappointing overall playoff performance from Harden.
Curry and the Warriors put on a clinic in the West finals and while Golden State wasn’t able to completely stop Doncic, its defense limited he and Jalen Brunson in the series. Poole stepped up mightily (16.4 ppg), too, as the Warriors reached their sixth NBA Finals in the last eight seasons. Despite struggling at times throughout the series, Curry received the first-ever Magic Johnson Trophy, which is awarded to the West finals MVP.
In the East, the Celtics-Heat series — a rematch of their East finals showdown in 2020 — did not disappoint. Miami’s Jimmy Butler forced a Game 7 with a 47-point night in Boston in Game 6 and that series-deciding game did not disappoint. Butler had a chance to seal the series late in Game 7, but his shot missed and Boston prevailed as Tatum became the first recipient of the inaugural Bob Cousy Trophy, which is awarded to the East finals MVP.
As the NBA Finals began, the playoff thrills did not stop. Tatum, Al Horford and the rest fueled a 17-0 run in Game 1 to stun Golden State at home. The Warriors bounced back to take Game 2 before faltering in Game 3 despite a valiant comeback effort. Facing a 2-1 deficit, Curry took over from there in the series. He delivered an all-time Finals performance in Game 4 with 43 points (and a crucial late 3-pointer) to tie the series.
Wiggins had his moments in the series, too. He had 26 points and 13 rebounds in a Game 5 win and his harassing defense on Tatum proved key in the Finals as well. In Game 6, it was Curry’s time to shine again. He had 34 points (including six 3-pointers), seven rebounds and seven assists to spark a 103-90 win that gave Golden State another NBA championship.
Curry, the four-time champion and two-time Kia MVP, averaged 31.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 5.0 apg to secure his first Bill Russell Finals MVP award. The Warriors, back enjoying their championship glory, seemed to be favorites to repeat the feat in 2022-23.
Eastern Conference Play-In
Brooklyn defeated Cleveland (for 7th seed)
Atlanta defeated Charlotte (in 9-10 game)
Atlanta defeated Cleveland (for 8th seed)
Western Conference Play-In
Minnesota defeated LA Clippers (for 7th seed)
New Orleans defeated San Antonio (in 9-10 game)
New Orleans defeated LA Clippers (for 8th seed)
Eastern Conference first round
Miami defeated Atlanta (4-1)
Boston defeated Brooklyn (4-0)
Milwaukee defeated Chicago (4-1)
Philadelphia defeated Toronto (4-2)
Western Conference first round
Phoenix defeated New Orleans (4-2)
Memphis defeated Minnesota (4-2)
Golden State defeated Denver (4-1)
Dallas defeated Utah (4-2)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Miami defeated Philadelphia (4-2)
Boston defeated Milwaukee (4-3)
Western Conference semifinals
Dallas defeated Phoenix (4-3)
Golden State defeated Memphis (4-2)
Eastern Conference finals
Boston defeated Miami (4-3)
Western Conference finals
Golden State defeated Dallas (4-1)
Golden State defeated Boston (4-2)
Points — Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (30.6)
Assists — Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns (10.8)
Rebounds — Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (14.7)
Steals — Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs (2.0)
Blocks — Jaren Jackson Jr., Memphis Grizzlies (2.3)
FG% — Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (71.3)
FT% — Jordan Poole, Golden State Warriors (92.5)
3PT% — Luke Kennard, LA Clippers (44.9)
Kia Most Valuable Player — Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Kia Rookie of the Year — Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
Kia Defensive Player of the Year — Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Kia Most Improved Player — Ja Morant, Memphis Grizzlies
Kia Sixth Man of the Year — Tyler Herro, Miami Heat
Coach of the Year — Monty Williams, Phoenix Suns
All-Star Game MVP — Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
East Finals MVP — Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
West Finals MVP — Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Finals MVP — Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors