2024 NBA Playoffs

Playoff Power Rankings: How the 4 conference finalists stack up

The semifinals are done and 4 teams are still alive. How do they look as a Finals berth is within reach for each team?

Will Jayson Tatum and the Celtics continue their playoff success in the East Finals vs. Indiana?

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Raise your hand if you had the Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves as three of the last four teams standing.

Repeating is hard and, though the Denver Nuggets were up 20 in the second half of Game 7 on Sunday, this is the fifth straight year in which the defending champions have failed to reach the conference finals. Instead, it’s the Wolves making their first trip in 20 years. On the other side of the bracket, the Indiana Pacers have come from the No. 6 seed to be the team to face the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Celtics are here for the sixth time in the last eight years, and they remain No. 1 in the Power Rankings as we take stock of how all four remaining teams got here.

Plus-Minus Players of the conference semis

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Previously …

OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (Playoffs Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (Playoffs Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (Playoffs Rank)
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (Playoffs Rank)

The 16 teams have averaged 112.4 points scored per 100 possessions and 93.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes in the playoffs, down from 114.5 and 99.2 (for all 30 teams) in the regular season.

NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via threads.

Last Week:1

Playoffs: 8-2

OffRtg: 118.9 (2) DefRtg: 106.1 (3) NetRtg: +12.8 (1) Pace: 91.0 (16)

First round: Beat Miami in 5 games.
Conference semifinals: Beat Cleveland in 5 games.
Conference finals: vs. Indiana.

The Celtics have certainly had the easiest path to the conference finals, especially with Jimmy Butler having missed the entire first round and Donovan Mitchell having missed the last two games of the conference semis. But they’ve been more dominant in the playoffs (plus-12.8 per 100 possessions) than they were in the regular season (plus-11.7).

Three takeaways

  • They’re 8-0 when they’ve led by double-digits and 0-2 when they’ve trailed by double-digits. Only one of their 10 games (Game 4 in Cleveland) has been within five points in the last five minutes, and the Cavs never cut the lead below five late in that one, with the Celtics scoring six points on four clutch possessions.
  • They lead the playoffs in field goal percentage in the paint (61.7%), but rank last in the percentage of their shots that have come in the paint (41%, down from a league-low 43% in the regular season). They’ve been without Kristaps Porzingis (third on the team in both total shots and points in the paint in the regular season), and will likely be without him for at least Games 1 and 2 of the conference finals.
  • They’ve been the best defensive rebounding team in the playoffs, having obtained 80.5% of available defensive boards over their 10 games. The Pacers aren’t as relentless an offensive rebounding team as the Knicks, but Isaiah Jackson will get after it and Indy has retained 40.6% of available offensive boards when he’s been on the floor.

The Celtics and Pacers combined to score 120 points per 100 possessions over their five regular-season meetings. Boston should be able to score against Indiana, but this will be, by a wide margin, the toughest offense the Celtics have had to defend in the playoffs, and it might take some time to adjust to the pace and ball movement.

Next game: Tue. vs. IND, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Last Week:2

Playoffs: 8-3

OffRtg: 116.1 (6) DefRtg: 107.6 (4) NetRtg: +8.5 (2) Pace: 93.0 (10)

First round: Beat Phoenix in 4 games
Conference semifinals: Beat Denver in 7 games
Conference finals: vs. Dallas

Wow. Not only are the Wolves going to the conference finals for the first time in 20 years, they got there by coming back from 20 points down in Game 7 … on the road … against the defending champs.

Three takeaways

  • Anthony Edwards had a rough shooting night (6-for-24) in Game 7 on Sunday, but still has an effective field goal percentage of 57.8% in the playoffs, up from 52.2% in the regular season. That’s the second biggest jump (trailing only that of Andrew Nembhard) among the 38 players with at least 100 field goal attempts in the playoffs.
  • Over their 11 playoff games, the Wolves have been 19.4 points per 100 possessions better in the second half (plus-18.4) than they’ve been in the first half (minus-1.0). The difference has been almost entirely about offense, with the Wolves ranking 11th in first-half offense (106.7 points scored per 100 possessions) and first in second-half offense (125.8 scored per 100).

The possession game could be critical in the Western Conference Finals. Neither team has taken care of the ball particularly well, but both have been strong on the offensive glass.

Next game: Wed. vs. DAL, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT

Last Week:5

Playoffs: 8-4

OffRtg: 113.9 (7) DefRtg: 110.6 (6) NetRtg: +3.3 (6) Pace: 93.4 (8)

First round: Beat LA Clippers in 6 games
Conference semifinals: Beat Oklahoma City in 6 games
Conference finals: vs. Minnesota

Historically, playoff success correlates more to how teams perform early in the regular season than to how they perform late. But the Mavs have followed a late-season surge (16-2 before punting their last two games) with their second trip to the conference finals in the last three years.

Three takeaways

  • Three teams scored (much) more efficiently than the Mavs in the conference semis, but their 112.0 points per 100 possessions were 18.5 more than the Thunder allowed in the first round, with that being the biggest round-to-round jump for any team on either end of the floor. Luka Doncic registered his lowest usage rate by a huge margin in any playoff series (see below), but scored more efficiently than he did in the first round against the Clippers.
  • In the first round, the Mavs were better with Daniel Gafford on the floor than they were with Dereck Lively II on the floor. In the conference semis, they outscored the Thunder by 23.8 points per 100 possessions in Lively’s 139 minutes, but were outscored by 20.2 per 100 in Gafford’s 139 minutes, with the bigger differential on defense.
  • Though their starting lineup wasn’t good against Oklahoma City, the Mavs have outscored their opponents by 11.2 points per 100 possessions (scoring 119.2 per 100) in 428 total minutes with both Doncic and Kyrie Irving on the floor together in the playoffs. But they’ve been outscored by 17.3 per 100 (scoring just 98.4 per 100) in 130 total minutes (10.8 per game) with one on the floor without the other.

The Mavs went 1-3 against Minnesota in the regular season, scoring just 105.6 points per 100 possessions (their worst mark against any opponent) over the four games. But Doncic and Irving played together in just one of the four games (that was the same case vs. Oklahoma City) and all four came before the additions of Gafford and P.J. Washington.

Next game: Wed. @ MIN, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT

Luka Doncic, usage & efficiency, by playoff series

Year Round Opponent USG% TS%
2020 First round LA Clippers 36.5% 59.6%
2021 First round LA Clippers 39.1% 57.2%
2022 First round Utah 37.0% 59.8%
2022 Conf. semis Phoenix 40.3% 58.3%
2022 Conf. finals Golden State 40.1% 55.9%
2024 First round LA Clippers 34.3% 51.5%
2024 Conf. semis Oklahoma City 27.1% 56.6%

USG% = Percentage of team’s possessions finished (via field goal attempts, turnovers or trips to the line) while on the floor
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))

Last Week:7

Playoffs: 8-5

OffRtg: 121.7 (1) DefRtg: 118.1 (13) NetRtg: +3.6 (5) Pace: 93.1 (9)

First round: Beat Milwaukee in 6 games
Conference semifinals: Beat New York in 7 games
Conference finals: vs. Boston

The last two Game 7s at Madison Square Garden (29 years apart) have been won by the Indiana Pacers. The 97-95 win in the 1995 conference semis came when Patrick Ewing missed a finger roll at the buzzer. The victory on Sunday, however, was a complete offensive onslaught by the Pacers, who scored an amazing 130 points on 92 possessions (not trying on the last two), tying the Knicks (who had exactly 130 on 92 in Game 2) for the most efficient offensive game of these playoffs.

Three takeaways

  • With their mark of 75.3% (second highest in playoff history) in Game 7, the Pacers are the only team with a higher effective field goal percentage in the playoffs (58.1%) than they had in the regular season (NBA-record 57.8%). What was the No. 2 offense in the regular season has also seen a drop in turnover rate and a jump in offensive rebounding percentage.
  • Though T.J. McConnell has been a pest and Aaron Nesmith did about as good as can be asked against Jalen Brunson, the Pacers’ defense hasn’t been great. Though they were without Giannis Antetokounmpo for all six games and without Damian Lillard for two, the Bucks scored almost as efficiently in the first round (116.8 points per 100 possessions) as they did in the regular season (117.6 per 100). And the Knicks scored more efficiently in the conference semis (119.3 per 100) than they did in the first round (116.7 per 100), with that first mark being the third highest for a losing team in a playoff series in the 28 years for which we have play-by-play data.
  • Among 70 players with at least 25 3-point attempts in the playoffs, the three leading 3-point shooters are Andrew Nembhard (19-for-39, 48.7%), Ben Sheppard (18-for-38, 47.4%) and Myles Turner (32-for-70, 45.7%). Sheppard has seen the biggest jump in effective field goal percentage (66.0%, up from 50.0% in the regular season) among 81 players with at least 50 field goal attempts in the playoffs.

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined to shoot 59.3% over their five games against the Pacers in the regular season, though it should be noted that the second most common defender for both of them was Buddy Hield. At least until Kristaps Porzingis returns, the Pacers should be able to assign Pascal Siakam (who was a plus-9 in his 32 minutes with Indiana vs. Boston) to one of the two, with Aaron Nesmith defending the other.

Next game: Tue. @ BOS, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN