We don't need to waste any time with a lengthy introduction. Almost the entire 2023 postseason is now in the books. We've witnessed 16 teams play in 14 different playoff series thus far. Some of those series have been quite good. Others? Not so much.
So with the first three rounds now in the books and just one series remaining (), let's rank the 14 matchups we've seen thus far based on quality of basketball, historical ramifications and overall quantity of fun.
14. Denver Nuggets vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
This was a fairly standard No. 1 seed vs. No. 8 seed "gentleman's sweep." Denver won the first two games at home pretty comfortably. Things got harder in Minnesota, but the Nuggets still picked up the split, and then they took care of business at home for Game 5. It was by no means a bad series. It was the perfect warmup round for Denver, and Anthony Edwards was incredible for the Timberwolves, averaging 35 points over the last four games of the series and cementing his status as one of the league's most promising young stars. But this was one of the few series of the postseason in which the outcome was never remotely in doubt. That earns it automatic placement at No. 14.
13. Philadelphia 76ers vs. Brooklyn Nets
The basketball was pretty underwhelming here, but the drama? That was far more fun. This series produced an entire discourse on groin shots. James Harden played against the team he ditched a year earlier ... except everyone he played with had also left and the player he was traded for (Ben Simmons) was nowhere to be found. The Nets also created an interesting template for defending Joel Embiid by doubling relentlessly and forcing the rest of the 76ers to beat them. As sweeps go, this wasn't half bad.
12. New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
There are rock fights, and then there's Knicks-Cavs. Cleveland averaged the fewest half-court points per 100 possessions (102.2) of the playoffs and the Knicks finished the postseason at a miserable 88.5 points per 100 half-court plays thanks in large part to their struggles against Cleveland. The basketball was hard to watch in this series, but once again, drama carries the day. Donovan Mitchell faced the team that nearly traded for him over the summer and was outplayed by Jalen Brunson for the second consecutive postseason. Cleveland's twin towers of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen were bullied inside by New York's burlier big men, and now the Cavaliers have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to better surround their young core.
11. Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers
There's something immensely compelling about a contender being confronted with its mortality. The entire buildup to the first round was about how many teams wanted to avoid Phoenix, the betting favorite to win the Western Conference before the playoffs began. The Clippers drew the matchup, and without Paul George (and, later, Kawhi Leonard) they didn't really stand much of a chance. But they managed to take a game and their four losses were by just 37 combined points. The Clippers were never going to beat the Suns, but they showed us just how flawed Phoenix ultimately was.
10. Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks
Hey, speaking of "are we sure the favorite is OK?" series, we have a Celtics-Hawks series that looked like a walkover through two games. And then the last four games were all decided by single digits. Atlanta scored at least 119 points in all four of them, and suddenly the vaunted Boston defense that had stifled everyone for the past year and a half looked beatable. Parity has been one of the overarching themes of this postseason. The computer models suggested that despite its record, Boston was far and away the best team in the field. The Atlanta series poked holes in that notion and made it clear that the championship was fully up for grabs. Throw in the resurrection of Trae Young's reputation and this was a fairly entertaining matchup.
9. Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks
The basketball itself was similar to what we saw between New York and Cleveland: ugly and defensive-minded. Of course, where these two teams are concerned, that's preferable. The Knicks and Heat played versions of this exact series back in the 1990s, and while seeing this style of play too frequently would be boring, it's a nice change of pace every now and then. Throw in the heroics of Jalen Brunson in New York's losing effort and Knicks-Heat not only turned out to be more fun than expected, but set up a renewed rivalry that should last the next several years.
8. Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Lakers
It might seem a bit unfair to rank a sweep higher than series that went six games, but the stakes and the level of basketball demanded it. Yes, Denver won all four games in this matchup. But three of those four games came down to the wire. The matchup featured the best player in the world chasing his first championship and the man who held that title for more than a decade chasing possibly his last one. The decision to defend Nikola Jokic with Rui Hachimura may not have been entirely original, but it was a successful and slightly unconventional approach to slowing down an MVP. The only problem with this series was that we didn't get more of it.
The fun of this series mostly took place off the court rather than on it. Dillon Brooks asked the basketball gods for LeBron James, and he was punished for it. James may not have dropped 40 on him, but the Lakers won the Game 6 clincher by 40, and now it appears as though Brooks . There were two close games in this series, but they were both quite fun. The first ended with Austin Reaves proclaiming that he is, in fact, " ." The second turned on a from James. All in all, this series was a delight and easily could have ranked far higher.
6. Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Nothing like a good collapse, right? With Milwaukee leading by double digits in the fourth quarter of Game 4, the entire basketball world assumed that the Bucks would storm to an easy series victory with Giannis Antetokounmpo back on the court. Jimmy Butler had other plans. With 98 combined points in the last two games, the Heat overcame double-digit deficits in Games 4 and 5 to steal the series. That made the Bucks the sixth No. 1 seed to lose in the first round, and the defeat cost Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer his job. It's just another feather in the cap of Butler, .
5. Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
This series was slated to be ranked No. 2 prior to Game 7. And then we actually witnessed Game 7. Yes, Jayson Tatum's historic performance made it worth the watch, but after years of Doc Rivers and James Harden collapsing in elimination games, we should no longer be surprised by the sort of things we saw. Harden may have thrown us off of the scent with perhaps the two best playoff games of his career earlier in the series, but a 33-10 third-quarter decimation was proof of how little has really changed. Harden and Embiid combined for just 24 points, and the Process-era 76ers went down with an absolute whimper.
4. Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics
This series could've earned the No. 1 slot had it not ended in such disappointing fashion. The Celtics could have made history as the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 postseason deficit, but Jayson Tatum rolled his ankle on the first play of Game 7 and everything went sideways for Boston. This series still could have risen higher had the basketball been a bit more compelling leading up to Game 7, but aside from the miraculous Game 6 ending, the series was largely a tale of the league's make or miss nature. Miami made its 3-pointers in Games 1-3. Boston did in Games 4 and 5. The series lacked the strategic flair and individual mastery we saw out of the three other series ranked above this one.
3. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors
This series was everything that makes the playoffs great. Yes, the historical ramifications of James facing Stephen Curry for a fifth time and potentially ending Golden State's dynasty were enormous, but this series was also a tactical goldmine. The Lakers exploited Golden State's two-big lineups by letting Anthony Davis function as a full-time rim-protector in Game 1. The Warriors countered with JaMychal Green in Game 2, forcing Davis to acknowledge a decent shooter in Game 2. The Lakers countered by putting Jarred Vanderbilt on Draymond Green so they could switch the Curry-Green pick-and-roll. The Warriors countered the counter by starting Gary Payton II and using him to screen for Curry, which dragged Davis onto the perimeter and away from the rim. The Lakers countered the counter's counter by switching all ball screens. So yes, a casual fan could enjoy the big names and the drama, but this series was a diehard's dream as well. It was a tactical chess match between a four-time champion and a rookie head coach. The rookie won.
2. Denver Nuggets vs. Phoenix Suns
Have you ever wondered how far two players can drag an undermanned team against the possible championship favorite? The apparent answer is six games. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker combined to score just over 56% of Phoenix's points against Denver, and the 87 they totaled in Game 3 was one of the best performances by two teammates you'll ever see. Unfortunately, neither of them was the best player in the series. Nikola Jokic stomped the Suns by averaging a staggering 34.5-point triple-double in the series on just under 60% shooting. Individual performances define postseasons. Nobody has been better than Jokic and Booker were in this series.
1. Golden State Warriors vs. Sacramento Kings
Quality basketball? Check. Two games were determined in the final minute, while two more were nearly as close. Historical ramifications? Check. A four-time champion faced a team in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Drama? Check. Green stomped on Domantas Sabonis' chest and then when Sabonis wouldn't shake his hand after the series. Great individual performances? That's a big check, as Curry posted the first 50-point Game 7 in NBA history. This was a perfect playoff series. No notes. It will be almost impossible for anything to unseat Kings-Warriors for its perch for the rest of the postseason.