For the first time in 40 years, a former Syracuse basketball player will be in the NBA Finals.
Jerami Grant and the Denver Nuggets defeated the Los Angeles Clippers, 104-89, in Game 7 of the second round of the NBA Playoffs on Tuesday. Grant scored 14 points to help Denver, who was down 3-1 to a team that features Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, advance to the Western Conference Finals to face Dion Waiters and the Los Angeles Lakers.
That means either Grant or Waiters — depending on who wins — will be the first Syracuse University alumnus to appear in the NBA Finals since Marty Byrnes in 1980. Byrnes was scoreless in his Game 6 appearance, but his Lakers beat the Philadelphia 76ers to win the championship.
Only two other Syracuse players have ever competed in a NBA Finals: Dennis Duval, who went on to become the city of Syracuse’s police chief, scored one basket in Game 3 of the 1975 finals for the Washington Bullets before losing the series to the Golden State Warriors; and Bill Gabor, who averaged 3.3 points over four games with the Syracuse Nationals in the 1954 finals, which the Nats lost to the Minneapolis Lakers in seven games.
So if Grant or Waiters ends up winning the 2020 NBA championship, they’ll only be the second Orange alum to do so. The Nuggets are the underdogs, but have a red-hot Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic ready to face LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the rest of the L.A. Lakers.
Grant and Waiters will also mark just the second time two former Syracuse players have played against each other in the NBA playoffs. Waiters and the Lakers beat Carmelo Anthony, who led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA Championship, and the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the NBA playoffs last month.
Grant, 26, is a key player for the Nuggets, averaging over 33 minutes in the postseason with 10.1 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. He also shot nearly 39% from three-point range during the regular season.
Grant was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft after two seasons with Syracuse, including an Orange run to the Final Four in 2013. Grant, whose uncle Horace Grant won four NBA championships, also played with the Oklahoma City Thunder before landing in Denver last summer.
Waiters, the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft after two seasons at SU, began the NBA season with the Miami Heat, who won the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday. Waiters was suspended three times, including after a reported reaction to some marijuana edibles, before joining the Lakers mid-season; he previously played for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the OKC Thunder.
Waiters, 28, is averaging 2 points and 0.4 rebounds over 7.6 minutes a game this postseason, but missed the last two games of the Lakers’ second-round playoff series against the Houston Rockets with a groin injury. He’s reportedly day-to-day and could appear in the Finals.
The Lakers face the Nuggets in Game 1 of the west finals on Friday at 9 p.m. ET on TNT. All games are played in the NBA bubble at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, without fans in person due to the coronavirus pandemic.