NBA Playoffs: Requiem for Round One

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Playoff basketball typically starts off well scripted, which is why this opening round felt so wildly refreshing and fun this time around.

This year there was danger to the proceedings, like an axe had been taken to the altar of foregone conclusions and outcomes truly were in doubt. Through 40 games the playoffs proved to be a pure topsy-turvy hardwood apocalypse. It was-for lack of a more sophisticated word-awesome – even the Donald Sterling sideshow couldn’t take away from so many exciting games.

For a moment it appeared a strange possibility (almost bordering on likelihood) that the Top 4 seeds of the mighty Western Conference might all lose to their lower ranked counterparts, which would be quite the feat of guerilla warfare, not to mention an historic event in the annals of the NBA. Three of those series were to end up going 7 full games; the other went to 6 and featured a buzzer beating three-pointer. This opening round was not for the apparatchiks, but for the dreamers.

The Wizards are growing up. (
The Wizards are growing up. (

“Dream on!” said Cold Hard Reality, exhaling a trail of cigar smoke into my face.

Yes, it turned out to be a dream, but what a damn dream. There was so much loveliness during this stretch. Grandpa Vince Carter hit a game winner against the Spurs. The 8th seeded Atlanta Hawks took de facto contenders to seven games, revealing the warts of Indiana’s regular season collapse all over again. A scrappy dinosaur themed team from north of the border with no superstars went toe to toe with a much-heralded coterie of ring-chasing former alpha-dogs with a payroll far exceeding a hundred million dollars.

The Clippers and the Warriors, two teams that probably actually hate each other, went at it back-alley style, no quarter, asked nor given. Damian Lillard ripped the heart out of Houston with .9 seconds left on the clock. The Washington Wizards grew up before our very eyes and may have finally ended this most recent resurgence of the Chicago Bulls.

Kevin Durant woke up when his team needed him the most. (Wikipedia)
Kevin Durant woke up when his team needed him the most. (Wikipedia)

Kevin Durant was stymied, hounded, and worn down by a ridiculous human being by the name of Tony Allen. Game winning shots galore. Matches decided by a single point. There was sustained heroism from many different corners, in many different jerseys. These were the moments in which fate pivoted. These were the games we’d remember. These were the games we’d wistfully compare future classic games to. Entire rosters stepped up. Everyone had a puncher’s chance. Everyone was giving it the ol’ college try. That revolution everyone keeps talking about was finally getting televised. All the clichés suddenly applied. A brand new day approach-eth!

But of course, what goes up must crash back down…sometimes covered in flames.

In the final analysis, conventional wisdom proved too resilient and the true delight of this first round has been smothered by a series of predictable and sad endings:

  • The scrappy Toronto Raptors lost out to “experience” and “veteran savvy” and the deep pockets Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
  • The Golden State Warriors were too injured and too small to contain the Clippers.
  • The Mavericks fell to the heavily favored Spurs…again.
  • The taciturn Memphis Grizzlies, who confounded the isolation-heavy and unimaginative offense of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was harshly reminded the team that wins is generally the team with the best player and most everyone knows the best player in that series doesn’t wear a Grizzlies jersey (apologies to Tayshaun Prince).
  • And the Pacers, the hateful, petty, boring, and imploding Pacers, managed to pull away and defeat the Atlanta Hawks, thereby preventing a catastrophically embarrassing upset. All of the upsets were denied to us. There is no place for Cinderella types in the NBA, and very little wiggle room for flipping the script. The best team tends to win. And sometimes that feels unfortunate.

It was a one-of-a-kind first round, crammed with hope and the promise of a more chaotic and classless future. The iconoclasts can now stand down. The prevailing order has returned with a vengeance. The playing field has narrowed and objective superiority has won out. Round 2 will feature excellent teams playing excellently and we will enjoy it.

Everything is its right place again.

Maybe next year.