The 2014 NBA playoffs will not be ruined. Not even by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
Once TMZ released an audiotape of Sterling allegedly making vile, racially charged comments, national focus could have shifted to his reprehensible act. And it did. But that shift isn't permanent. It's a dark cloud hanging over the entire NBA, but it cannot, it will not, tarnish the brilliant absurdity of this year's postseason crusade.
To this point, the playoffs have been wacky. They have been unpredictable. They have felt right. They have felt wrong. They have been baffling. They have been mind-bending.
They have been "Did that just happen?"
They have been "Oh. My. God."
They have been everything you hoped for. They have been everything you didn't want them to be.
The first round of these here NBA playoffs has been utterly insane and incredibly engaging—something so marvelous, not even Sterling can steal center stage.
Playing at home during the playoffs is a good thing.
Home teams haven't fared very well early on. Or even good. In certain instances, playing at home has been pointless.
Through the postseason's first 29 games, home teams are a combined 13-16. Winning 44.8 percent of home games is nothing. The Orlando Magic won 46.3 percent of their home games during the regular season (19-22), so yeah.
More is expected of playoff squads. Plenty of emphasis is placed on securing home-court advantage. Many teams won't rest players down the stretch in valiant attempts to secure higher seeds and host as many playoff home games as possible.
Speaking of those higher seeds, they've been surprisingly underwhelming thus far.
Upsets happen. They happen all the time. Those who predict chalk in the first round are typically wrong. Three "underdogs"—Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls—advanced through to the second round last year.
There could be even more upsets in store this year—double that of last season, even.
Of all eight playoff series, higher seeds hold advantages in only one. The Miami Heat hold a 3-0 edge over the Charlotte Bobcats.
Three of the lower seeds from the remaining seven matchups—Dallas Mavericks, Washington Wizards and Portland Trail Blazers—all have leads over their respective, higher-placed opponents. The remaining four "underdogs,"—Atlanta Hawks, Brooklyn Nets, Warriors and Grizzlies—find themselves knotted up with their opponents at two games apiece.
We expect drama in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchups. The dip in talent is usually inconsequential, hence the reason both fifth-place teams—Grizzlies and Bulls—made it out of the first round last year.
Everywhere else is a different story. The seventh-place Grizzlies shouldn't be going blow for blow with the second-place Thunder. The top-seeded Pacers shouldn't be in jeopardy of losing to the Hawks, who had the worst regular-season record of any playoff team.
The 62-win, well-balanced, forever dominant San Antonio Spurs shouldn't be trailing the eighth-place, defensively challenged Mavericks.
And yet, they are.
As for those No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchups, there shouldn't be such a discrepancy between home-court advantage and success. Through the seven total games of the Houston Rockets-Blazers and Bulls-Wizards series, home teams are a combined 1-6. That shouldn't happen either.
And yet, it has.
Out of every favorite, only the Heat are in absolute control. Every other series is up in the air, every other "favorite" is in danger of a premature exit, because the 2014 NBA playoffs are apparently the place where home teams stumble and lower seeds shilly-shally their way to potential upsets.
New Meaning of "Close"
Tightly contested tilts are indicative of true playoff basketball. Close games are the mark of a good series and something we've grown to expect.
But this is ridiculous.
Fourteen of the first 28 playoff contests have been decided by five points or less, or 50 percent. Twenty of the first 28 have been decided by 10 points or less (71.4 percent). Eight games have been decided by three points or less (28.6 percent) and there have been six forays into overtime, so this year's postseason gauntlet has not been the place where blowouts happen.
|Playoff Margin of Victory|
|5 or Less Points||6-10 points||10-Plus Points|
No, this year's playoffs have been a place for overtimes, clutch baskets and game-winners. They have been a hotbed for games that are determined by one moment, one play.
It doesn't matter if it's Vince Carter drilling a game-winning three against the Spurs, or Chris Paul's defense on Stephen Curry in the closing seconds of Game 3. Outcomes have been dramatic. More than dramatic. To call most of these games dramatic would be an insult.
The way in which they have unfolded hasn't always been conventional. Controversial whistles and no-calls have had a monstrous impact.
After the Warriors stole Game 1 from the Clippers, the league announced a potential game-altering foul should have been called on Draymond Green while he was guarding Paul:
Following the Blazers' Game 1 victory over the Rockets, the NBA also admitted Dwight Howard's sixth foul actually should have went against Portland's Joel Freeland. The Rockets were down by one at the time, with under 11 seconds remaining. Howard should have went to the line for two free throws that could have won the game. But Freeland made one of his two shots at the line himself instead, giving the Blazers a two-point lead. James Harden missed a shot at the buzzer, and Houston lost.
There were also the final seconds of Game 3 between the Clippers and Warriors. With the Dubs down two, Curry let a step-back three-pointer fly. But Paul contested the shot, and it didn't even graze the rim.
Was Curry fouled?
Maybe, maybe not.
"I knew I got hit in the body." Curry said afterward, per Bay Area News Group's Marcus Thompson. "That’s why I was kind of off-balance. That’s my go-to move, the step-back, I’m not going to shoot air balls too often."
Never underestimate the significance of wrong calls and no-calls. They don't just affect one game. They can rechart the course of an entire series.
If a foul had been called on Green in Game 1, then perhaps the Clippers win and inevitably get out to a 3-0 series lead. If a foul had been called against Freeland, maybe Howard hits one or both free throws and the Rockets win, and instead of going down 2-1 in the series, they would hold a 2-1 advantage.
Same goes for game-winners. If Vince Carter had missed that three-pointer against San Antonio, we're not left wondering if the Spurs are barreling toward an unforeseen collapse. Our perception of the entire series changes.
Think of the possibilities.
What if this happened? What if that didn't happen? What if this or that had turned out differently?
What if, what if, what if.
Unlikely Stars Coming Out to Play
Stars shine during the postseason. This year, so do role players.
Unexpected role players.
You wouldn't think it would be Carter drilling a game-winner for Dallas. It would be Dirk Nowitzki or Monta Ellis. Not him.
It was him.
You wouldn't think Boris Diaw would be nailing late-game shots of incredible importance. It would be Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. Yet, while Ginobili eventually hit what should have been a game-winner, it was Diaw who helped put the Spurs in that situation.
Don't forget about Kendrick Perkins. It was his buzzer-beating bucket that forced overtime against the Grizzlies in Game 2.
Ask the person to your left or right which Thunder player they would expect to play hero. Ask anyone. They wouldn't say Perkins.
In all likelihood, they wouldn't say Reggie Jackson either. But it was Jackson who willed the Thunder to a much-needed, series-tying Game 4 victory in Memphis, as Bleacher Report's Joe Flynn explains:
Now, if you didn't get the chance to see the game, you are probably expecting a highlight reel of ridiculous clutch shots from superstar forward Kevin Durant, like the falling-out-of-bounds four-point play he hit in Game 2.
Ah, then the hero must have been Russell Westbrook, who matched his teammate Durant with yet another four-point play in Game 3.
Not only were the Thunder spared from a 3-1 series deficit by someone other than their two All-Stars, but their savior didn't even start the game. Backup point guard Reggie Jackson carried Oklahoma City with a game-high 32 points in an ugly overtime win.
And that's just the beginning.
Was LaMarcus Aldridge supposed to join the company of Michael Jordan after his first two playoff games in the last three years? He's an All-Star, but no one saw those consecutive 40-point, other-worldly performances coming.
Was Nene—before his one-game suspension—considered Washington's ultimate X-factor? Before Game 4, he was arguably the team's most consistent player.
Was it Troy Daniels who was supposed to drill the game-winner for the Rockets in Game 3, after he appeared in just five regular-season games? No, no it wasn't.
Likewise, did anyone see Durant shooting 39.6 percent from the floor through four playoff games after he converted more than 50 percent of his attempts during the regular season? Did anyone see Harden connecting on just 32.9 percent of his shots through his first three contests?
Of course they didn't. That's not how these playoffs are supposed to unfold.
Superstars are supposed to hit game-winners. They're supposed to shine. Role players shouldn't be stealing the show this often.
Endearing Hysteria Amid Despicable Insanity
Too much about the playoffs has been insane. There isn't enough space in the world to do the first round justice.
Every series has had their moments, and they will continue to have their moments. Sterling's ignorance and intolerance isn't going to change that.
What he allegedly said was disgusting. It was no doubt serious, something commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA must address, as Bleacher Report's Howard Beck detailed.
"How broad are the NBA’s 'broad powers?'" he writes. "How extensive is that 'range of sanctions?' How committed is the NBA to equality and social justice? We’re about to find out."
We're also about to find out who will rise from this wacky and unconventional postseason fray.
The first round has been sensational in the most unpredictable, quirky, "What the heck is going on here?" way possible. It has been something we can't quite understand but can most definitely embrace.
Something that won't be damaged, disgraced or outdone by the reported (recurring) prejudice of one sad, sorry individual.