Finally, the anticipation is over. We've made it. I'm sure you've all been preparing body and soul for weeks, but you can finally relax. It's time to enjoy the glory, the redemption, the prophecies fulfilled. That's right folks, the NBA playoffs have come again. If you follow basketball, even moderately as I do, you're no doubt weary from the endless rumors and sultry speculation that analysts so love to debate for the eight months of the regular season. From Kyrie's sudden big-manness to Harden's historic explosion to Lebron and his Laker's Chernobyl-esque meltdown, what can we expect now that it's getting real? Can Giannis single-handedly legitimize the East? Can anyone dethrone the Warriors? Is The Process missing a couple of steps? Over the next couple months, we'll see who can prove themselves as legit contenders and who merely stumbled their way into the ever-hotter spotlight.
The best part about the playoffs is the series play. Unlike the accurately marketed madness of March, there is no one-and-done rule in the big-league postseason. With each game, individual tensions become increasingly pronounced as we've already witnessed with the sizzling beef between Kevin Durant and Patrick Beverley. Over the course of a season, it's difficult for a single player to really get in the head of a rival, but game-after-game of concentrated trash talk takes a toll on the less mentally fortitudinous. And the results are fantastic.
A double-ejection in the first game, followed by both men fouling out in the second bodes well for fans hoping to see a semblance of competition between the 1 and 8 seeds. While a conventional win against the Warriors is a near-Herculean feat, less traditional intimidation tactics and simple patience seem to be just as viable weapons for the underdog Clippers. As the former can only field four starting All-Stars with the loss of Demarcus Cousins (oof), it's becoming clear that distracting Goliath could yield favorable results. But who knows. A 31-point comeback can't be the exception in a protracted battle against the champs. Lou Williams and his crew will have to sustain the extraordinary, deepen the mind games, and maybe take out another Warrior to pull off the upset.
Meanwhile, it appears the Pistons have internally combusted. With Blake Griffin out with a knee injury, Detroit's already meager odds of success against the ascendant Bucks are rapidly approaching zero. They simply lack any means of stymying the diversified talent Antetokounmpo consistently displays, and the MVP favorite, by drive, by jumper, or by back-down, will continue to exert his will unless some brave soul sticks his neck out on each defensive possession. Not to mention Bledsoe, Middleton, and Lopez collectively averaged 14 points and 4 rebounds each in the first blowout bout. While the Pistons hung tight for most of game two, the sweep is all but inevitable.
Things are looking equally grim for the Jazz, who under the shadow of the bearded menace can't seem to get anything going. Somehow Harden still has some gas left in his seemingly endless tank, and step-back after step-back he's reminding everyone that his glib style is backed by untouchable substance. As the series moves over to Salt Lake City, Donovan Mitchell and company might get a little home-town boost, but as over 90% of teams down two games in NBA playoff history have failed to emerge victorious, dad-bod Joe Ingles better start raining threes for them to have any chance of success.
With the Raptors, Nuggets, and Sixers coming up empty in game one, they each had something to prove in the follow-up. And all three managed to even their series heading into the weekend. I'm short of talking points regarding Toronto except to mention Kawhi Leonard's exciting return to the playoffs, this time on a contending squad with whom he doesn't seem completely miserable (if he experiences emotion at all).
The Denver-San Antonio series, however, features an interesting dynamic between the inexperience of the Nuggets and the veteran wisdom of Grep Popovich opposing them. Nikola Jokić has really come into his own as the leader of the Nuggets, electrifying his fan base and redefining expectations for lumbering big men. Yet he was rendered all but inert offensively by Pop's well-honed defense in the first matchup. His redemption with a near triple-double in the second, coupled with strong displays by the Nugget's young talent, portends a neck-and-neck series going forward.
The same can be said for the Nets, fronted by the surprising star D'Angelo Russel, facing off against the 76ers. Everyone loves to call into question the drive of Philadelphia's preeminent starting lineup when they miss the mark, but their second game showing, complete with a 51-point third quarter, proves that they will gladly undermine the doubters. I think they're about to truly take off, and with last year's disappointing finish in the Eastern Conference semis still fresh, The Process is looking to proceed past preconceived pessimism.
Of the other two series now lopsided at 2-0, I think the Thunder and the Pacers will be able to mount detectable counter-insurgencies. It's hard to count out Westbrook's tenacity and Paul George's pure scoring ability, but their synergistic counterparts on the Blazers, C.J. McCollum and Damien Lillard, are overpowering the resistance in this battle of the duo-led middleweights. It's exciting to witness their primetime breakout, and I'm ready for a shake-up in the roster of teams reaching the second and third rounds. Boston is on a roll as the postseason starts to unfurl, but in accordance with Newton's laws, the external force that is Bojan Bogdanovic could potentially slow them down. If their inconsistency over the first 30-odd weeks of the season is any indicator, the Celtics will struggle to maintain their momentum as the stakes get higher. Especially if Kyrie starts mumbling about leadership again.
Alright, that's it. I've about exhausted my basketball knowledge here, and I know that by the time this is published my analyses might be completely irrelevant. But maybe all those post-class, pre-work hours spent watching ESPN have paid off. I'll leave you with this: for the first time since I was seven, Lebron isn't in the Playoffs. For the first time since I began middle school, he won't be contending for a championship in the finals. He's the face of the league and a mainstay of the tournament, so yeah, it's kind of weird he'll be watching from home like everyone else. But hey, at least it won't be a Warriors-Cavs five-peat. I mean, I'm sure it'll be Warriors-insert lesser team here, but still, a Lebron-less postseason is kind of like Game of Thrones without Jon Snow. It lacks ol' reliable. While the latter had the foresight to resurrect their star, we'll see if the king will rise again as well.