I’ve been putting off writing this for a while. I tried to keep hope alive that things would change, but at this point, things have just gotten out of hand. What on earth is going on with the NBA playoffs? Last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers led the Boston Celtics by 41 points…at halftime.
This wasn’t a YMCA men’s league game. These are professional NBA basketball players, given millions of dollars to play the sport. Let’s get this out of the way- it is unacceptable for an NBA team to be trailing by 40 points in any situation. I don’t care if it’s the fourth quarter of a back-to-back on the road where a team is missing its best player. The disparity between two teams should never be that great. Yet, that wasn’t the situation here at all. Boston was playing at home, as a #1 seed, in the Eastern Conference Finals of the PLAYOFFS. They trailed by as many as 50 points, and fell 130-86, breaking all sorts of records in the process.
Par for the course. Two days prior, in game 1 of the series, the Celtics found themselves down 26 points in the second quarter. Over in the Western Conference, things were similar. In game 1, the Spurs led by 25 in the first half, although they collapsed following Kawhi Leonard’s injury in the third quarter and ended up losing the game. At one point in the second quarter of game 2, the Warriors found themselves ahead 67-37, a 30-point margin. So far, every conference finals game has featured at least a 25-point first half lead, and the most recent games in each series have been decided by a total of 80 points. Again, this is the conference finals. These are supposed to be the four best teams in the league, and with the possible exception of the Rockets, they are. Despite this, we’re seeing dominations of epic proportions.
Things aren’t getting better. Facing 2-0 deficits, both the Spurs and Celtics’ star players, Leonard and Isaiah Thomas, are out with injury. Leonard could return for game 4, while Thomas has been ruled out for the remainder of the postseason. The Spurs could still put up a fight at home, but the series won’t go past five games. As for the Celtics, they’re all but swept. Golden State and Cleveland are both 10-0 in the playoffs, and there’s a high likelihood each will enter the NBA Finals undefeated.
How are two teams so much better than the rest of the league? Things should never have gotten this bad, but it’s the natural end result of the NBA we’re living in. One superstar isn’t enough- you need two, perhaps even three to have a chance. The best players assemble on superteams and lure valuable veteran free agents with the possibility of winning a ring. For everyone else, you’re better off tanking. Trade your talent for draft picks, build up cap space, and lose with the intention of winning the NBA lottery and the #1 overall pick. Entering the year, any NBA Finals matchup that didn’t pit the Warriors against the Cavs for the third year in a row seemed unlikely.
The Warriors have swept the Trail Blazers and Jazz. The Cavs have swept the Pacers and Raptors. The Spurs and Celtics could very well be next. But it hasn’t just been the NBA’s two powerhouses ruining the playoffs. In the first round, the highly-anticipated Rockets-Thunder series went just five games. The only seven-game series, featuring the Clippers and Jazz, was limited by injuries to big men Blake Griffin and Rudy Gobert. Many of the Raptors-Bucks games were plain terrible to watch. In the conference semifinals, it was blowouts galore, as 14 of the first 15 games were decided by double-digits. Who wants to watch that?
I never thought I’d be saying this, but the NBA Playoffs have been largely boring and predictable this year. The only saving grace is that the looming Cavs-Warriors finals should be one of the most intense series of all-time, with the legacies of both teams riding so highly on the result. While the overall competitiveness just hasn’t been there this year, those two teams are motivated and know how to play. Mark June 1st on the calendar- that’s when the real playoffs begin.