We’ve learned a lot through the first week of the NBA Playoffs. Here are the 10 biggest takeaways so far:
10. Terry Stotts is on the hot seat
Portland should feel embarrassed. They seemingly solidified their position as the third best team in the West after an impressive regular season and were clear favorites against the Boogie-less Pelicans. Despite Jrue playing like the defensive player of the year and Anthony Davis basically screaming the letters MVP for 48-minutes a game, Portland still should have made this a series.
4-0 are the type of numbers the 1st-seed puts up on the 8th-seed, not the 6th-seed upsetting the 3rd. That said, if owner Paul Allen thinks he can find a better coach than Stotts on the free market, he might just be insane. Possibly Mike Budenholzer, and even then that looks to be more of a lateral move than a positive one.
Portland has issues to address and resources to fix them. Firing Stotts only creates more.
9. Playoff Rondo = Best Rondo
There were two types of Rondo’s that can show up, going back all the way to 2008. You have bonehead Rondo, who plays, well, like an a-hole. And then you have playoff Rondo.
Playoff Rondo has two Ph.D’s in Physics, reads Kant on the weekends for fun, and fluently speaks Latin to both you and your girlfriend. According to Anthony Davis, Rondo is, “…up all night watching film. He’s calling their plays out before they even have a chance to run it. He’s just in a different mode.” Essentially, we’re getting treated to the best version of Rondo.
8. Blatt’s time to shine
Speaking of coaches, David Blatt’s name has been in the news. I’ve liked Blatt’s “read and react” style since his Eurobasket days and the flowing, freestyle nature of his coaching.
His time with CSKA Moscow regularly saw him running small-ball, fast transition style plays. Instead of a young, athletic team filled with fast and dextrous players Cleveland promised when they hired Blatt, he was almost burdened by LeBron’s slower and ball-dominant play-style.
Given another chance with a rebuilding team, I think Blatt could make a real splash. Teams such as Orlando or Phoenix who have undeveloped but high-potential players should really consider hiring and implementing Blatt’s intelligent and quick system.
7. Cleveland challenged in the first round
Cleveland fans should be panicking right now, and not necessarily because Indiana is going to beat them in their series. That said, Toronto’s starting to really convince the NBA world that they’re a championship contender. Lowry and DeRozan are shedding the discount CP3 and Harden backcourt label and breaking out as contenders for that number 1 spot.
Cleveland fans (and seemingly even some of the players) have become enthralled by the “waltz through the east” myth, assuming an easy path to the Finals. They forget about the 2014 Chicago series, the 2016 Toronto series, the 2017 Indiana series, and 2017 Toronto again. Even if the final series numbers don’t say it, Cleveland has been challenged and LeBron isn’t simply unstoppable alone. If Cleveland can’t find a reliable second option after LeBron, it could easily spell an early end to LeBron’s potentially final playoff run with Cleveland.
6. The NBA TV Rivalry
Speaking of Toronto, why isn’t anyone else mentioning how their rivalry with Washington ranks among the league’s best? Game 3 had five technical fouls. The two teams play incredibly physically, and at least on the court demonstrate a genuine dislike for each other.
Both teams play a fun, fast and energetic game, and it seems like no one could care less. In the first quarter of Game 4 alone, DeRozan racked up six trips to the line. Similarly, Beal is living up to his first All-Star berth by playing like the court’s best player on a nightly basis.
I understand everyone from the city of Washington D.C is transient and Toronto’s media market is somewhat impenetrable, but I hope a few more people make an effort to check out what’s becoming one of my favorite series of the year.
5. Wall’s Future
Only one year after extending John Wall to the Ultra-Max Contract (207.2 Million Dollars over six years), one has to start asking questions about Wall’s place. With Wall’s extensive injury this year, Bradley Beal made it clear this was his team.
Watching this playoff matchup, it’s clear his teammates defer to him as option #1. Toronto started a breakaway run the second he exited the game in Game 4. Wall might represent your franchise player and a loyal name, but if the right team comes calling with the right package, maybe it’s time to start building this group around Beal and turn Wall into more complimentary resources.
4. Milwaukee vs. Boston
Earlier I mentioned that Toronto/Washington is one of my favorite series the first round has gifted us. I’d like to take a moment and recognize my actual favourite. Thus far, the best series this playoffs has been between the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.
From Game 1, even a casual viewer could tell this would be a close series. Not one, not two, but three seemingly buzzer beater shots to end regulation; my already fragile heart could barely handle it.
Watching Giannis and Middleton find such chemistry on the court together brings me joy. Remembering the two of them are 23 and 26 respectively only makes things better.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t celebrate injury, but taking Boston’s two best players in Hayward/Irving away honestly makes this series far more interesting. More importantly, a Bucks win gives Philly home court advantage in the second round.
Most of all, though, I just love basketball, and this series is damn good basketball.
3. End of the Spurs Era
Off the top of my head, I have three favorite basketball games. Game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals where LeBron hit a nearly full-court three-point buzzer-beater for the win. The second, a regulation game on March 12, 2015, saw Kyrie Irving drop 57 on the San Antonio Spurs and demonstrate the chaos a two man paring of Kyrie Irving and LeBron James could really do. But, the relevant game to this section is Game 7 of Spurs/Clippers in 2015.
Neither team ever led by more than 6 points. With 1 second left, Chris Paul sunk a game winner that sent Steve Ballimer into hysterics. The immediate reaction after that game “is this the decline of the Spurs?”
After winning in 2014, the hands of time started to creep up upon the Spurs. And then what happened? The Spurs won 67 the next year. 61 the year following.
So, when the Spurs inevitably lose to Golden State in the first round, Kawhi trade rumors continue swirling, and the national media starts prematurely discussing San Antonio’s demise: Chill out. Everything’s going to be fine.
2. The Nightmare
On court masks make everyone look way cooler. When LeBron donned the mask in Miami, becoming “The Villain,” it instantly became a narrative without much driving it. When Justice Winslow stepped on Embiid’s mask, “Little do [he] know is that I have about 50 of them.”
The Phantom of the Process, masked Embiid is another fantastic development in the outspoken center’s career. If Hakeem is “The Dream,” then Embiid is “The Nightmare.”
In an era of 6-foot-8 big men running the floor, Embiid breaks the mold. Philly is a team I didn’t know I wanted more of until this year.
1. Quin Snyder, Coach of the Year
Coming into this season, I had Oklahoma City as my dark horse candidate for winning it all. Utah’s making me look like a fool.
Every NBA journalist recognizes the idea that a cohesive unit working within a system represents the best way to win in the bigs, but even we fall sucker to big names. Oklahoma City has the reigning MVP, a top 3 two-way player and a Carmelo Anthony.
The problem, however, is their reliability. When Steven Adams gets into foul trouble or Westbrook goes into iso-mode, the team just stops. On the other side of the coin, Quin Snyder’s Utah Jazz behind Donovan Mitchell remain consistent night in and night out.
At the season’s outset, no one predicted Donovan Mitchell would play at an All-Star level. What about undrafted Royce O’Neale become a top-tier defensive stopper?
The initial thought this season was to replace Gordon Hayward by committee. Instead, Utah got an arguably better player to slot at the shooting guard, a return to form from Jae Crowder, and a team which clearly represents the sum being greater than its parts. Also, Joe Ingles deserves his contract.