It's been 24 days since the start of the NBA playoffs and it's 24 days until the NBA Finals beginon June 1, meaning we're somehow only in the middle of theinexorable slog to the NBA Finals showdown. You know, the one everybody has been expecting and anticipating sincethe end of the last year's postseason -- Golden State vs. Cleveland.
That perceived inevitability of a Finals rematch has essentially spoiledany drama from the firstthree rounds. Highlights like Isaiah Thomas's 53-point explosion are entirely isolated, standing almost no chance of having any greater meaning beyond that specific game on that specific night. It might as well be the regular season. There's nofuture that doesn't have LeBron facing off against the Warriors on the first night of June and because of that the NBA playoffs have nothing at stake, rendering the great moments irrelevant and creating a vacuum of hype that'll continue for the rest of the month.
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This is a common refrain -- up there with "the playoffs are too long," "the regular season is too long" and "how is that not a travel?" In both 2015 and 2016 the identical topic was discussed with some regularity. But this year, with two equally dominant teams relative to their conference, it's on another level. Players are even weighing in, with Golden State's Draymond Green complaining (for some reason) about the level of competition the Cavs have faced through their "boring" eight-for-eight playoff start.
I thought [Cleveland opponents]would compete a little harder. […] I like to watch good basketball. When you watch themplay, you only watching one side of good basketball. Thats kind of weak."
Says the guy whose team just completed its own double sweep of the first and second rounds.
That doesn't mean he's wrong. Neither the Cavs nor Warriors have played an interesting game yet. The former is a -600 favorite to win the East while the latter is a staggering -1000 to win the West. Those are insane numbers. To put them into context, when the Patriots played the Browns last October, the money line was -550.It's a sure thing.
It's true that even without predetermined finals, the playoffs have been, by any measure, a snooze. Rockets-Thunder wasfar more fun to anticipate and theorize about than it was to watch. Celtics-Bulls had the makings of a classic until Rajon Rondo got hurt. Clippers-Jazz went seven but the finale was a complete dud for a series that lost everything off its fastball when Blake Griffin went down. Raptors-Bucksgave us a Giannis game or two … but to be honest I've all but forgotten it.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. A boring first 48 days for a stellar Finals is a trade-off anyone would make.Excitement and upsets early lead to lower quality later. Consider the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament: On the first weekend, we love the surprises and Cinderella dancing her way to the Sweet 16. Bracket chaos is wanted and welcome. But then you get to the Sweet 16 and it's Kansas vs. Middle Tennessee State and all of a suddenyou're retroactively wishing the first two rounds had been more chalk.
If the seemingly endless playoffs are setting the stage for the classicNBA Finals series we all expect, whyrisk the potential greatness of that series for the greatness of another one with far lower stakes? Who cares if Rockets-Spurs ends in an anticlimactic fashion as long as it doesn't get in the way of Warriors-Cavs?
The ideal, I suppose, is getting high drama without affectingthe endgame. If this were a script, you'd write theWarriors struggling early in the Western Conference Finals, playing shorthanded after Draymond Green makeshistory bysimultaneously hitting two opponents in their respective groins at the same exact time and and, for a moment anyway, allowing for the dreamof a monumental upset late in the series. In the East, the Wizards and Cavs could throw down like they did back from 2006-08, complete with battle raps, LeBron beefs and the reemergence of Gilbert Arenas. We'd still get Warriors-Cavs but at least there'd be some potholes and memories made along the way.
But this isn't a movie and the reality is that the Warriors are going to win the West in four or five and either the Wizards or Celtics will be rewardeda moral victory if they can push LeBron to six. That's fine. It'd be nicer to have some more excitement along the way or to have the ability to fast-forward through the beginning and middle to get to the end, yes, but playoff basketball is playoff basketball. It's like pizza; even when it's bad it's not that bad. Instant gratification is overrated anyway.
The NBA Finalsbegin June 1. It'll be worth the wait.