NBA playoff coverage sure has gotten boring in recent weeks. Part of it is that the Mavericks won’t be relevant for another month or so, of course, and part of it is that the first round of the playoffs was the biggest set of mismatches we’ve had in years.
Part of it, too, is that the Eastern Conference, perpetually a pile of puking babies, competitively, has had any kind of interest injected into it only by an injury to the third best player on the best team, making the Indiana Pacers, whose contents I can’t judge, the luckiest playoff team in recent memory, having played the Dwight-less Magic and now the Bosh-less Heat.
It may also, for what it’s worth, make Roy Hibbert, one of the only interesting restricted free agents out there, the luckiest PLAYER in the world since he’s SOMEHOW managed to look like an all-star against the Dwight-less Magic and the Bosh-less Heat. Which is not to say that Hibbert isn’t pretty good, but is to say that competent becomes excellent pretty fast when it’s staring at Glen Davis and Joel Anthony.
Largely though, the 2nd round has been pretty compelling. Regardless of handicaps, Pacers-Heat is a fine series, pitting two of the five or six best players in the league against a solid team with a good defense. Lakers-Thunder is great, pitting an overstated feel-good story (I don’t feel that "good" for Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins or James Harden, who sort of rub me the wrong way, personally) against an old contender with a dominating size advantage.
That’s all been great. What’s bothering me is the coverage itself. As near as I can tell, your typical NBA pundit is interested in "basketball" the way "Khloe and Lamar" is interested in the classical ideals of drama espoused by Aristotle (which, in fairness, Shakespeare was not much into himself). Feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve read an article on what Popovich’s teams do to defense, or who has incorporated some of Thibodeau’s sets into their defensive plan. Instead, I read, every day, multiple times, about whether LeBron or Kobe, individually or against each other, are clutch.
To that, my answer is, word for word, my parents’ response when I told them, five years ago, that I would be graduating college:
Who the #$(* cares about that #$*%?
We Mavericks fans have more reason than most to believe that the only thing that matters is the last two minutes of a game. Scientists are not entirely certain when the last Mavericks game that did NOT come down to the wire happened, but the best guess is the Pleistocene, when whales had fur and walked on land and so did Sarah Palin.
However, you may be interested to know that the Spurs, who have unbelievably not lost yet in this playoffs, have won only one game by less than 12---a six point, 87-81 win to clinch the Jazz series. If ind no one on the Spurs objectionable, and only hate them because they are the heirs to house "win", while the Mavericks are Jon Snow, good upbringing and education in order to spend the rest of their lives sleeping in frozen wastes and never getting to have sex with anybody. Where they draft DeJuan Blair and Kawhi Leonard we draft Ahmad Nivins and Dominique Jones.
But apparently, they’re not clutch like LeBron and Kobe are, or aren’t, because they haven’t had to worry about the last few minutes of a game in some time. In fact, they haven’t lost a game since April 11, which is insane, and only one of those was by less than 6, a 110-106 win over the Suns when THEY DIDN’T EVEN PLAY DUNCAN, PARKER OR GINOBILI.
But, and let me be clear it doesn’t give me any pleasure to write this, you don’t hear as much about these Spurs as you should, and if you believe a word of the bilge that Sportscenter is spilling about how it’s because they’re not interesting, you deserve it. They are interesting. You know why? Because we are watching to see who is the best basketball team, and they are winning a lot of basketball games. Because they completely re-invented their identity this year. Because Tim Duncan won his first NBA title in 1999 and is likely enough to do the same 13 years later. That's right. Duncan’s title career is a Jewish adult. And again—and again it pisses me off—do you have any idea how much this Spurs team has won?
What if I told you that January was the last month in which the Spurs lost more than 3 games? What if I told you they’ve lost 5 since March 2nd and 7 since January 30th? That since that OT game in which their scrubs lost to Dallas, they’ve won 45 games and lost 7?
If you’re interested in basketball, that is interesting. If you’re interested in Days of Our Lives, maybe it isn’t. Maybe we have no one to blame but ourselves for the E! Hollywood Storyization of NBA coverage. But I want out.
I recognize that a large part of this is because basketball coverage is largely driven by bloggers, and when it isn’t, it’s driven by hits. I recognize that bloggers are a creation of the people, and so spend a lot of their time having to deal with "count the ringz" people and LeBron haters and have no real say in the matter. I recognize that the news outlets, with ever more sophisticated tools to discover what the "people" want, have to bend their coverage in that direction if they want to compete—if they don’t someone else will.
I recognize that Lakers nation, like Red Sox nation before it, is not interested in and does not understand basketball, presumably can’t count past 5, the number of "ringz" Kobe has, and is not, in general, aware there is such a thing as legal defense if it’s played against their players. And that they are legion.
But guys, basketball is a science like economics is a science. Even the Nobel Prize winners don’t understand why anything happens for sure. You can read all you want about how the Thunder have or have not "arrived", but it turns out that they will win the championship when they play better than the other teams they win against and not before. It turns out Kobe is 100 years older than LeBron or Durant and, because of his "ringz", he’s played a zillion more minutes. He's still doing great, by the way. Could be 2-2 or 3-1 Lakers pretty easily.
It turns out that LeBron is the most talented player in the NBA, but not a great jumpshooter, whereas Durant, less talented at everything else, is a phenomenal one. So at the end of a playoff game, when you pack the paint, get away with fouls, and focus all your attention on one or two players, Durant can still score and LeBron will struggle.
It turns out that basketball is being played, and that basketball things happen for basketball reasons, not spiritual reasons. It turns out that winning a game by two points is a sign that the two teams playing are really close and that the series might be a toss-up—that is, it is completely insane to think that the Thunder continuing to win close games is a sign of their toughness rather than, oh, a lot of scoring option coupled with poor interior defense, while the Spurs’ not bothering to HAVE close games is a sign of…I don’t know…sloth?
Me? I’m watching basketball. Watching the best players in the league do their thing. Now that it’s the second round and I don’t have a personal stake, I’m even enjoying it. One team will win, other will lose, and I guess I'm just crazy enough to believe that what makes it exciting is that it COULD have gone differently. That a crucial shot didn't go in or not go in because a guy wanted it more or not enough, but because those are the breaks. And every year, through this process, emerges one team surmounting it all.
Save the soap opera stuff for Oxygen and Lifetime.