The opening weekend of the NBA playoffs has become a personal holiday for me. I clear my calendar weeks in advance, set the surroundings for my viewing experience well ahead of time and prepare my wife for my extended mental absence. Put simply, I probably invest more into the preparation for this weekend than I do any other sporting event, including the Super Bowl.
This year, given the unpredictable and exciting nature of the regular season, I entered the weekend with higher expectations than any season in recent memory. Admittedly, that was probably foolish on my part in light of how amazing last year’s opening round was. Then again, I’ve been known to err on the side of hopeless optimism when it comes to sports.
So there I was on Saturday morning settling in for two days of brilliantly played basketball, distractions preemptively eliminated, refreshments readily available and my iPhone by my side ready for clever tweet after clever tweet. But, here I am on Monday morning reflecting on my weekend, and I can’t help but feel…empty.
Out of the eight opening games played this weekend, only one was truly competitive–the Washington Wizards at the Toronto Raptors–and that was arguably the worst played game of the eight. To put that game into perspective, the Wizards won in overtime, and they shot 39 percent from the floor. That’s right. The winning team, in an NBA playoff series, made less than 40 percent of their shots.
Sure there was drama sprinkled into the other seven games.
Derrick Rose emerged from the ashes, putting up a performance that nearly resembled his 2010-self. Similarly, Dwight Howard–at times–turned back the clock to 2011 and was instrumental in the Houston Rockets’ dismantling of the Dallas Mavericks. In that same game, Dirk Nowitzki apparently found the keys to his Delorean as he valiantly channeled his 2010-self as well.
You’re picking up on the theme here right?
Anthony Davis single-handedly fueled the New Orleans Pelicans’ furious comeback to make their game with the Golden State Warriors interesting in the last 10 minutes. Of course, that was after 32 minutes of poorly played basketball before that. Kyrie Irving dazzled in his first ever playoff appearance, while Chris Paul looked like he may end up being the Spurs’ worst nightmare.
Overall, despite some individually-spectacular performances, the intrigue and intensity that I entered the weekend expecting to witness, was virtually non-existent.
There are probably dozens of factors that contributed to the lack of compelling competition, but what stood out most to me was that there were teams that simply didn’t look prepared or looked like they simply didn’t belong in their respective matchup.
The Eastern Conference was famously bad this season, qualifying three teams with a .500 or below record for the playoffs, and all three of those teams looked horribly overmatched, as many expected they would. This shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise.
In the Western Conference, injuries played a big part in the Portland Trail Blazers’ utterly incompetent showing against the Memphis Grizzlies. But the Mavericks and Pelicans were simply outplayed. Even the most anticipated game of all–the San Antonio Spurs at the Los Angeles Clippers–resulted in an embarrassing blowout for the defending champs.
It was this game that surprised me the most. The typically laser-focused Spurs demonstrated numerous mental lapses, especially on the defensive end, which went against every preconceived expectation for this series. The Spurs finished the season third overall in defensive efficiency, and it has always been something they hang their hats on, so to see them look so porous in transition and demonstrate a lack of fundamentals in their half court defense was extremely surprising.
As good as last year’s opening round was, this year’s has the potential to be proportionally disappointing. Let’s look at the bright side though. Maybe this isn’t a bad thing. Unlike last year, maybe the most competitive series will be played in the second and third rounds instead when it matters most.
It is often difficult to avoid overreacting in today’s world of instantaneous information, and I’m sure today will be littered with columns dissecting how the playoffs are broken or imperfect. Admittedly, I had to fight every urge to avoid putting together a similar piece.
Let’s at least let a few more series play out before drawing such blanket conclusions and understand that even if this year’s first-round series are a disappointment, this likely sets the stage for more compelling matchups heading into May.
For now, just enjoy the things that can be enjoyed, appreciate the fountain of youth that appears to have found its way into certain teams locker rooms and understand the best is yet to come.