The NBA regular season is over. For some — like the 14 teams now on summer vacation — this is can often be a bad feeling. But for the vast majority of us, and certainly those of us who cover the Association for a living, it’s times to crack the knuckles, flip on the TV or travel to a local NBA arena, and get to work. The real season starts today, as the NBA snobs like to say.
Rather than sounding off on the too-long regular season somehow crammed into six-plus months from the end of October to the middle of April, we’d like to rejoice in playoff basketball and why it’s become our basketball nirvana.
You see, these are the best players in the whole world. Sure, there’s some talent overseas, particularly in Spain, but it’s not even close to the speed, the size, the skill, the athleticism and — more increasingly — the shooting exhibited in a traditional NBA game. Now amp that up a couple — hundred — notches and throw in most of NBA Twitter, and the basketball-watching world and you’ve got a metaphor for a tiny piece of lint found in the pocket of the NBA playoffs.
For a basketball nerd who’s screaming at the driving wing to throw a skip pass to the far corner, for the NBA junkie fiending for the perfect pocket pass as a guard hesitates before turning the corner, for the loner who finds immeasurable pride in a well defended isolation postup, for the person who lives and breathes by the NBA calendar, today is a watershed.
Hyperbole is OK now. So is the purplest of basketball prose (like this post!). Sure, we’re still gonna get pissed off when NBA Twitter deems a playoff series over — as they always do — after the underdog team loses their first two road games, but this is still it. There’s no wait until now. That’s the phrase long-time basketball watchers fall back on as people are losing their minds proclaiming some new title contender in January.
We’re here, though. This is the wait until end date. Wait until, now. The Spurs just ended the regular season tied for the best home record in NBA history. The Warriors just ended the regular season with the best record in history.
Most of the questions we’ve been asking all year long are finally going to be answered.
LeBron led his team to the No. 1 seed in the East, and he’s gone to the Finals the last half decade. No one in NBA history — who wasn’t also playing with Bill Russell on the block — can say that. Will this be the year, he finally spends early June watching on TV like the rest of us?
Will the Golden State Warriors meet the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Final fans have been coveting all year, or will the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers crash the party? Is there any chance the Grizzlies, Blazers, Mavericks or Rockets really play spoiler?
Will Toronto finally get out of the first round, and if they do are they going to keep going? Are the Celtics, Hornets or Heat legit contenders? Was Atlanta’s second-half swoon with defensive perfection enough to finally catapult them past the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Semifinals? Is Paul George gonna go HAM in his return to the playoffs after a one-year injury sabbatical? Is Jeremy Lin gonna get smacked in a game and finally hear that a flagrant foul was called?
But it’s not just finally getting the answers to our season-long questions that makes this such a special time of year. No, it’s what it means to the players, and just how much esteem they put in playoff basketball.
You see, those two words, playoff basketball, have been codified. They stand for all out; It means every possession counts; It means you play with an injury, and you play well despite the injury; It symbolises no excuses no matter what. The playoffs are where legends are made and legacies are tainted and tarred while another player triumphs.
Playing 82 games doesn’t allow a night-to-night battle of wills. There’s simply too many games over too short a period of time to sustain any sort of high-level hustle and heart. Everyone coasts, not just LeBron. Yes, even Russell Westbrook — that symbol of amplified Twitter rhetoric — takes plays off. He’d be a fool not to. That’s because playoff basketball is still coming.
But not now. No, starting today there’s no more waiting. Playoff basketball has arrived. Sure, there will be some first-round duds — like there always are. But, for the most part, the ongoing charade that is the regular season is in our rear-view mirror. The expanse in front of us is just an uncluttered series of games that will leave us breathless, incredulous, sated and exhausted and ready to do it all over again this time next year.
The NBA Playoffs are finally here. You ready?
Sincerity is always silly guys, but the NBA Playoffs make us feel like kids again. Enjoy the games. We certainly will.