The 2016-2017 NBA regular season will be remembered for the unprecedented statistical displays, a LeBron-less MVP race, and the emergence of a whole new group of stars that have reinvigorated the league.
But in the playoffs, everything has reverted back to Warriors and Cavaliers dominance.
Think about the main headlines during the regular season; James Harden turning into a glo’d up Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook being the most anomalous player in basketball history, Kawhi Leonard, while already the best defensive player in the league, becoming an unstoppable scoring force, and Isaiah Thomas transforming into the master of the fourth quarter.
None of these storylines have been very prominent in the playoffs. Harden fell apart, Westbrook has no one on his squad, and Kawhi got duffed by Zaza Pachulia.
Isaiah Thomas obviously overcame personal tragedy and put in amazing performances against the Bulls and Wizards, but he’s now out of the rest of the playoffs with a hip injury.
Regardless of what happens in the finals, the playoffs have been vastly disappointing.
After a season of so much promise, of so much drama, and so much competition, for the playoffs to be an extended preseason for the Warriors and the Cavaliers is pretty disheartening.
Maybe it was written in the stars all along. Maybe we should’ve known that James Harden leading a Mike D’Antoni offense would fall apart in the playoffs. Maybe we should’ve anticipated the fact that Russell Westbrook was playing with a D-League all star team.
Perhaps it was obvious that if Kawhi got injured the Spurs would have problems making up for his absence and that relying on a dude that’s 5’9″ (no way he’s even that tall) is a recipe for disaster.
The most embarrassing thing was the fact that the Cavaliers played us all. For a majority of the season they looked so porous on defense, they had zero depth, and LeBron was once again playing an unsustainable 38 minutes in every game despite having spent the equivalent of a young child’s life on the court.
There was all this panic about whether or not the Cavs could “flip the switch” and become an actually good team in the playoffs after a season of relative stasis.
All season, the Cavs’ strangle hold on the 1 seed in the East seemed vulnerable. First it was the Raptors who looked set to challenge LeBron and co., then the Celtics and Wizards looked more likely to grab the 1 seed. For what it’s worth, the Celtics did finish with the 1 seed and it seemed like the Cavs actually might be vulnerable.
In the West there was less of a race. The Warriors have been doing ridiculous shit all season long, but it looked like the Rockets could make it interesting with their new high-octane offense and James Harden running the point.
Maybe the Clips would make one last run (no… hey, stop laughing). And ultimately, the Spurs are always the Spurs and have their way of just winning shit (they won 61 games this year??!!?).
You've got to pay attention to the sets the Warriors run out of time outs. Things of beauty pic.twitter.com/sWb4JT2LEx
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 20, 2017
Then the playoffs started.
The Warriors have won every game of the playoffs by an average of 16.2 points per game (according to my calculations) and the Cavs lost their first game of the playoffs on Sunday.
Whatever your opinion of LeBron or the Warriors is, this doesn’t feel good for the league. Even if it was more or less inevitable that the Cavs and Warriors would face in the finals, the degree to which they’ve dominated has been startling.
I mean, look at the Raptors, who have been a very good team for a couple years now and made a bunch of moves during the season to beat LeBron in the playoffs.
PresidentMasai Ujiri went out and traded for Serge Ibaka and “LeBron stopper” (lol) P.J. Tucker. Then the Raptors went and got their ass beat in 4 straight games, without so much as a close game.
This whole thing has been particularly trash because I’ve been over here stanning for James Harden, thinking the Rockets could give the Warriors problems. I mean, Harden put up 29, 11, and 8 this season, truly one of the most ridiculous statistical years of all time and then… he fell apart against a Kawhi-less Spurs team.
What was going on with Harden tonight? pic.twitter.com/ZmBKxnkzeS
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 12, 2017
Wild. Stephen A. Smith is never one for temperance and cool-headedness and since he turned into the bloviating talking head he is now, it’s hard to ever agree with him, but his summation at the end of the Spurs Rockets series was spot on.
“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how to explain it. There needs to be an investigation. Somebody might have slipped something into his drink, somebody might have done something to him. I have no clue, but it is not James Harden. That was not James Harden that showed up for the Houston Rockets tonight. Somebody with his jersey showed up, it wasn’t him. I cannot believe what I saw.”
My feelings exactly.
Russell Westbrook didn’t let us down like Harden did, but still left a little to be desired in the playoffs. Dude did things we haven’t seen since Oscar Robertson was throwing up nightly triple doubles in the 60s against YMCA all stars.
But for all the statistical ridiculousness of Westbrook’s season, he was playing with zero help and had to go into Superman mode against the Rockets and came up way short.
The fact that the Warriors have swept their way to the finals, with Kevin Durant coming out and saying, “I made the 100 percent correct decision, win or lose,” only makes it all the more painful to see Westbrook flame out like that.
When ya PG doesn't shoot you out of the game pic.twitter.com/LF0krZVYNW
— Heartthrob Rob (@RobbyRav) May 23, 2017
Russell Westbrook can hold his head high, it’s wack we never got to see the ultimate Russ/KD grudge match, but that’s just how these playoffs have been.
With Game 4 of the Cavs/Celtics series later tonight, I expect nothing less than a LeBron masterpiece, coming off a game where he scored 11 points and had every old dude on twitter screaming “JORDAN WOULD NEVER”.
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) May 22, 2017
I know, I’m sorry for posting any Skip Bayless content in front of your eyeholes, just know that he said this, don’t even watch the video.
After the Celtics got blown out in Games 1 and 2, people began to suggest that maybe the young backcourt of the Wizards, with Bradley Beal and John Wall becoming legitimate stars, would have been a better matchup against the Cavs, but as J.R. Smith points out, if you can’t win Game 7, it’s quiet for you.
If you don't knock it off! Win game 7 an then talk. Till then sit home an enjoy the show! https://t.co/aZkZ7Lpi4u
— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) May 20, 2017
So what can the league do to stop this Cavs/Warriors dominance? The NBA has put in new rules in an attempt to prevent these “super teams” from happening, giving teams who originally drafted or signed a player higher spending power than other teams in free agency.
For example, the Thunder can offer Russell Westbrook, one of the first players eligible under the new rule, $219 million over 5 years, but any other team can only offer him $162.5 million/4 years, according to NBA.com.
I guess this is an effective tool in helping smaller market teams retain their talent, but I don’t see this preventing super teams. Kevin Durant isn’t losing money because he went to Golden State, in fact moving to the Bay Area has made Durant richer.
Basically, I have no answers. I don’t really have a point besides saying this shit is trash. I’m sure the Finals will be cool and fun, it’ll be dope to watch these two ridiculously good teams go at it for (I assume) 7 games, but these playoffs have been totally uninspiring.
Thing is, the NBA is essentially impervious to any issues at this point. It is an unstoppable force of a sports league, growing at a ridiculous rate overseas in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
It is second only to soccer in terms of global appeal, and playoff ratings are actually up this year, at a time where live sports ratings are plummeting across the board.
The NBA's playoff ratings are up big over last year. ESPN alone is up more than 8% for playoffs, inc 8.1 million TV viewers for GS-Spurs. https://t.co/jdDAvfOLZm
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) May 17, 2017
Judging off their performances of late, the Cavs and Warriors aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, either.
Maybe it’s just time to stop worrying and embrace the greatness of the Warriors and the Cavaliers…