The first week of the NBA playoffs sucked. This is indisputable. Even the most enthusiastic fans had to have been disappointed with the home teams winning the first eight games, and the highest seeds looking completely untouchable in their first round series.
Then things got a little interesting, as the Celitcs clawed back from the cusp of defeat, the Rockets gave the Thunder a little scare after Russell Westbrook’s injury, and Steph Curry elevated his game to ridiculous heights in the absence of all-star power forward David Lee.
These performances suggested that upsets were actually possible in the NBA playoff bracket, but the quality of the games still left something to be desired. That was until little Nate Robinson caught fire during the Bulls incredible 14-point come back against the Nets in Game 4 of that series. Mighty Mouse went off for 23 points in the fourth quarter, as the Bulls took advantage of the Nets gag job and won an instant classic in three overtimes.
If the second half of the first round didn’t peak your interest, the Conference Semifinals might. Considering all four series are tied at 1-1, the Heat and Thunder are getting challenged on their home floor, and the Knicks are doing their best Jekyll and Hyde impression against the Pacers, it’s almost an afterthought that the Warriors and Spurs played one of the greatest games in postseason history on Monday night.
In case you had to work the next day, or got caught up playing RPG’s until 2 a.m. (looking at you Tibbs), the Spurs became the first team ever to come back from a 16-point deficit in the last four minutes of a playoff game. They turned it on when it counted, forced overtime twice, and held an exhausted Steph Curry in check long enough to earn an opportunity to steal a Game 1 that they should have had no business winning.
Then, Manu Ginobili took a 30-footer that he had no business taking with a 3-point lead, 35 seconds left, and 11 seconds on the shot clock, and the unlikeliest of scrubs (rookie Kent Bazemore) appeared to hit a game-winning layup for Golden State. Then redemption came in the form of another three for Manu, he canned it, and the game tape went straight to the NBA TV vault.
So what does it mean when the completely predictable playoffs give way to balanced results in the later rounds?
For starters, it means that the playoffs are too long. This is not news to anyone, since for the most part, people agree that first round series should still be best of 5. Some might even argue for contraction, considering teams like the Bucks, Lakers, and (to an extent) Celtics, backed their way into the playoffs and had essentially no shot (again to an extent in the C’s case) of defeating their higher seeded opponents.
There’s really no point in discussing what would make a better product, because NBA owners believe that a more profitable product is a better product, and so a 16-team bracket with every series guaranteed to go at least four games will remain the playoff model. That is until they find out a way to make more money.
Here’s a more interesting question though, why are we seeing all these ridiculous comebacks and road victories?
While every big run- the Bulls 14-point comeback, the Spurs unprecedented comeback, The C’s last gasp in Game 6, and the Knicks 36-4 run against the Pacers in Game 2- has come at home, it seems like home-court advantage is not what it used to be. The fact that these teams were down that much in the first place, and the fact that no teams have won both home games in the second round, indicates that teams are capable of blocking out the noise, and that referees are not that influenced by negative reactions from the crowd.
As Jeff Green said before the Celtics Game 5 win in Madison Square Garden, “They [the crowd] don’t affect the game, we do. We play the game.”
It makes you wonder how home-court advantage in the NBA playoffs compares to the edge that home teams receive in other sports.
I would argue that the biggest advantage is found in:
1. NFL- because visiting teams can’t communicate at the line of scrimmage in an increasingly audible-happy, passing league.
2. MLB- since you receive a tangible advantage by batting last.
3. NBA- are professional players really motivated by the thought that 30-some thousand fans will scream if they hit their shot? Are mechanically-sound officials really more likely to call a charge to please the crowd?
4. NHL- I mean, can they even hear anything while they’re on the ice? Not really, and that’s why a #8 seed took home the cup last season and crushed it on the road.
(Weight in if you disagree)
Regardless of how big the advantage is, these playoffs are quickly becoming the stuff of dreams. Hopefully it will continue to entertain, and we can only pray that the Heat get seriously tested in every series. If things continue to run their unpredictable course, we start talking about how March Madness leads to April [Shittiness], but that NBA Mayhem is right around the corner.
If you made it this far, you deserve some cheerleader pic: