Writers from PopGates look back at the first round of the NBA Playoffs, and answer questions about each series:
Washington – Atlanta: Dwight Howard, big turd or biggest turd?
Austin Murphy: I don’t need to be asked twice to voice my opinion that Dwigt Howard is the softest “superstar” in recent NBA history. At this point in time, my only regret is the whole billboard fiasco, because heaven knows I’m much happier without him on the Lakers now. I actually found it exceedingly comical during game 5 to watch Kelly Oubre Jr. fly in from the corner for an uncontested dunk – while 3-time DPOY Dwigt Howard elected not to challenge. 2009-2011 are long gone.
This guy is mentally fragile. He doesn’t have what it takes to be a leader, and he has never taken the game seriously enough to contend (aside from 2009-2010). John Wall is my favorite point guard in the league, so I would love it if he’d finish off this series by dunking on “The Big Deadbeat.”
And for what it’s worth, I think Rainn Wilson would shoot at least 55% from the FT line.
Mike Steenstra: He’s a big turd on the court and the biggest turd off of it.
On the court, he’s just a big floater. He doesn’t smell up the whole place but it honestly feels like he’s not even on the court. But maybe it feels like that because he never is on the court in the fourth quarter? Either way, John Wall and Co. dropped deuces in the paint all series long.
Off the court? He’s still the biggest turd. I covered game 2 and game 5 in-person and his body language towards being deservedly benched in the fourth is as foul as his free throw attempts. Time to flush that turd out of the league, son.
Noah Perkins: Dwight Howard is mediocre, lazy, and paid an offensive amount of money to do little to nothing; yet somehow he has the type of job security most Americans would kill for. If you replace his shorts and sleeveless with a cigar, Captain Picard’s hair, a paunchy tum-tum – and put him on the golf course, he basically becomes Sean Hannity.
He isn’t a bigger turd than Derrick Rose, but he, nonetheless, is a big turd.
Cleveland – Indiana: Is LBJ destined for another Finals?
Austin Murphy: Color me unimpressed but sweeping an overmatched 42-win team is hardly a guarantee of another two series wins. The Cavs allowed an average of 108.8 points/game to a Pacers team that finished 15th in the league offensively. For comparison, the 1995 Rockets were the last team to allow 100+ points/game in a sweep, and that was to Shaq, Penny, and the Orlando Magic – a team that finished with the league’s best offense that season.
This sweep has done nothing to convince me that Cleveland is championship ready, and the only thing that has been proven is that LeBron is still the best player in the world (which really doesn’t mean all that much when Deron Williams’ rotting corpse is finishing games while Kyrie is glued to the bench).
What we have seen time and time again over the years is that offense is only half of the equation, and defense wins championships. Ask the 1993 Suns. Ask the 2004 Lakers. Ask the 2011 Heat. To win a championship (and multiple series) you have to be able to stop your opponent from scoring.
The Cavs can’t stop anyone!
They have lived and died over the past three years on the heroics of James and Irving and a feisty defense that has given the Warriors fits in the Finals. There is no evidence that Cleveland has made a significant commitment to defense this year, and we might actually be seeing how crucial Dellavedova’s scrappy (albeit illegal) defensive play was to the last two Cavs’ seasons.
Cleveland finished this season ranked 20th defensively in the league. Contrast that with their rankings of 13th in 2015 and 4th in 2016, and I guarantee they struggle to stop the Raptors and anyone else they meet in the East should they advance to the conference finals.
My last point is in homage of my sordid memories of 2011. The Lakers were seeking a fourth straight NBA Finals bid, and we drastically overestimated the Mavericks after a tough series with the Hornets. Los Angeles assumed they could just flip a switch and discard Dallas, a team they hadn’t met in the playoffs since the 1988 Western Conference Finals. We were cocky, quickly dismissive of a franchise that came up short in the playoffs year after year.
Remember how that series turned out?
They swept us. They kicked the ever-living shit out of us.
The late 2000s/early 2010s Lakers – a far more well-rounded and talented team than the current Cavaliers – were spanked out of the playoffs because they were looking ahead to a potential Finals meeting with the Heatles.
What’s more, I am so sick and tired of watching LeBron lose in the Finals and bastardize the title of “Best Player in the World” – because I can guarantee he won’t beat the Warriors given Golden State’s stronger narrative and motivation in light of Steve Kerr’s health and Curry’s need to finally prove himself in a championship series. All the remaining teams in the East have stronger narratives as well and I will not be surprised in the least when James walks off the court in disbelief as he misses out on his 7th straight Finals appearance.
Mike Steenstra: Unless Lebron gets hurt, which doesn’t ever really seem like a real possibility, the Cavs make it. The Celtics’ struggles with the Bulls are very concerning. I know IT4 continues to prove the doubters wrong but I just don’t see the Celtics being able to effectively contain Lebron, Love, and Kyrie. Plus, how ridiculous is that second unit for the Cavs with Deron Williams patrolling the floor? The Raptors and the Wizards have an outside shot but if either of them beat the Cavs, it’d be like 1980 when we beat those effin’ Russians. I wouldn’t bet on it.
Noah Perkins: Why is it that during every Raptors away game we have to constantly cut away to see how the fans are reacting in Toronto? I mean they’re Canadian; they’re not from Mars – does TNT think they are going to catch some super sketchy secret Canadian stuff if they cut away enough? I assure you a hockey brawl isn’t going to break out over some Tim Horton’s – or whatever it is Canadians are into.
These cutaways alone (and then of course there is the Drake factor) are enough of a reason to root for a Cavs sweep.
To answer the question: no the Celtics, Wizards and Raptors are not going to dethrone King James. He’s surpassed Kobe, this is a legacy season.
Toronto – Milwaukee: After getting knocked out in the first round, was the Bucks season still a success?
Austin Murphy: Not that I’ve ever considered him to be one of the better color commentators around the league, but I was slightly dismayed when Reggie Miller asserted that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker were the two future building blocks for the Bucks. Even though he has been injury-prone, I still think Jabari Parker has more upside and talent than Maker.
Either way, Milwaukee is primed to come back next year even scarier, and as long as the Freak continues to grow – as a shooter, not in length – you can practically pencil-in the Bucks to reach the second round next year.
I also had a chuckle when Jason Kidd was begging his players, imploring them to be willing to die to win game six. The rhetoric is strong but was outweighed by Kidd’s bewildering decision to leave Maker on DeRozan on one of the most important defensive possessions of the season. I guess there’s a learning curve in coaching as well.
Mike Steenstra: Did Jason Kidd once get convicted of a ridiculous DUI? (That’s supposed to answer the question.) They’ll be the hot pick for the team-on-the-rise in the East next year. The last time they made the playoffs they were supposed to be the hot team but laid a big fat, smelly egg. The second round would have been nice but it’s rather unnecessary, don’t you think? It lays a nice foundation for next year where I think a Conference Finals or bust goal sounds like a success. No pressure.
Noah Perkins: Given how Giannis played down the stretch, a series win would have been a nice cherry – but, again, given how Giannis played down the stretch, the Bucks have already solidified themselves as a trendy 2018 Eastern Conference Champion pick. There is no metric possible that could make anybody look at this season as anything short of a success. The bigger question: should Jason Kidd keep his job?
Golden State – Portland: Does Steve Kerr matter at all?
Austin Murphy: Steve Kerr is a top-3 coach in this league, and all I need to point to is the difference between 2014 and 2015 for the Warriors. They went from being a perennial early playoff knockout under Mark Jackson to being a contender/champion over the course of one offseason. Andre Iguodala definitely deserves a shout-out for coming over from the Nuggets, but Kerr was the mastermind behind the “Lineup of Death” and many other adjustments that forced Golden State to forget about iso-ball and value defense.
As for the actual team’s success and eventual championship, sure we can attribute it to talent and a stacked starting lineup, but I’d like to point out that they are experiencing something that is not at all unique and in fact fairly recent in its latest occurrence:
Losing a heartbreaking seven-game NBA Finals in which you held the advantage at one point and returning the next year with a vengeance.
It happened to the 1978-1979 SuperSonics. It happened to the 1984-1985 Lakers. It happened to the 1988-1989 Pistons. It happened to the 2013-2014 Spurs. Now it’s happening to the 2016-2017 Warriors.
This team is hungry and out for blood; anyone that stands in their way is going to be demolished.
Mike Steenstra: The Warriors are so much better than the Blazers that these were games that even Mike Brown was bound to win. I don’t think we get an accurate picture of the Steve Kerr-effect until later on in the playoffs but I honestly think that any NBA coach could take them to the finals. Things will get tricky when the Spurs and Rockets come around but talent trumps all and the Warriors are so stacked. While I do think Stevie boy is a good fit for the team, these guys would be in the same exact spot with anyone.
Noah Perkins: An NBA team once fired Mike Brown after five games. Mike Brown once described himself as a glorified equipment manager as an assistant coach with Westlake Lee Burenson Middle School. None of this is to besmirch Mike Brown, but it is to say Mike Brown isn’t Jerry Sloan or Pop or even Erik Spolestra. But, he doesn’t really have to be – the Warriors are a self-driving Uber in Pittsburgh; Brown just has to be the passenger side technician who doesn’t fuck anything up.
Kerr has the easiest job in the NBA – but he fits the role as well as anybody could – mostly by being incredibly well liked in the locker room.
Does Kerr matter though? Naw, Mike Brown, at absolute worst is taking the Warriors to game 7 of the NBA Finals.
San Antonio – Memphis: Is Kawhi destined to suffer the Tim Duncan out of sight out of mind curse?
Austin Murphy: Kawhi is my overall favorite player in the league, and I’ll talk about him all day if you let me. You’re also going to hate me for making this comparison so early in his career, but he is his generation’s MJ/Kobe. He has already won a championship and Finals MVP. He has already perfected the turnaround jumper. He already comes up clutch when his team needs him. And he is the league’s best lockdown perimeter defender to boot. I absolutely adore watching him play the game the right way, a silent assassin who has no need for all the bravado and megalomania that comes with being “The Chosen One.”
Not to mention, that I’m already hearing people harp on his inability to keep his teammates involved. This is the same knock people had on young Jordan and Kobe circa 2004-2007. Well guess how Kawhi finished off the Grizzlies? Consecutive clutch assists in the final minute to clinch the win.
If you appreciate good fundamentals, a great work ethic, and humility, Kawhi Leonard is your guy. Alternatively, if you like lazy chuckers with enlarged egos, Nick Young has some jerseys to sell you.
Mike Steenstra: I am becoming an old man so those West coast games are hard for me to stay up for in general.
I probably only watched about 10 Spurs games all season, which is on the high end for me with Western Conference teams. It’s a refreshing change-of-pace from the torture I put myself through as a Knicks fan (although I do think Pop is a dope for not running the triangle). Kawhi is already more hyped than Duncan though. While his public persona is similar to Tim’s, his on-court style of play is nothing like it. This dude’s flying all over, getting dunks, blocks, making hustle plays, and that kind of stuff is harder to ignore than a little 10 footer off the glass. I feel like I see a lot of Kawhi highlights floating around on my timeline throughout the season. Is he losing endorsements from not being more outgoing? Fo’ sho but we don’t ignore the dude on the court.
Noah Perkins: Kawhi drives a ‘97 Chevy Tahoe; coupons for Wingstop discounts; and, like all #Ballislifers, carries a backpack with a ball in it wherever he goes.
Kawhi is also flawless on the court.
Then why the hell do we all watch so few Spurs games every season? I watched two regular season Spurs games this year. I didn’t even select them as one of my teams on League Pass. Not because I didn’t want to – but it was almost like I forgot they were in the league when I ordered it. I chose the Sacramento Kings as one of my teams for Christ sake. The Kings!
He’ll own the curse for the next 15-years – but it will make him all the more endearing.
Houston – Oklahoma City: Is Russ still the MVP?
Austin Murphy: This series didn’t impact my outlook in the slightest. Folks online have already done the due diligence and research to confirm the MVP selection, so Russ’ inability to drag an otherwise 13-win team to game six shouldn’t be a knock against him. In fact, he should be applauded for winning even one game in the series. The Thunder are a bad basketball team, and Kevin Durant deserves a lot more credit for helping drag these scrubs to the Western Conference Finals a year ago. Iso-ball is dead, Billy Donovan* in no way deserves to be coaching in this league, and Russell Westbrook shouldn’t be wasting his prime in Oklahoma City.
Someday there will be a glorious 30-for-30 on what could have been with the Thunder, but by then Westbrook will be long gone and the team will probably have already moved back to Seattle.
And as for Andre Roberson, expect an overall decline next year since it has to be traumatizing to be humiliated live on TV five games in a row. That form is just straight-up U.G.L.Y.
*I could probably write another 500 words on how Donovan was overhyped in college when he had Brewer, Noah, and Horford on the same team and how he is trash for blowing a 3-1 lead with Durant and Westbrook in their primes and trying to build Roberson’s “confidence” in the playoffs, but I’ll save that for another day.
Mike Steenstra: Absolutely not. This dude is clearly the MVP in my eyes. Imagine someone getting denied after AVERAGING a triple-double? He did everything for his team. You could make the case for Lebron to win the case every single year (and maybe we should?) but Russ was the Most Valuable Player for his team. If you take him away from that line-up, there’s a good chance they’d get a top-5 pick.
Noah Perkins: It was wrong in 1962 when Bill Russell won the MVP award over Oscar, let alone Wilt. It wouldn’t quite be as wrong if Harden won it over Russ, but it would be close.
Take Harden and Russ off the court – would the outcome of the series have been any different? Yea, the Thunder win no games as opposed to one game.
Los Angeles – Utah: Where do the Clippers go from here (assuming they lose the series)?
Austin Murphy: When I went down to see the last Lakers-Clippers game of the regular season, what pissed me off the most was seeing in-person how little bro covers up our championship banners for every home game and plasters giant unintimidating depictions of Paul, Griffin, and Jordan high up on the walls.
This likely six-game departure is hopefully the nail in the coffin for the Clips. I have never been a fan of Griffin or Jordan, and Doc Rivers is the most overrated coach in NBA history. I don’t see how you can possibly improve your lack of depth and make up for glaring deficiencies when you’re that far over the salary cap.
But it is a bit ironic that the team punished the most by the CBA’s repeater tax clause actually isn’t the Lakers, but rather our whiny, soon-to-be-on-vacation neighbors. They’re like the Kramer to our Jerry, the Squidward to our Spongebob, the Kimmie Gibler to our Tanner Family.
Mike Steenstra: Good question. Maybe they should go to Vegas? Seems like something teams from California are thinking about these days. Let’s face it, CP3’s best days are behind him, Blake Griffin is injury-prone, Paul Pierce is old enough to do that weird Rocket emoji thing, and Doc Rivers is bold enough to make his son an important rotation player as the GM of an NBA team. A rebuild is a tough pill to swallow, especially when this core is the closest thing to relevancy the Clip show has ever had, but it’s time to bail on this direction. Trade your assets and start new. Fire Doc! Fire Doc! Fire Doc! Hey, I’m a Knicks fan at heart so that’s my go-to chant.
Noah Perkins: The NBA could right one of its more historical wrongs by sending the Clippers back to San Diego. I suspect they stay the course, bring back the core and once again engage in the futile chase of a championship.
If Steve Ballmer really wants to get hardcore – he has got to get rid of Doc.
Boston – Chicago: Do the Bulls win the series if Rondo doesn’t get hurt?
Austin Murphy: Rondo is nowhere near as good as he was circa 2012, but his ability to orchestrate an offense is still second to none. He had the Celtics figured out down to a “T,” so his injury has certainly had an impact on Boston’s recovery.
With that being sad, the Celtics have too much talent not to make the series competitive after falling behind. I was mildly surprised at the 2-0 lead, but the Bulls’ lack of perimeter shooting (even with Rondo on the floor) had me questioning their ability to close out the series. Here we are three games later, and Chicago’s defensive deficiencies (looking at you Wyane Wae) is being exposed by the best 4th quarter scorer east of the Mississippi.
This has been a hell of a first round series so far, but sadly the Bulls are going to have to wait another year for a chance to finally beat the Celtics in the playoffs.
Mike Steenstra: Playoff Rondo is a site to behold. There’s no doubt in my mind the Bulls would have won had Rondo not had his injury. That being said, he seems difficult to get along with and I don’t really want that in my locker room. Cryptic Instagram posts, fighting with the coach through the media, and an inability to shoot the ball accurately after this much time keep him off my free agency radar. There are better options out there and that’s where I’m spending my dough.
Noah Perkins: Without Rondo the Bulls went from 108.5 points and 25 assists to 93 points and 19 assists. They also allowed six more points without him.
Given the two game sample size and the fact the Celtics can’t pick up a rebound at a singles mixer at Hillel House, Rondo probably gets the Bulls to the next round.
Why did Ainge stash Ante Žižić again?