Talkin’ Hoops: The NBA Playoffs Conference Finals

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The Addison Recorder doesn’t talk about the NBA much…until it gets to the really interesting time of the year. In this four-part series, Alex and Travis will talk about what’s getting them excited for the NBA Playoffs.

Travis: As the playoffs continue their march to the finish, a number of metaphors spring right to the forefront. Calling them a “grind” seems accurate. A “slog” fits as well. A more drastic comparison might be Sherman’s March to the Sea – where Steph Curry, LeBron James, James Harden, and whomever plays for the Hawks (…Kyle Korver?) fight for every single inch of hardwood space in a quest for a title.

Because boy, have they been brutal. Not in terms of watchability, but the fact that this year seems to be taking a drastic toll on the bodies and souls of the players involved. Just look at the last round in the Western Conference, where the Grizzlies did their best to batter the Warriors right out of the playoffs – only to watch Tony Allen’s body betray him. Mike Conley’s face is held together by duct tape and Krazy Glue at this point. The Warriors look relatively healthy, but that’s because Steve Kerr is some sort of witch doctor and Curry is probably a Terminator.

And then there was the sheer brutality that was Rockets/Clippers. There were at least three “da fuq?!” games in that series where I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Remember when the Clippers were up 3 games to 1 and looked like legitimate threats to win the whole damn thing? Remember when the Rockets were James Harden, the Ghost of Dwight Howard, and a bunch of spare parts?

What the hell just happened? And more importantly, what does this mean going forward?

Bean: It means that these Playoffs just got a lot more predictable. That’s my take-away from the Conference Semi-Finals, at least. 10 days ago you and I were walking past Wrigley Field and discussing the crazy upsets that had dominated the first week of the Semis. Memphis grabs home court away from Golden State! Derrick Rose banks in a buzzer-beating three and makes Chicago believe! Paul Pierce exists solely to destroy the hopes and dreams of historically bad franchises! And then…reversion to the mean. Golden State took two punches to the mouth and then ran Memphis off the court. Lebron hit his own buzzer beater and the Cavaliers never looked back. Atlanta remembered that Paul Pierce has the legs of Tyler Ward and marched right past Washington. The only really nuts one was that fucking Rockets-Clippers series.

It blew my mind to discover that the Clippers lost Game 6 by double-digits last week. I played video games for 2 hours rather than finish the game because I thought it was well in-hand. Seems while I was defying death-by-orc in Shadow of Mordor the Clippers ran into their own fatal peril: a weak bench. Grantland’s post-mortem for Houston’s eventual embarassment of the Clippers we praised so much a few weeks ago revealed that Doc Rivers rode his starting five to the tune of about 75% of the total minutes across 14 playoff games. That’s crazy. That’s unsustainable. That killed them last night when DeAndre Jordan completely lost his handle and Blake Griffin was so gassed he couldn’t even take a shot when afforded approximately 10 acres of space. Which is too bad, because I keep hoping they’ll put it together.

As to the future, I think we’re going to get the most predictable of outcomes: Golden State and Cleveland will advance. Houston has been surprisingly good, considering how relatively little has been expected of them. Atlanta has had their best year ever and will be thrilled with this year no matter what. I hope they both head home feeling frustrated and hopeful for the future. But they’re heading home. Curry and the Warriors are just too skilled and too well-coached. The Cavs are clicking as a unit and Lebron has made it to the Finals four years in a row. Their superstar showdown beckons.

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Travis: I have to disagree with you about those Cavs. The biggest reason that the Clippers fell apart was because of that weak bench, as you said. Have you looked at the Cavs? Their bench is full of the Mike Millers and Shawn Marions of the world. Hell, even Kendrick Perkins makes an appearance. The loss of Kevin Love as the stretch-four has reduced the Cavs to starting Tristan Thompson, who’s a great big but better suited for a role coming off the bench in relief than as a starter logging massive minutes. The immaturity of J.R. Smith in the first round bit them in the ass, and he’s their spark off the bench. Which is fine, if he’s on, but he’s notoriously streaky. Imam Shumpert is a great defender, but is also inconsistent. And Kyrie came off the floor limping after that last game, and even beyond that, he’s not 100%. The Hawks are primed for pulling off an Orlando Magic style upset – against the same team that suffered that indignity before.

Speaking of, I feel like the Rockets will test the Warriors a bit. That Game 6 unit with Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, and Corey Brewer looked vaguely old-school, ready to brawl at a moment’s notice. It’s weird that the best thing that could have happened to the Rockets was James Harden disappearing so that Dwight and J-Smith could play AAU Reunion ball…but it was a thing that happened. The Rockets will test the Warriors. They won’t win – you’re right about predictability, but it’ll at least be entertaining. Right?

Bean: Basketball is inherently entertaining, but I’m not really expecting these series to be the knock-down drag-out brawls that make for great Playoff series. The Rockets seem to only play in blow-outs, regardless of whether they are winning or losing. They might be able to get one of those against the Warriors, but more than that seems like a dream. Unless something bananas happens I’d expect the Warriors to dominate the Western Finals, which would be an odd ending to the season-long battle royale that the West was this year.

In the East, you’re right that the Cavs don’t have a super team. It’s better constructed than those 2007-09 Cavs teams that Lebron dragged into contention, but the loss of Kevin Love really does hurt. They will have to rely more on post play and the Lyrie/Lebron duo dominating. But that’s the thing that will do it for them, I think. Atlanta is a very good team and I love that they play without a superstar like those mid-2000’s Pistons squads. But you know what ended the reign of those Pistons? A chippy Cavs team of replacement-level players and Lebron. The NBA game can allow a superstar to carry the team on his back. Another All-Star player on the squad makes things feel even more certain to me. Cavs advance and bring Cleveland to the precipice of the promised land.

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook is the Editor-in-Chief and one of the original founders of the Addison Recorder. He writes about baseball, movies, and music, among other topics. He resides in a hole in the ground near Wrigley Field.

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