While parity seemed to be the new and welcome theme for most of the 2017-18 NBA season, there is a noticeable lack of competitiveness in the second round of the playoffs.
Sure, the Cavaliers and Celtics both barely escaped the weekend with game three wins, but they also took a commanding 3-0 series lead in the process. LeBron James and the Cavs sealed the deal with a game four win on Monday while Boston let the 76ers pick up their first win. Still, not team has ever fought back from a 3-0 deficit in the NBA playoffs and the young Philadelphia players aren’t going to change that this week.
While the second round in the East seems lopsided, I will admit that most of the games themselves have been rather interesting to watch, even if we see the same ending every time: a LeBron James buzzer beater. James has assumed his usual “me against the world” role as the only effective player in Cleveland and is literally doing it by himself. Will it be enough to win a title in what is likely his last season in Cleveland? Probably not, considering the talent of Golden State and Houston in the West, but there’s no reason he can’t make it back to his eighth straight Finals.
It looks like LeBron’s competition in the Eastern Conference will be the Boston Celtics, who everybody wrote off when Kyrie Irving went down for the entire postseason. But players like Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier have stepped up and allowed Boston to outplay Philadelphia so far. LeBron and the Cavs will be favored, but the Celtics should still be a tough test.
What excites me more than another Conference Finals featuring Cleveland and Boston is the potential of the 2018-19 Celtics. It’s easy to forget that on top of losing Irving, the team has been missing Gordon Hayward for the entire season. This was supposed to be their major acquisition while adding Irving in a trade for Isaiah Thomas seemed more like a wash than anything else after last season.
With the rise of the Celtics and the possibility of LeBron heading to a team like the 76ers, all parity may once again disappear from the Eastern Conference again. It seems that the most fair scenario for the NBA is for LeBron to be part of a miserable team outside of himself. However, we saw him get fed up with that when he left for Miami with his famous decision in 2010. We won’t see him do it on national TV again, but we are likely watching the King’s last stand in Cleveland.
As for the West, the Rockets and Warriors also have everyone looking ahead to the Conference Finals. Both teams entered Tuesday night matchups with commanding 3-1 series leads over the Jazz and Pelicans. Houston used decisive wins on Friday and Sunday to build their lead after Utah stole game two at the Toyota Center. New Orleans, who wasn’t supposed to advance to round two at all, took game three from the Warriors at home.
While the parity has been tough to notice thus far, it’ll become more apparent in the Conference Finals. Last year, Golden State was an incredible 12-0 on their way to the Finals and turned every series into a laugher. However, they weren’t even able to grab the top seed this time around. That honor goes to the Rockets. While Houston will have their hands full when they attempt to dethrone the best team the league has seen in quite some time, I would be shocked if the series falls short of game six.
Lastly, I was reminded of one of the NBA’s pointless rules on Saturday near the end of regulation in the Celtics game. In a tie game and the shot clock off, Philadelphia’s J.J. Redick’s pass went right to Boston and they drove it the other way for the lead.
With seconds remaining, the 76ers called a timeout and received the ball at half court. This is a rule that has always irked me and never made sense. A team gets the ball under the basket after their opponent scores every other time with the exception of the end of the game. What entitles them to the reward of half the court just because they’re losing?
Consider: a football team trails by three points with 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. But instead of receiving a kickoff as usual, they are allowed to start at midfield in order to maximize their chances of tying or winning the game. This is essentially what the NBA is doing with this pointless rule that has been in place for as long as I can remember. It isn’t fair and it needs to go.
Wouldn’t you know it, Marco Belinelli of Philly drained a turnaround jumper as time expired after he received an inbound from halfcourt. Your team just turned the ball overall in a critical moment of the game to surrender the lead (in other words, you choked), and you have a chance for a quick catch and shoot? That doesn’t sit right with me. Luckily, Belinelli’s foot was on the line so his shot was just worth two. This sent the game into overtime and Boston ultimately prevailed.