The final buzzer sounded on the second round of the 2019 playoffs.
Yet, the suspense was still rising.
Kawhi Leonard‘s final shot bounced, bounced, bounced, bounced then hung on the rim for an excruciatingly long split second. Finally, it fell – the fitting end to an all-time great second round.
The first Game 7 game-winner at the buzzer in NBA history capped a playoff round that also included triumph, heartbreak, redemption, hostility, high stakes, close games, quadruple overtime, two tight Game 7s, an intensifying rivalry and a comically bad prediction.
Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo played great. Kevin Durant played great until he got hurt. Stephen Curry played terribly until he played great. C.J. McCollum played great when it mattered most.
The Bucks, Raptors, Warriors and Trail Blazers advanced. The Celtics, 76ers, Rockets and Nuggets will have a summer to lick their wounds.
There’s no simple way to judge a playoff series, but it generally rests on the quality of teams and quality of games.
These eight teams were excellent. For the first time since 2008, there were no first-round upsets by seed. That left only the league’s strongest teams for the second round. The Bucks have been excellent all season. Nobody questions the Warriors’ talent. The Raptors could be a sleeping giant after their moves around the trade deadline.
Milwaukee, Toronto, Golden State, Portland, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston and Denver combined to outscore opponents by 5.5 points per game (regular season and first round) entering the second round. That’s the sixth-highest mark since the NBA adopted its current 16-team postseason format in 1984.
To judge game quality, I created an excitement score – one point for every game decided by five or fewer points, one point for every overtime and one point for every Game 7. Admittedly, the system is skewed toward this year. But after watching these fun games, how could it not be? The 2019 second round’s excitement score of 18 (11 close games, five overtimes and two Game 7s) is higher than any other year’s second round.
Here’s how every second round in the current playoff era rates by margin per game entering the round and excitement score within the round:
So, is this the best second round ever?
There’s a case for 1997, which featured Bulls (69-13) over Hawks (56-26), Heat (61-21) over Knicks (57-25), Rockets (57-25) over SuperSonics (57-25) and Jazz (64-18) over Lakers (56-26). That year also had two Game 7s (Miami-New York and Houston-Seattle).
But, considering the ramifications for the teams involved, I’d favor the round we just watched.
The Bucks are more likely to pay to keep humming. The Warriors are seemingly improving their odds of keeping Durant. The Raptors have a better chance of retaining Leonard. The Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard are more likely to sign a super-max extension this summer.
On the other hand, the Celtics could lose Kyrie Irving. The 76ers might fire Brett Brown and must deal with pending free agents Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick. The Rockets are still stuck behind Golden State and only getting more desperate as they age. (At least the young Nuggets should feel content with their playoff run).
So much rode on this second round, and the games lived up to the hype.