Monday marks 10 days of NBA playoff games, and as it always seems to the NBA playoffs are living up to the hype.
We have stars emerging, upstart teams pushing title favorites, expected title favorites getting run out of the building, and dramatic game-winners. The NBA’s best are putting on a show, and we are just getting started.
Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly through 10 days of the NBA playoffs
Welcome to the NBA elite, Jayson Tatum. He already was there if we’re being honest, the man has an Olympic Gold Medal from Tokyo — where he played a key role in the Gold Medal game — and is likely will finish top five in MVP voting this year. However, to truly establish yourself as elite in the NBA in the minds of many fans, you have to do it in the playoffs.
Tatum has dominated on both ends. He has averaged 29.7 points and eight assists a game through three games, and more importantly, he has been the primary defender keeping Kevin Durant in relative check for the Celtics. Tatum also has a spinning game-winner as time expired this series.
JAYSON TATUM MAKES THE GAME WINNER CELTICS WIN!🤯 pic.twitter.com/3ZfDkiIbRT
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) April 17, 2022
Entering the playoffs, the theory of peak Golden State was a legitimate threat to the Phoenix Suns’ dominance in the West — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green were together with good role players. Could they turn back the clock to 2015 again? The thing is, we had never seen it: Injuries prevented the Warriors’ big three from playing more than seven seconds together all season. It was a grand theory, but in practice…
It looks amazing. The Warriors are up 3-1 on the Nuggets, Jordan Poole is averaging 24.3 points a game, Stephen Curry has become a super-sub, the Warriors have the best offense in the playoffs (126.9 offensive rating, via Cleaning the Glass), and Draymond Green is running the defense. With the Suns stumbling, the Warriors could be the best team in the West.
Ten weeks ago, back at the All-Star break, the talk around the Pelicans was about what a bad teammate Zion Williamson was and how he didn’t get along with management. It’s amazing what one strong locker room leader in CJ McCollum, and a little health, can change. The Pelicans are tied 2-2 with the Phoenix Suns, Brandon Ingram may be the best player in this series, and New Orleans has been the aggressor in a series against the defending Western Conference champs. This is why the play-in works — get the team coming together at the right time into the playoffs.
It seems fitting that a disappointing season in Brooklyn could end with the team being swept out of the playoffs. Jayson Tatum has outplayed Kevin Durant, Brooklyn’s defense is unimpressive (as expected), but the most significant thing holding the Nets back is a lack of chemistry. Kyrie Irving being out most of the season because he refused to get vaccinated, a mid-season trade for a player in Ben Simmons who has yet to step on the court, and the usual assortment of injuries and COVID absences that hit every team left the Nets with little time to develop chemistry and build good habits this season. And it shows against a Celtics team coming together at the right time.
I am reluctant to blame the officials for a loss — the Suns didn’t lose Sunday because of the free throw disparity, they lost because the Pelicans played harder — but consistently this postseason the referees are injecting themselves into games and series by calling things tight. For example (as noted by Drew Hill), the Grizzlies/Pelicans series averages 52.5 fouls per game, way up from the league average of 39.3 fouls per game during the regular season.
John Hollinger at The Athletic had the data across the playoffs through Saturday and basically found every playoff game has looked like the James Harden-era Rockets. The officiating seems inconsistent game-to-game, quarter-to-quarter even, and it’s not helping the product.
Injuries always have some impact on the playoffs, but this is ridiculous.
Phoenix is in trouble with the Pelicans in part because Devin Booker is out with a strained hamstring. Khris Middleton is out for two weeks with a sprained MCL and the Bucks are vulnerable without him. Kyle Lowry is out with a hamstring strain and the Heat will miss him if (as expected) he is still out when the second round starts. Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes missed time in Toronto with a left ankle sprain but is trying to play through it. Fred VanVleet is missing time for the Raptors with a left hip flexor strain. Joel Embiid is playing through torn ligaments in his thumb. Luka Doncic missed games with a strained calf (but appears to be back).
And none of that touches on the Clippers not having Kawhi Leonard then losing Paul George for the last play-in game (COVID). Or Jarrett Allen being out in Cleveland. Or no Jamal Murray or Michael Porter Jr. in Denver.
All that just cracks the surface. The basketball gods need to ease up so we can just see the best players play. That’s all we want — some basketball with a bit of flow to it.