The first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs are over, but the vibrations from all the dramas that unfolded can still be felt reverberating across the league.
It was a first round for the ages and could be the most significant first round in the league’s history. After the smoke cleared and the locker rooms emptied we can now look forward to Indiana Versus Washington and Miami Versus Brooklyn in the East. In the West, get ready for San Antonio Versus Portland and the LA Clippers Versus Oklahoma City.
While the wars were going on down on the courts, a dark chapter threatened to raise its ugly head. The specter of racism in an African American dominated players league.
His punishment by the league was swift and by most accounts within the African American community, it was also just.
Sterling was banned from the league for life, fined $2.5 million, the highest the league could legally impose and proceedings have begun to try to force him to sell the team.
“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” Mr. Silver said. “We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the N.B.A.”
The Sterling debacle went far beyond the game of basketball, the nationwide disgust became a rallying cry, an affront on dignity, a call to action for a people, struggling with unemployment, thinly disguised racism, and the struggle to establish their proper place in the nation’s legacy.
The silver lining from the Donald Sterling fiasco was that for the first time the players finally realized how much power they wield and how a moment of true solidarity, like their collective outrage at Sterling, galvanized them into flexing that power.
While it will take some time to wipe away the stain of Sterling’s ugly rhetoric, the games themselves were a joy to behold.
An unprecedented five first round match-ups going all the way down the wire to game seven, with the lower seeds giving the top seeds a wildly furious run for their money. In fact the eighth seeds in each conference took the number one seeds all the way.
The takeaway while the battles raged over the last week?
That LeBron James is a marked man. The four time league MVP ate an elbow to the throat, took a high knee to the thigh and had to listen to the excited, cheering of the blood-thirsty crowd while he lay hobbled on the court.
The rough play, didn’t dent the crown. James lit up the Charlotte Bobcats, averaging 30 points, eight rebounds, six assists and 2.3 steals. Miami could also have a healthy Dwyane Wade and a thirsty Chris Bosh, eager to redeem himself after a ho-hum season. Miami also swept Charlotte.
And as James puts it, “the most important thing about the series, is the Heat improved every game”.
That you don’t want the Grizzlies Tony Allen defending you. Ever. The clinic he put on Kevin Durant was must-see TV. Infact he had Durant so confounded, an Oklahoma City Newspaper took to calling their golden boy, “Mr. Unreliable”.
Though the Oklahoman apologized for running that headline, Durant, rumored to be the league’s Most Valuable Player this year, woke up and caught fire after that headline, torching Memphis, forcing a game seven and ultimately carrying his team into the second round.
Their next headline? “Kevin Up”.
If he gets the nod for MVP, he narrowly escaped being forced to receive the award after being bounced from the playoffs in the first round.
Meanwhile in Texas, it was a chess match for all the marbles in the lone star state. Two of the best coaching minds in the game today, Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle, drawing up furious plays on the fly, each team trying to figure the other out, before San Antonio finally solved the riddle and played their best game of the season in a game seven rout.
Both men are veteran coaches. A different ball game in the frantic battles between the Brooklyn Nets and the Toronto Raptors. We witnessed two rookie coaches battling to be the first to become the first rookie coach to win a game seven. That distinction now belongs to Brooklyn’s Jason Kidd, who according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was the 19th first year coach to try to win a game seven, and the first to actually win.
We also witnessed the coming of age of a young Washington Wizards team. Barring one moment of immaturity from Forward-Center Nene, the discipline the young Washington team showed putting the Joakim Noah led Chicago Bulls away was a revelation for most NBA fans who never really followed the team.
They’ll play the top-seeded Indiana next, though the Pacers have not been playing like a number seed. Indiana began on the road to a mind-boggling near historic collapse right after the All-Star break. It took everything they had, plus the heroics of Paul George to finally right the ship and help them sail past Atlanta in game seven and into the second round.
It also remains to be seen how much aging superstars Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan have left in the tank after playing seven grueling games. The toll on their bodies could become a factor if their second series goes all the way to another game seven. Father Time has been kind to the veteran trio, but Father Time like they say, is still undefeated. When he decides to pull the plug, it usually only takes one game for a player to suddenly look old.
That game didn’t come as Brooklyn battled Toronto in an epic game seven. But it did take a last second heroic block from Pierce to propel them into the second round and help the team avoid a $190 million catastrophe.
While some players refuse to age, some young guns are refusing to be intimidated by the big moments and the bright lights. Look no further than Portland, where the dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are doing serious work. Lillard slammed the lid on James Harden, Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin’s playoff aspirations with a last second dagger that was nothing short of cold-blooded.
Finally in sunny California, the hatred between the Golden State Warriors and the LA Clippers spilled past the courts and into the locker rooms.
According to ESPN security had to be called in to prevent some players from both teams from potentially going at each other.
ESPN reports Shortly after the Clippers eliminated the Warriors in a scrappy, testy game seven, “to advance to the Western Conference semifinals, the two teams continued their feud in the tunnel connecting the home and visitors locker rooms at Staples Center”.
According to ESPN’s sources things never got physical, but it was loud and alarming enough that police and security were called to calm the situation.
So how “money” was the first round of the playoffs?
Turner announced that viewership for the first round surged a whopping 237% compared to last year.
Their announcement according to TVWeek says “NBA TV’s seven originally produced live game telecasts averaged 720,000 total viewers to register the network’s most-viewed NBA Playoff coverage of all time and a 237% increase over the comparable first round coverage last year. The network’s presentation of Game 6 featuring the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks on Thursday, May 1, produced NBA TV’s most-viewed telecast ever with an average of 1,071,000 total viewers.
TV Week also adds that four game telecasts were up triple digits from the comparable games a year ago, “including the Grizzlies/Thunder Game 5 (up 452%), along with the Atlanta Hawks/Indiana Pacers Game 5, on Wednesday, April 28 (up 227%), the Pacers/Hawks Game 3 on Thursday, April 24 (up 209%) and the Dallas Mavericks/San Antonio Spurs Game 2 on Wednesday, April 23 (up 186%).”
The jump ball to start the second round goes up Monday.