Why the MVP doesn’t come down to one playoff game, the Warriors are nearly unbeatable, and more
By: Bogart Lipe
After a thrilling regular season, the NBA playoffs are finally here. The first weekend provided many storylines, which led to numerous knee-jerk reactions and predictions of how the rest of the playoffs will unfold. Harden outdueled Russ, the Warriors and Celtics faced worthy competition as the number 1 seeds, and Paul George called out his teammate for taking an open 18 footer. What should truly be taken away from the infancy of the playoffs and which stories were complete and utter exaggerations?
Harden is the Real MVP
Sunday night, the Rockets pulverized the Thunder by the tune of 118-87. Harden was spectacular, Westbrook was underwhelming, and “The Real MVP” talk was renewed. First, let’s get this trivial fact out of the way: the MVP is, and always has been, a regular season award. One playoff blowout in a game between MVP contenders has no bearing on the award, especially since all the votes were cast prior to any playoff games tipping off. Westbrook is still the MVP, and should receive the award at season’s end. This has been the Year of the Triple Double and by association The Year of Russ. Twenty years from now, this regular season will be remembered for Westbrook’s unrelenting aggression night in and night out as he hunted down history. If anything, the Rockets dispatching the Thunder like they did further proved Westbrook’s case as MVP. The second best offensive option for the Thunder was not Victor Oladipo (who shot 1-12 and 0-6 from 3), or Steven Adams, or Enes Kanter, but Andre Roberson and his 18 points. The same Andre Roberson who has done an exemplary job filling in the “wing player who plays great defense but is comically worthless on offense” position that the Thunder seem to always have reserved. Westbrook dragged this otherwise underachieving team to 47 regular season wins, while Harden has taken a far superior supporting cast to where they currently stand. Harden has also been celestial, but Westbrook is still the MVP. Even after they likely bow out to Houston in this series.
The Trail Blazers Can Make It a Series Against the Warriors
There isn’t a recipe to beat this Warriors team, but the Blazers tried their hardest. With CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard going nuclear in the first half, combining for 47 points, the Blazers were able to go into half as well as the 4th tied with Golden State. But then, Draymond Green did Draymond Green things, Kevin Durant looked 100% again, and the Blazers’ steaming duo cooled off. Dame and CJ combined for 75 points, and Klay Thompson was cold all game long, and Portland still lost by 12. It’s as simple as this: when the Warriors play well, no team on this planet can beat them. Not even a team led by LeBron. Draymond looked like the Defensive Player of the Year, and had what may end up as two of the best blocks of the year. One, during which he halted a 2-on-1 Blazers fast break with a thunderous rejection of a Noah Vonleh dunk attempt. Given, Portland was without Jusuf Nurkic, who is out for now with a broken bone in his leg, but if/when he comes back, this series should already be over. Golden State just has too much firepower for Portland’s backcourt to keep up with, and when Draymond is making a 19 points 12 rebounds 9 assists 5 blocks and 3 steals line actually feel like more, there is no hope. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned Steph Curry, the most devastating shooter of this generation and likely of all time once he calls it quits. There truly isn't a way to beat these Warriors over a course of a 7 game series unless (1) you can hit 15+ threes a game, (2) two out of the big four consistently go cold every game, and (3) Draymond starts kicking again. If they stay healthy, this postseason may already be over.
The Clippers Are Finished and Need to Blow It Up
The snake bitten Clippers appeared to finally get a break in the playoffs, when the Utah Jazz’s defensive menace Rudy Gobert went down with a hyperextended knee and bone bruise just 17 seconds into the game. But the Jazz, like their coach Quin Snyder, never gave up. They made it a close game throughout, ultimately winning it off a Joe Johnson floater that rattled in at the buzzer. Amazingly, Joe Johnson (who has made over $200 million in career earnings…really) leads the NBA in game-winning buzzer beaters in the NBA since 2007 with 8. It is unlikely Gobert could return in this series, so there is no need to worry if you’re the Clippers at this point in time. Without Gobert, the Clippers have far more talent than the Jazz, who will struggle with rebounding now that they will have to have Derrick Favors and Jeff Withey split time at center. The series may go 7 now, but the Clippers still have a great chance to win the series, obviously as long as they can win Game 2 at home.
(They’ll still probably have to blow it up after they lose in the next round though.)
The Best Player Should Take the Last Shot
The NBA star ego is incredibly stubborn. At the end of Game 1 of the Cavaliers-Pacers series, Paul George had the ball in his hands down 1 with less than 10 seconds to play. The Cavs sent LeBron to double George, and making the right play, PG-13 passed it to C.J. Miles who was being covered by the disintegrating Richard Jefferson. With only 4 seconds left, Miles was forced to make a play, faking out Jefferson and creating an open 18 foot fade away from the left wing, which he left short. Paul George was visibly enraged afterwards at Miles, and even said in a post-game press conference that he spoke to Miles and told him that he, as the best player, needed to take the last shot. This is hilariously wrong in a few ways. First, if George wanted to take the last shot, he should have attacked the shorter J.R. Smith as soon as he saw LeBron approach for a double team. Instead, he allowed LeBron to pressure him, and he passed it to Miles as he should have. Miles created a fabulous look at the buzzer, which was all the Pacers could have asked for. Second, George is a dismal 0-15 from the field on go ahead shots with less than 20 seconds to play in his career. So I don’t know, maybe Paul George isn’t exactly the guy you want taking every last shot. He should not have said what he did, and throwing your teammate under the bus for taking a great shot isn’t a recipe for success to come back from what is now a 2-0 series deficit.
Kyle Lowry is an All-Star Point Guard Who Will Shake Off His Playoff Struggles and Finally Lead the Raptors to a Deep Playoff Run
How much longer will it take to finally conclude that the playoffs might not be Lowry’s thing? His backcourt teammate DeMar DeRozan has historically struggled in the postseason as well, but Lowry is at a much lower trough. After a 4 points on 11 shots performance in Game 1 at home against the Bucks, things are not looking up. The Raptors have still never won a Game 1 in the first round in the playoffs, and have lost 9 straight Game 1s overall. Lowry is an easy scapegoat, as every statistical category of his is considerably worse in the playoffs when compared to his regular seasons of the last 4 years. He has only shot 39% from the field and 30% from 3 in the playoffs, and his net rating in the postseason is -8, whereas it is a +10 during the regular season. We now have a 42 game sample size of Lowry in the playoffs, which should be more than enough. Winning in the playoffs is tough, and Lowry has had trouble doing so, going 13-19 in his career. He may be an All-Star guard, but he is far from the discussion of elite point guards like Steph, Kyrie, and Russ.