In the NBA playoffs, everyone is mad at everyone…and that’s wonderful

OK, can we all now admit that the first round of these NBA playoffs was a bit bland? Sure, there were bits of drama here and there, but in the end, all eight series were chalked up, with barely a seven-game streak and few serious doubts beyond Game 3.

In addition to week two’s dearth of storylines, there just wasn’t much fire. Boston-Brooklyn got a little heated, but even that was more between Kyrie Irving and Celtics fans than anything brewing on the field.

Now, this second round, though… it’s the playoffs.

As our David Aldridge once noted, the killer, raw ugliness of the Milwaukee-Boston Game 3 defense was its own kind of playoff excellence that demands fighters raise their game.

But an even deeper current than this runs through this second round, and it is that of mutual disgust bordering on hatred. These teams soon discovered that they didn’t like each other very much, and they didn’t like the referees even more. Familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes, and the more these teams see each other, the angrier they get at each other and the grumpier they get about officiating.

Historically, Game 4 is usually when hostilities culminate in a playoff series; go back through history and you’ll see virtually every major playoff smash has happened in Games 3, 4, or 5. Before that point, there isn’t enough enmity between the two sides; after this point, there is simply too much at stake.

This is especially true in competitive series, as are the four conference semifinals. Two of the series are tied at two games apiece going into Game 5, while the other two are 2-1 in favor of the lowest-seeded team. Given the stakes, it’s a scenario tailor-made for high levels of hostility.

In a related story…we got a little hostility. Volumes have increased to the point that the real star of this second round – shooting variance – can barely sneak a word. It’s all kind of ridiculous and hopeless, but it’s also amazing. It’s also amazing how quickly the energy moved from opponents to rules referees. These teams may be clashing, but right now everyone has the referees in their sights.

It doesn’t take long on the interwebs to find the reasons for the remaining eight teams’ complaints. In some cases, the league itself provided the kindling. For example, Boston and Milwaukee fans are apoplectic over a final two-minute report from Saturday’s Game 3 that contained five separate errors, not including many observers’ two plays. thought were errors but were deemed by the league to be called correctly. The Celtics were particularly upset that a late foul on Marcus Smart was ruled to have occurred before he started his 3-point shooting move and puzzled by the block charge rule and how it worked. applies to collisions between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Grant Williams.

However, the Bucks made half as many free throws as Boston and, in age-old playoff tradition, they tried to offer a free throw deficit as At first glance proof that they were the aggrieved party in this game. Milwaukee general manager Jon Horst put fuel to those feelings with a first present from Festivus, airing a series of grievances about the game with Athleticism Eric Nehm.

We really innovate here when an executive from the winning team risks a fine by calling the refereeing “scandalous” and launching into a detailed analysis of how his team was wronged. Again, for the people in the back: a free throw disparity isn’t some kind of smoking gun your team got screwed over, and there’s no rule that requires the same number fouls are called on each team. In fact, the opposite often happens: the difference in free throws is the canary in the coal mine that a team has been outplayed.

Meanwhile, after a turbulent Game 4 that evened the series, Dallas and Phoenix fans are outraged by (pick one: Luka Dončić, Devin Booker)’s flop and absolutely vexed by the officials’ unfair treatment ( select one: Dwight Powell, Chris Paul). The Suns and Mavs were nasty enough on Sunday that we had three technical fouls before halftime, including a game where Booker was fouled by Powell but also received a technical foul for hitting Powell.

Still, the series with the highest emotional dial might be between the Grizzlies and the Warriors, the one that featured blatant ejections in each of the first two games. Hoping to keep that spirit alive, Golden State and Memphis fans angrily spent their weekend at Zapruder nothing plays involving Jordan Poole and Desmond Bane, staunchly certain that each had decided to maim their opponent’s knees with intent. malicious.

Of course, we dialed up to this point after Draymond Green’s blatant left-right combo on Brandon Clarke in Game 1, and Memphis’ Dillon Brooks blatantly fouling Gary Payton II on a breakaway in Game 2 , knocking Payton out of the series with a broken elbow and earning Brooks a one-game suspension. The Grizzlies went suspension fishing, to no avail, after Ja Morant’s knee was twisted by Poole in Game 3, and Morant’s questionable status for Game 4 following that game adds another layer of emotions .

All that, and I haven’t even mentioned the Code. While Steve Kerr’s word choice immediately conjures up images of “unwritten rules” and baseball managers furious at improper stolen base etiquette in a five-point game, there is an underlying reality here. Getting hit from behind in the air on a fast break is every basketball player’s biggest fear, because all you can do is hope the inevitable violent encounter with the ground happens in a way that doesn’t. breaks any part of the body on impact.

And somehow, the show everyone complains the least about is the one that involves shameless crooks James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid and Kyle Lowry, and features Doc Rivers and PJ Tucker throwing their arms in the air after each whistle. This can’t last, can it?

While we’re at it, a note on zebras: Reffing playoffs games is hard, you all. The level of play does not increase only for the players. Between the increased intensity, the greater willingness to take risks that players wouldn’t normally take, and the increased incentive to gain a temporary advantage by tricking an official, the level of challenge is much higher in these matches than in regular season.

Everyone pushes the envelope as far as they can and leaves it to the officials to expose. Similarly, some players do well in the regular season and get played on the field in the playoffs, which is no different for league officials. There’s a reason they cut the rotation as we go deeper into the playoffs.

Last weekend’s playoffs showed us why. Everyone is angry and desperate and pushes the rulebook to the limit in search of any advantage they can find. But that’s also what the playoffs are all about: crank the heat as high as possible and see who avoids burning. Right now everyone is mad at everyone, and I love it.


Related Reading

Thompson: Jordan Poole and Ja Morant are fully linked in this series
Kawakami: Why the Warriors don’t care what the Grizzlies say

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(Photo: Ross Cameron/USA Today)


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