NBA playoff notebook: Winners and losers of the postseason so far

·7 min read

We’re just over a week into the playoffs, and so far, only one team has been eliminated. The first round will draw to a close by next weekend, but it’s never too early to look at some winners and losers of the postseason so far.

⬆️ The Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers appeared to be carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders heading into Friday night’s game against the Dallas Mavericks on the road, trailing 2-0 after two home losses. The Mavs raced out to a 19-point lead in the first quarter, and it appeared one championship contender from Los Angeles would be sent packing in the first round.

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Clippers are looking like contenders again after climbing out of an 0-2 hole versus the Mavs.  (Getty)
Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the Clippers are looking like contenders again after climbing out of an 0-2 hole versus the Mavs. (Getty)

Instead, the Clippers showed the type of resolve that we all believed did not exist within this group. Paul George put together two masterful performances on the road, and Kawhi Leonard was all-world in two wins over the weekend:

The Mavericks shot the lights out in Los Angeles but did not carry it back to their home court. Luka Doncic is dealing with a nerve issue in his neck that clearly hampered him for the entirety of Game 4, and Kristaps Porzingis’ viability as a number two option on a contending team remains an open question.

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A few days ago, the Clippers season appeared to be over. Now, they have home-court advantage back and are on track to advance to round two.

⬇️ Julius Randle

Julius Randle had a breakout regular season with the New York Knicks, earning him the Most Improved Player award and M-V-P chants from the Madison Square Garden home crowd. Through four games against the Atlanta Hawks in round one, the Knicks forward, who averaged 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 6.0 assists on 45.6/41.1/81.1 shooting during the regular season, has put up the following:

Game 1: 15 points, 6-of-23

Game 2: 15 points, 5-of-16

Game 3: 14 points, 2-of-15

Game 4: 23 points, 7-of-19

Credit to Atlanta’s defence, but Randle’s ridiculous shot-making in the regular season has not carried over to the playoffs, and now the Knicks return home for Game 5, trailing 3-1 and facing elimination.

⬆️ Deandre Ayton

The Phoenix Suns had the second-best record in the entire league during the regular season, but most young players don’t get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their postseason debut. History would tell you to expect a 22-year-old center to struggle in his first playoff series.

Deandre Ayton is defying those odds so far. Through four games against the Lakers, he is averaging 19.8 points and 13.5 rebounds and is shooting a remarkable 81 percent from the field. In an era where the center position has become an afterthought, players like Ayton and Jonas Valanciunas in Memphis are making the case that having a dominant traditional center in the starting lineup can still represent a strength.

Despite Chris Paul playing almost the entirety of this series with a lingering shoulder injury, the Suns return home for Game 5 tied 2-2 with the defending champions. Ayton will literally be at the center of any upset they potentially pull off this week.

⬇️ The Miami Heat

The Miami Heat followed up their Finals appearance by getting swept in the first round. The immediate reaction will be to chalk up their run in the Orlando bubble as a fluke. The real explanation is more complicated. The Heat suffered through injuries, Covid, and a short turnaround from last season, which resulted in a slow start. By the time they seemed to pull things together, the team wasn’t able to climb higher in the standings and ended up with the sixth seed.

Jimmy Butler was sensational in the regular season and deserving of All-NBA recognition but didn't have the same spark against the Bucks in the first round, averaging 14.5 points on 31.5 percent shooting. Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro were breakout stars during the team's bubble run but took a step back, as did sharpshooter Duncan Robinson. A trade deadline swing at Victor Oladipo didn’t pan out, and the other parts of the supporting cast, including Trevor Ariza and Andre Iguodala, went from looking experienced to awfully old in a hurry.

The Heat have some actual concrete excuses to point towards for their disappointing season, but they’ll also have to re-evaluate the core group they’ve currently assembled around Butler and Adebayo this offseason.

⬆️ The Milwaukee Bucks

Bucks fans have to be breathing a sigh of relief. The actual nightmare scenario heading into this season was another disappointing playoff exit followed by Giannis Antetokounmpo leaving Milwaukee via free agency. Instead, their franchise player re-upped on a long-term extension before the start of the regular season, and his team just slayed a bunch of playoff demons at once with their convincing sweep of the Heat in round one. Milwaukee not only got revenge on the same team that eliminated them in the bubble last season, but they also finished off an opponent after going up 2-0, which the Bucks failed to do against the Toronto Raptors two seasons ago.

Jrue Holiday showed why the Bucks gave up a package of first-rounders to acquire him, Khris Middleton stepped up in crunch time, and suddenly, Milwaukee looks like they’re ready to challenge Brooklyn in what could be a classic second-round matchup.

Granted, this is still just a first-round victory. But it feels like much more than that for Milwaukee right now. For the first time in over two seasons, they look like a confident group in the playoffs, which could spell trouble for the rest of the East.

⬇️ Fan interactions at NBA arenas

Between a Knicks fan spitting on Trae Young, a Sixers fan throwing popcorn at Russell Westbrook, and a group of Jazz fans being thrown out after hurling inappropriate remarks at Ja Morant’s family, the joy of seeing postseason games with near full-capacity arenas quickly evaporated during the first week of these playoffs. This past weekend, a Celtics fan threw a water bottle at Kyrie Irving as he walked off the court. The fan was subsequently arrested and received a lifetime ban from the arena (By the way, some Boston reporters have decided to equate Irving purposely stepping on the Celtics center court logo to the fan throwing an object at him, which, I’m sorry, please take your thoughts and prayers for a sports logo somewhere else).

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The worst segment of every fanbase acts this way, with absolutely no regard or decency for athletes who compete for their entertainment. It might be easy to point to a city like Boston or Utah and say there’s been a long history of fans treating players a particular way, but no fanbase should be excused. I haven’t forgotten about all the racist and inappropriate comments on Pascal Siakam’s social media feeds after the Raptors lost in the second round in the bubble last year.

I also don’t buy the whole excuse that people have been home for over a year and now don’t know how to act in public. Terrible fans have existed for a long time across all sports, and players have been subjected to this kind of behavior for decades. Let’s not forget the infamous Malice at the Palace incident took place because a fan threw a cup of Diet Coke at Ron Artest.

To me, this is indicative of how certain fans view black athletes. There’s a particular disdain and disrespect that goes beyond just rooting against the opposing players, which feels much more sinister and personal, and unfortunately, indicates how segments of society view others daily.

Arrests and lifetime bans are fair consequences for these actions, but until overall attitudes change, this behaviour towards athletes will continue, which is a disappointing truth to accept.

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