How Did The NBA Get Here?


Robert Gauthier

Blake Griffin’s elevation to one of the best players in the league over the regular season has led to Clipper’s playoff success. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via MCT)


If you don’t follow the NBA as religiously as I do, you might be perplexed by this year’s playoffs.  However, a closer look at the regular season shows that many of the less predictable moments and performances have been telegraphed for months.

Blake Griffin’s elevation to one of the best players in the league over the regular season has led to Clipper’s playoff success. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via MCT)
Blake Griffin’s elevation to one of the best players in the league over the regular season has led to Clipper’s playoff success. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via MCT)

Due to the Knicks’ yearly basketball failures being ahead of schedule this season,  I can actually enjoy the NBA playoffs without the burden of really caring about a team.  The playoffs thus far have been exciting, exhilarating and most of all surprising and we haven’t even gotten out of the first round yet.  However, if one looks back on the regular season, some playoff events become less and less shocking.

Let’s start with the team many predicted at the beginning of the season to knock off Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, the Indiana Pacers. The organization features a budding franchise player in Paul George. Coach Frank Vogel successfully nurtured Lance Stephenson, a noted talent and headcase, into a triple double threat and borderline all-star.   Perhaps most importantly, the team’s center Roy Hibbert, was poised to have a breakout season and be the defensive lynchpin of a team attempting to slow down the Big Three.  At the time of writing, they are down two games to one against the Atlanta Hawks, the only team in the playoffs with a losing record.

Indiana’s struggles seem shocking, if not downright unbelievable.  The team took the regular season crown and subsequent number one seed, in the East, so defeating a team that relies heavily on DeMarre Carroll and Gustavo Ayon shouldn’t be a problem.  Atlanta is not a good team and its fans openly asked the team to tank thinking it would get shellacked in the playoffs.  However, in the last few months of the season, Indiana’s weaknesses have become more apparent and the Hawks are the right team to exploit them.  Indiana is a team that focuses defensively on limiting points in the paint, so a team like Atlanta, whose frontcourt is prone to long-range jump shooting, can be a hassle.  When the Pacer’s defense struggles like it has with Atlanta, they cannot rely on their anemic offense to bail they out of games.

However, the thing that has ruined Indiana the most is that it has been dulled by a mediocre Eastern Conference and diluted by trade and free agency.  At the trade deadline, Indiana sent Danny Granger, a former All-Star and one of the leaders of the team, to Philadelphia in exchange for Evan Turner.  While Tuner is a marginally better overall player at this point, the move coupled with the signing of team-killer extraordinaire Andrew Bynum, has ruined the team’s chemistry.  The on-court product has suffered, leading to a somehow weaker offense and a no longer impenetrable defense.  While the Pacers may have won more games than any other team in the East, they have limped into the playoffs.  Truly, if one was watching the last few weeks of the season, they could have predicted a fall from grace such as this.

Directly contrasting Indy, the Nets seem poised to rise from a miserable beginning of the season to a possible upset of the Drake led Toronto Raptors.  The series is split 1-1, but just hold on, because Brooklyn’s going home to the Barclay’s Center.  They truly started from the bottom, being decimated by injuries and baffling decisions by first-year Dead Coach Jason Kidd,  but the team has had the second best record in the East since New Years.  Now, they don’t give any award for that, but the team has more momentum than any other team in the East and have only been fueled by Raptors’ General Manager Masai Ujiri being on his worst behavior.  Ok, putting aside the Drizzy puns, if one has paid attention to the Nets since January, one might see them as contenders, as they are the only team in the NBA to sweep Miami this season.

The prevailing thought on Blake Griffin is that he sells Kias and can dunk.  That’s about it.  While the Clippers’ forward does both of those things quite well, his game has completely evolved over the last regular season.  Coaching by Doc Rivers and an injury to All-NBA teammate Chris Paul forced Griffin to expand his ability to dribble, his defensive capabilities and his facilitating.  As he became Los Angeles’ number one option, over the season, he has blossomed from highlight reel to the possible third best player in the NBA.  Blake’s recent dismantling of the rival Golden State Warriors has shown that.  Stephen Curry’s team goes out of their way to foul Blake and play him tough, yet he has responded with dominant performances.

In the case of teams like Indy and Brooklyn and players like Griffin, we can see how their respective regular seasons have paved the way for playoff performance. Now all we can do is sit back, relax and see who comes home with the Larry O’Brien Trophy.