Storylines of the NBA Playoffs So Far


Ishir Talapatra, Assistant Opinion Editor

With the conference semifinals underway, it’s worth discussing the main stories of the NBA postseason so far. From a thrilling Sacramento Kings-Golden State Warriors series to the stunning upset of the Milwaukee Bucks at the hands of Miami Heat, these are three storylines that have defined the playoffs so far — along with an extra thought courtesy of the philosophical Giannis Antetokounmpo. 


Sacramento Kings Fall Agonizingly Short 


Third-seeded Kings were always going to have it tough against the reigning champions, but nobody could have predicted the series that unfolded. Seven mesmerizing, high-quality games of basketball proved that the Kings are no fluke and that the Warriors are worthy champions. No conversation of this series is complete without mentioning Stephen Curry’s record-breaking Game 7 performance (50 points and 20 for 38 from the field), which reminded everyone why he is one of the best offensive players the league has seen. But De’Aaron Fox averaged 27.4 points per game in the series, a phenomenal performance for a first playoff run. Power forward Domantas Sabonis also played a big role in the regular season, but his output fell marginally during the postseason. It was much more noticeable on the court, though, especially after that incident with Draymond Green. Green certainly rattled Sabonis, who looked hesitant in the glass and was a shadow of the force he had been throughout the regular season. Fox’s miraculous numbers could not carry a team struggling against the playoff experience of the Warriors, but an offseason and another year could lead to a more improved Kings in the 2024 postseason. We can only imagine the level of basketball that would be on display. 


“Playoff Jimmy” and the Stunning Heat-Bucks Series


It feels like 2020 all over again with the Heat. Coach Erik Spoelstra’s team embodies a certain toughness and unwillingness to go down that makes it many fans’ second-favorite team. The protagonist of this narrative is unsurprisingly Jimmy Butler. “Playoff Jimmy” has returned in some style, averaging 35.5 points so far this postseason. 56 points at home in front of a raucous Miami crowd in Game 4, followed by a nerveless 42 at the Fiserv Forum in Wisconsin in Game 5, have put his team in the conference semis and sent the top eastern conference seed packing. This remarkable feat was made only more remarkable with the fact that the Bucks feature arguably the best player in the NBA at present, Giannis Antetokounmpo. More on Antetokounmpo’s reaction to the defeat later, but it is clear that the Heat can contend for a conference finals appearance. Gabe Vincent and Max Strus have stepped up with their shooting, and Kevin Love has rediscovered himself after floundering with the post-Lebron Cleveland Cavaliers. Whether this team can beat the New York Knicks to get there, and the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers if they do, is another matter altogether. 


Are These Knicks the Real Deal? 


As a Knicks fan, it is always a case of “what-if” each year. But this year feels different. Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle, and a new and improved RJ Barrett have formed a “big three” (condescendingly and falsely referred to as a “mid three” by a certain Warriors-fan friend of mine) that has earned the Knicks the fifth seed in the East. Brunson showed snippets of what he could be with the Dallas Mavericks, but he has carried the Knicks offense to a much greater degree this season. His 24 points per game in the regular season was bettered only by All-Star Julius Randle with 25. The series against the Cavaliers was always going to be a stern test — with them being the higher seed — but the Knicks managed the victory in just five games. Brunson matched his regular season average, but the performance was even more remarkable considering the disappointing Game 5 that Julius Randle had (to the point where he was benched in the final minutes of the decider). The Heat series will be considerably more challenging, and indeed at the time of writing, the contest heads to Heat at a game apiece. But Brunson might be the offensive presence the Knicks have been looking for, and RJ Barrett’s improved shooting form along with Julius Randle’s all-around capabilities have put a conference finals appearance on the table. It’s up to the Knicks to seize it.


Bonus: Life Lessons From the Greek Freak 


Antetokounmpo’s statement that “there’s no failure in sports” has got many talking. I doubt if he meant to spur a philosophical debate over the ideas of victory and defeat, but the conversation has certainly been intriguing. As Warriors Coach Steve Kerr pointed out, “Are there really 29 failures every year in the league? It can’t be a zero-sum game.” Sometimes we have different definitions of winning, whether that’s winning a certain number of games or achieving a specific milestone. So keep that in mind, the Lakers and Warriors fans that fill this campus, as one of your teams inevitably falls this round, and the other is defeated by the machine that is the Denver Nuggets. Or in the finals by the Knicks with a Jalen Brunson buzzer beater in Game 7 at the Garden. A man can dream, right?


Image Courtesy of Michael Tipton of Flickr