“Sports is human life in microcosm.” -Howard Cosell
The NBA Playoffs have started. THE NBA PLAYOFFS HAVE STARTED!!! THE NBA PLAYOFFS HAVE STARTED!!!!!!! THE NBA PLAYOFFS HAVE STARTED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
People can barely contain themselves. Okay, I can barely contain myself. But actually, they can’t contain themselves at all.
In T-Dot (Toronto, for the uninitiated), frisky GM Masai Ujiri is dropping F-bombs and mics:
while thousands of fans frantically cheer on a screen outside the Air Canada Centre. Outside. In Canada. Thousands. Outside. I’m pretty sure Oh, Canada is permanently blanketed with three feet of snow, the Northern tundra where white walkers roam, and, like, the polar vortex.
T-Dot is emblematic of the craziness that has transpired in last 100 hours of the most inspired basketball this season.
There have been three overtime games in the last three days of the playoffs—two of which ended on the last possession. Of the 13 games played this post-season, five finished within a five point scoring differential. Four of the five matchups that have played two games have split, and five of eight top-flight seeds have already lost home court advantage.
Sport’s obvious limits are what draw us to it.
Life is messy. Between work, school, families and what have you, the relationships within and without come with an unmitigated set of motions, motives and reactions.
In basketball (as in every sport ever) there are actual lines that frame the boundaries of the game. These lines are guidance. They represent, within them, where and how to move, provoke or deter motives and test one’s reactions. It projects the illusion of order. Well-played basketball is an exercise in ordering the chaos.
The San Antonio Spurs have come the closest of current teams to have mastered the playoff chaos.
They will beat the Dallas Mavericks in 5. There’s a pretty good likelihood they’ll be pulling out the dustpan next Monday, but Dirk Nowitzki has a rare kind of playoff magic that’s itching to flare up in one final burst of glory. That Greg Popovich and his Spurs have been so good for so long they are only now shedding the yoke of being “boring” is the price of excellence.
The Los Angeles Clippers (to an indescribably lesser extent) have shown flashes of being boring this post season as well. Last night’s 40-point victory over the Warriors was utterly mind-numbing. And if we’re being honest there were moments (Blake Griffin’s 19 minutes and 14 seconds, specifically) in game one—despite the loss—that were pretty dreary too.
(That might be first time Blake Griffin’s involvement in any basketball related event was called boring. Sorry, Blake.)
The Miami Heat-Charlotte Bobcats series is also boring, especially with esteemed maestro of the low block Al Jefferson out or questionable. Like Carl Sandburg once wrote about life the first round of the NBA Playoffs being an onion: sometimes you sweep.
The great irony in our demand for order is that we crave chaos. Primal. Carnal. Basic. The universe in its resting state. Chaos.
Here enters the Game—what some call the human element. Unpredictable. Primal. Carnal. Basic.
Above the guiding lines of the hardwood, an infinitely unfolding series of events is playing out—all related, yet largely independent of one another. And as the clock winds down, we hold our breath while crowds hum waiting for that perfectly distilled moment of chaos that defies the relentlessly constant limits of the court.
CHAOS REIGNS SUPREME:
In the competitive series—of which there are six (Pacers-Hawks, Rockets-Blazers, Bulls-Wizards, Clippers-Warriors, Raptors-Nets, Supersonics-Grizzlies)—there are great basketball games being played. The three overtime games thus far have come from this pool of matchups. In each OT game, the home team has lost. Beware the OT-fenokee swamp.
RipCity’s Lamarcus Alrdridge has had the best game of the postseason, leading PDX to victory with 46-18 on 17/31 shooting in overtime, despite fouling out late in OT. LMA has a clear size advantage on the Rockets. Fronting LMA with Houston’s center leaves Robin Lopez to operate on smaller players, which was okay in game one (6-8 on 2/7 shooting) but will prove problematic over the course of a series.
The Bulls-Wizards OT game last night also came down to the wire. Unfortunately, the Bulls just don’t have enough offensive firepower to keep up with the Wiz who zip the ball around well. Nenê looks like an All-star, and the Bulls looked tired in the end, scoring only six points in the last 11 minutes of regulation and overtime. The Bulls are the only team in the NBA that had five players average 29 or more minutes a game during the regular season (not including Luol Deng and Derrick Rose, who logged 37.4 and 31.1 mpg in 23 and 10 games, respectively). Jimmy Butler is averaging 48.5 minutes a game in the playoffs. He’s young. It’s only two games. BUT THERE ARE ONLY 48 MINUTES IN A BASKETBALL GAME! And he averaged 39 mpg during the regular season to boot!
The OKC SuperSonics were a .gif making machine Monday night–unfortunately for them, in a losing effort. The OKC-Memphis matchup is battle of styles. If Tony Allen can keep Kevin Durant to an honest less than .500 field goal percentage, and the rest of the team stays at par on D, we might have ourselves a real live upset. Grit and size win. But at least we’ll always have these:
There is another layer of chaos v. limits (there are always more layers of chaos).
It’s the limits of the Game. Not simply the boundaries, but the physical limit of humans. In cliché, this is “leaving it all on the floor.”
I don’t know what that looks like for me. And for the plebeian 99.9% of us—the non-professional-athlete humans on this earth—our lives do not rely on the physically observable skill of athleticism (luckily for me).
Watching KD do this:
is, in fact, witnessing a human being reach the limit of his ability, aspiration and everything that makes him human.
The sheer joy (and anxiety) of watching someone else, all at once, transcend limits and embody chaos simultaneously—that is the thrill of sport.