Strange how things can happen right in front of you when you walk around with your eyes wide shut.
My nephew, Dominican Pete, who as it seems, from the time he could crawl around, was always climbing on and leaping off of something: his bed, dressers, kitchen counters, couches, me… Anything!
Kid swore he was a wrassler.
Yes, wrassler; he lives Down South.
For Canadians reading this, ‘down south’ in use here doesn’t mean the entire United States of ‘Murica.
The words ‘wrassler’ and ‘Murica’ might be an official part of the lexicon now, if they haven’t always been.
At any rate, Pete loved to tumble and get up only to do it again.
He is a tough little guy.
One day in a summer several years ago, my brother asked me if I could babysit my nephew while he went to work.
Absolutely; of course I would!
Once given instruction on what he could and couldn’t eat, when nap time was and what he was allowed to watch and the like, our day began.
After a trip to the playground to slide and watch him wild out on the jungle gym, we went back home and got cleaned up for lunch.
Now so fresh and so clean clean, I flicked on the TV so he could watch while I cheffed that work in the kitchen, not far away from where he was sitting.
There was something about watching this show on the Disney Channel that was kinda bothering me, like a kid his age shouldn’t be watching it.
But it was on the list and I was loathe to ignore my little brother’s child care protocol, despite my misgivings.
After watching that, I fed Pedro Dominicano, let him chill a bit before it was toothbrush and bed time… And I thought about that so-called educational info vid all night.
To the degree that this kind of subtle, subliminal psychological warfare was inflicted on kids I was unaware… until then.
The first NBA Finals I got to see in 1977, I caught my favourite player of all-time, Julius Winfield Erving II of the Philadelphia 76ers do his thing yet come up short vs. Bill Walton and the Portland Trailblazers.
Hiding under my blankets with the sound down on my little 13” Black and White TV because the games came on tape delay at 11:35pm, I watched and swore just because my guy and his team were more talented player for player and more spectacular because of That Guy with the Huge ‘Fro keeping the league afloat at the time, that they would win.
That this all happened forty years ago might be dating myself, but it’s important to the narrative.
Work wit’ me!
Much like my nephew’s beloved kid’s network… and maybe like some of the players in the 2017 NBA playoffs or the fans who view and admire them and the games they play, I wasn’t understanding quite yet what I was watching or what it really took to be a part.
There are times when I examine the most wonderful time of the NBA year much like in the way I Iooked at Disney’s programming that day: comparing and contrasting the perceptions and realities.
All-Stars are made in the regular season.
Superstars are made in the postseason.
From time to time, there are outliers.
I doubt anyone would call Robert Keith Horry a ‘superstar’.
But ‘Big Shot Bob’ was a bonafide winner, owner of seven NBA rings and a key contributor toward each one.
Who will that player be this year?
We know the Usual Suspects: LeBron, Kyrie, Steph, Kawhi… guys who have rings and know what it takes to get there.
But who are the guys and teams who will establish their personal pathways to glory while making new squad rules in the 2017 Playoffs?
In looking at each series of the opening round, we’ve learned some things.
PLAYOFF BASKETBALL: IT’S JUST DIFFERENT!
Anyone who has ever played in the postseason, especially those who are coaching now, can tell you the differences are not subtle.
They are blunt and mentally/emotionally injurious to some.
The glare and intensity is real.
The coaches are sadists, to a degree; all of the play calling and sets you execute during the regular season generally get pared down.
Outside of a couple sideline and baseline out of bounds plays, flex cut motion and perhaps a 1-4 flat set, expect a heavy diet of the oldest play in the book, the pick and roll.
It was destructively helpful to the Cavs after Game Four of the Finals where they continually picked on the two-time, lone unanimous MVP of the league and ran him through the gauntlet of pick and roll action that helped Cleveland overcome a historic 3-1 deficit.
If it ain’t broke, go ahead and fix your mind and eyes on the playoffs’ most dynamic floor leaders like LeBron, Chris Paul, John Wall, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and more as they bludgeon opponents with read and react brilliance in pursuit of an NBA title.
THE BEST LAID PLANS OF MICE AND MEN
Who expected the oddly constructed, but somehow unified Chicago Bulls to go into TD Garden and punch the Eastern Conference regular season champeen Boston Celtics in the mouth?
We have been blessed so far to see the edgy, mercurial floor leader and former Celt with an axe to grind in ‘National TV’ Rajon Rondo orchestrate with veteran savvy and guile. His stellar play has not only emboldened the team’s superstar, Jimmy Butler, but also the old hand Wade and The Immortals: Robin Lopez, Paul Zipser, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis, to snatching a couple road wins and a 2-0 lead in the series.
All of this is amidst the collective pain suffered by the Celts due to the tragic death of their leader Isaiah Thomas’ younger sister, Chyna.
Robin Lopez is totally outperforming the $113M Dollar Man Al Horford and is anchoring what looks to the toughest veteran squad in the East.
Ok. ‘Anchoring’ and ‘Robin Lopez’ are only applicable when you watch him run, but…
Trader Danny Ainge’s assets acquired in the Brooklyn transaction for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have amassed some startling numbers. The man Ainge could have acquired at the trade deadline to offer the grieving Isaiah Thomas another scorer able to create his own offense and also is one of the best two way players in the Association is strafing them, stealing all kinds of lunch money in The Gahden.
As the scene shifts to the City of Broad Shoulders, the Beantown faithful hope their team can find a bit more than luck to get back into the series or it’ll be #TackleBoxSeason real soon.
The Toronto Raptors, who tied Cleveland for the second best record in the East, but were seeded third due to being on the short side of the season series vs. the Cavs, definitely laid an egg against Milwaukee in Games One and Three.
Of course, Jason Kidd’s coaching and his Bucks had something to do with that.
Starting two first year players in potential Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdan and former Orangeville (Ontario) prep star Thon Maker alongside their All-Star, The Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the long, rangy, athletic team from Wisconsin has wrested control of the series from the heavily favoured Raps.
Milwaukee’s Best almost brewed a Game Two win as well in the T-Dot hadn’t Kyle Lowry bounced back from a horrific home playoff opener and led his squad to victory, temporarily tying the series.
With Game Four looming, can Toronto renew the promise of the franchise’s greatest success from last season’s visit to the Eastern Conference Finals or will there be more questions than answers if they don’t Fear The Deer as they should?
NOT GONNA ROOK US!
It might be sad to say that thus far, the most exciting goings on in the Spurs-Grizzlies match up are the coaches’ post-game commentary.
Memphis is grossly over matched, no matter how intensely they battle.
But The Grindhouse still holds sway, especially after your head coach risks it all and puts it on the line for his team.
With Kawhi taking The Leap in dramatic fashion vs. a unit missing Mr. First Time All-De-FENCE Tony Allen and #TheOpenRun Ski Mask All-Star Chandler Parsons while leaving the job of trying to corral the MVP candidate to the 40-year old Vincent Lamar Carter, the Griz will compete to the end.
This we know.
But to what end?
Is this the last ride together for Big Spain, Z-Bo, Half Man/Half Amazing x The Highest Paid Player in the league in Mike Conley?
Or is the Game Three win in Memphis merely a hiccup en route to vacation?
What we can count upon is Pop’s Spurs making the proper adjustments to counter and the continual growth of Leonard’s game and leadership as he ascends toward superstar status and out of the shadow of the legacy built by The Great Timothy Theodore Duncan.
WHO IS THE REAL MVP?
The Battle of the Presumptive MVPs fell flat in Game One as the beat down was one sided. James Harden and the Houston Rockets fully overwhelmed The Oklahoma City Thunder and did so with relative ease.
There had to have been an expectation that the ultra-competitive Russell Westbrook would bounce back with a furious start to empower his team in Game Two.
And for three quarters, he was sublime, tallying another triple double.
But, as I used to say on my old radio show: “It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish!”
But Russell and the Thunder didn’t finish strong.
Though Westbrook crafted the highest scoring triple double in NBA playoff history, his usage rate was absurdative.
17-43 from the field, including 4-18 in Q4 is not a typo.
Somehow, that all added up to a second consecutive road loss and a trip back to the Sooner State for two must-win games.
This might not last long, either.
IF YOU DON’T WANNA SEE YOUR EX-COACH ALL DANCIN’ INTO YOUR HUDDLE…
John Wall has something to prove and he’s playing like it. Wall is carving up the Hawks to the tune of 32 PPG and 11.5 APG over the first two meetings with Atlanta.
There is a collectively aggressive attitude and focus from Scott Brooks’ team as they fight for respect in the Association.
Employee Number 2’s on-court rapport and sense of being with The Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, as well as his backcourt mate Bradley Beal is on full display. Add Markieff Morris’ toughness and contributions from Otto Porter, Brandon Jennings, and Bojan Bogdanovich to the mix and soon we may see more than just Atlanta’s freeway system buckling.
Is Atlanta’s $23M Dollar Per Year Man, Dwight David Howard, offering leadership and effort equivalent to his pay rate with 13 points and 21 rebounds? Oh, by the way, those numbers are not reflective of one game, but over two, in 49 total minutes.
The answer is not rhetorical.
THE TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL GANG
With ‘The Stifle Tower’, Rudy Gobert, getting injured on very first play of this very first playoff game, many would think the 51-win Utah Jazz had no chance vs the Los Angeles Clippers without their rim protecting big man.
But no such luck as Quin Snyder’s crew out-everythinged the up and down Clips at Staples in Game One of their battle, ultimately done in by professional scorer Joe Johnson.
While Game Two offered a vastly more engaged Los Angeles team, the question was never if Doc’ Rivers crew could play this way; it was and still is whether or not they can sustain it after a close Game Two victory.
With Gobert possibly back in the fold for Game Three at Utah, this could be a fight to the finish.
It could also be the next step for the Jazz or the start to the ending of Lob City for good.
BUSINESS, NEVER PERSONAL
As much as things change, some seem to stay the same.
Tyronn Lue’s Team Turmoil is looking to turn the corner on an uneven regular season by making short work of their first round foes.
Overcoming the greatest halftime deficit in NBA postseason history to snatch victory in Indy, doing it with All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the bench the entire fourth quarter might be the spark to get the Cavs back in title mode.
Meaning no disrespect to the Indiana Pacers, but Paul George’s post-game presser comments leave a bit to be desired as a teammate, especially when you’re now down 3-0 to the defending champs before you duel in Game Four at Banker’s Life.
Indiana toppling the Cavs at this point?
I wouldn’t bank on it.
Alas, the Portland Trailblazers briefly scheduled stay in the postseason is half done, even if Kevin Durant is still ailing and sat out Game Two after dropping the quietest 32 points of his career in his first playoff game as a Warrior.
Golden State is on a mission.
Draymond Green is once again quarterbacking the league’s most talented roster and pushing Man 1 to Man 15 to find that championship level. They are humming along, looking to stay healthy and claim what they choked away last season.
Welcome to the Second Season.
Welcome to the Playoffs.
If you were married to a state of mind before The Drive for the Larry O’Brien 2017 began, you might wanna divorce it.
My nephew says he doesn’t wanna be a wrassler anymore.
He liked basketball… but he LOVES skateboarding.
My nephew the skater!
Do your thing, Kid!
The game is changing… as is the world, the people and the things in it.
That’s not Perception; that’s Reality.
Change is an inevitability.
Where things initially seemed like sure ones, some things don’t seem so sure anymore.
No matter how much some of us pine for yesterday, tomorrow awaits…
Get used to it and enjoy the moments.