By: Sean O'Connor
Today the Boston Celtics completed an amazing stretch of five straight victories after being down 2-0 to begin the playoffs versus the Chicago Bulls. Three of these five victories came on the road in Chicago, and between game six of their first series and game one of this series they received a resounding ONE DAY OF REST, if you can even call it that. That is right, the Boston Celtics, a team that everyone loves to hate, and counts out every chance they get, earned the #1 seed and beat all the odds, and their reward for doing so, virtually no days off for the first two weeks of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the #2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers, who tanked the end of the regular season in order to receive an easier first round matchup, completed their series versus the Indiana Pacers a week ago, and were afforded an extra day off today, despite Toronto wrapping up their series versus Milwaukee a day before Boston finished off Chicago. I’m just calling it how I see it, and how I see it right now is the NBA doing everything in its power to assure Cleveland vs. Golden State, round 3.
Usually I am not a conspiracy theorist, because often times things are just as obvious as they seem, and there is no reason to assume their is an ulterior motive. However, in this situation an ulterior motive is not so ulterior. The Cavaliers and the Raptors are being given extra days rest because in the long run more rest means better competition, meaning a six or seven game series, meaning more money and higher ratings for the NBA. And in the end the Cavaliers will defeat the Raptors, and inevitably will be given at least 8 ½ days rest before their next series ...because this isn’t the NBA playoffs, this is the build up to a third straight meeting between one of the top three teams of all time versus one of the top three players of all time.
Now, this is not to say nobody can beat the odds, and knock off one of these goliaths before the Finals, my point is simply that with the NBA now on their side, the odds are simply being further stacked against anything besides a Warriors vs. Cavaliers Finals. Personally, I think a Rockets vs. Celtics matchup would be just as exciting, both teams shoot three’s at a record rate, and we would likely see some of the highest scoring, most competitive games in NBA Finals history, and isn’t that what the fans want ...higher scoring? Alas, this matchup is highly unlikely, once again due to the inability of the NBA to guarantee an unbiased and fair playing field for teams not named the Warriors or Cavaliers. It is quite a shame if you ask me, the playoffs are supposed to be about competition, and seeing the best of the best compete head to head to see who comes out on top. Now it just seems like we are waiting on the inevitable, and the NBA is making it more and more obvious what they are doing ...and cheers to them for having no shame, but it is an utter disgrace that they are blatantly disrespecting teams like the Celtics by giving them no rest and no time to prepare simply due to ratings.
I love basketball, and I love the NBA ..that will never change. However, this era that we are in right now, the era of LeBron James, is quite frankly ruining basketball for me. It is the exact same reason why so many argued that the UCONN Huskies Women’s basketball team ruined basketball, because each year was just a build up to the inevitable, and that was UCONN winning a national championship. For some reason though, the thought of the same Finals match up for a third straight year has nobody up and arms or complaining about how each year is just a build up to the inevitable Cavaliers vs Warrior Finals. No, not one chirp, meanwhile all year every analyst has continued to say “The Cavaliers will win the East”, no matter how poorly they performed at any point in the season, this statement has always remained the same “THE CAVALIERS WILL WIN THE EAST”..sorry I have to compose myself, my inner Stephen A. Smith is about to emerge. YOU HAVE THE UNMITIGATED GALL TO COMPLAIN ABOUT UCONN BUT NOT ABOUT THE CAVALIERS?! I apologize, this all frustrates me, but my emotions are composed now, I promise. My point is, that why are we alright with just penciling the Cavaliers into the Finals every year? Why are we okay with these super teams? Why are we okay with tanking to see an easier matchup in the playoffs? Personally I love it when teams like Boston and Utah come out of nowhere and surprise the masses, beating all odds and persevering through adversity. Now it just seems to me like the Cavaliers and Warriors of the NBA are setting an example of a pedal off the medal, easing into the playoffs, taking naps at the game's type attitude. Which works when you have 8 All-Stars on your team, but not when you’re only 6-8 deep and depend on contributions from every last player.
No, this example is not one of success, not for the long run at least. With all due respect to one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Mr. LeBron James, the NBA will be better off when you are gone. There will be more exciting matchups, less predictability, and more competitiveness from seeds 1-8, like it used to be. Today we have become so accustomed to the Cavaliers or Warriors sweeping their way through their first round opponents that we forget that this is the NBA, and every team consists of the best basketball players in the world. However, fans have become so accustomed to seeing these dull, noncompetitive playoff matchups, that when they see the Celtics down 2-0 to Chicago they start yelling “THEY’RE THE WORST #1 SEED EVER!”, forgetting that Chicago dominated Cleveland this year, winning the season series 4-0. Also forgetting that the Celtics of 2008 took 7 games to defeat both Atlanta (the #8 seed) and Cleveland (the #4 seed), after winning 66 games in the regular season. That is playoff basketball, grinding until the end, not tanking in order to see an opponent you know you will dominate.
Yes, the NBA playoffs are exciting regardless, and fans will tune in no matter who is playing. However, when there is an aura of inevitability across the league, do teams lose their identities? Do you stop believing you can win, and settle for a Conference Finals appearance or simply a playoff berth. Do you stop caring about winning altogether? These questions seem obvious to answer ..”no”.. right? I would like to hope so, but to be honest I am not sure. And that’s because the NBA is not creating a competitive balance as it stands, which is in large part due to the commissioner of the NBA ...no not Adam Silver, but LeBron James. His rule stretches from coast to coast, and his influence stretches from sea to sea, and until this otherworldly human being decides to hang up his size 15 shoes, we unfortunately are all subject to his reign, no matter how unfair it is.