It is admittedly unusual for us to recap a single game from a first round playoff series. Even elimination games, which are so ripe for assessment and criticism, both in the immediate aftermath and as time wears ceaselessly on heading into every other team’s offseason. Free agency beckons; fresh wounds heal, but the scars can inform decisions for players and teams, altering the direction of the entire league.
As such, the Utah Jazz’s prompt dispatch of the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games calls for some prompt discernment. Russell Westbrook is the center of the Thunder’s galaxy, and as such, he draws adulation and condemnation in equal measures. He deserves considerable amounts of both, to be certain, but context is vital. Collective blame is undoubtedly shared in Oklahoma City.
“I am Toronto.”
With these three words, and a reported $139 million, Compton native and All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan took his seat at the table of the NBA’s leader in latitude, the modern king of the midrange having found comfort in an uneasy Eastern Conference all the more unsettled by the various fluctuations that the summer of 2016 carried with it. DeRozan’s empathy for the frozen North made for great newspaper fodder, but it did not alleviate the worry that fans of his team, the Toronto Raptors, had at the time concerning their franchise’s future.
As has become the standard, that relief would arrive the following summer, when All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry inked his own $100 million deal to stay in Canada. Along with DeRozan, Lowry represents Toronto’s best chance at viability in an Eastern Conference long dominated by LeBron James’ regular season malaise giving way to humdrum playoff dominance. By seizing control of the #1 seed in the East, along with several high-profile wins, including those against Houston, Cleveland and a back-to-back drubbing of dark horse Process favorites the Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto has edged its way into something like favorability, edged on by a modernistic offense and an ability to rise to the occasion.
You could almost sense it. A distant, long-forgotten feeling, far off on the horizon, was turning a black sky a deep shade of purple that, no matter how profoundly dark it remained, was nevertheless definitively lighter than before. At some point, it would shed its opacity and reveal itself, hope, in all its shining, youth-invoking glory. Its vessel? A 7’3” Latvian who could do things that no basketball court had ever seen.
Then, of course, came the reckoning, which every Knicks fan, and every basketball fan familiar with the Knicks franchise, should have expected. The purple faded back to black in cannonading fashion on Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, when, prior to his commandeering of Tim Hardaway Jr.’s soul, Giannis Antetokounmpo presented enough of himself in just the wrong area for Kristaps Porzingis to land awkwardly after finishing a dunk, something he has made routine, and tear his left ACL. The devil is always in the details, the wicked lying in the weeds.
I was in the midst of enjoying the end to a rare blowout victory by the New York Knicks over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night when a studio update, or some equivalent thereof, passed along the news, complete with accompanying video: DeMarcus Cousins had sustained some grave leg injury. Soon thereafter, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed the worst: that Cousins had torn his Achilles tendon and would miss 6-10 months, ending his season and raising questions aplenty for the present and future of his current team, the New Orleans Pelicans.
The film was predictably mundane, the perennial All-Star having gone to contest a rebound on his own missed foul shot against Trevor Ariza before crumbling to the floor. No gruesome, Gordon Hayward/Paul George/Kevin Ware-esque action, nor anything you would notice without the assistance of slow motion replay, struck Cousins, yet there he was, on the floor of an arena full of fans that had embraced him wholeheartedly since arriving from Sacramento during the All-Star break last year. They may have wished him their final farewell on Friday night, prematurely and unexpectedly.
Robert Hanashiro – USA TODAY Sports
Let me begin by saying this, a sequence of phrases I never expected to type or read sequentially: this Martin Luther King Day will live in NBA Twitter infamy for the foreseeable future. It may rival Banana Boat Day as *the* definitive day in the cultural zeitgeist for many fans, being that it involved several more teams, as well as more star players, than that one did.
In a perfect reflection of its time, Monday was such an unabashedly ridiculous day that a few otherwise newsworthy headlines – Kyle Lowry challenging Ben Simmons to a fight; Russell Westbrook receiving an undeserving ejection before Carmelo Anthony defends him; the Hawks closing out on their (former) spiritual predecessors, the San Antonio Spurs; a second-tier Eastern Conference rivalry-in-the-making getting outstanding games from nearly all of its stars as the Bucks beat the Wizards; Memphis’ push to instill hope in Marc Gasol; Victor Oladipo’s revenge tour rolling over Utah; the Hornets winning a game(!); Cleveland literally shutting the hot water off on the preeminent team in the league, prompting Kevin Durant to call upon LeBron (the true owner) to fix things; the Knicks actually closing out a game over a winnable opponent – will get lost to history. No matter. The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers provided the kind of New York Post-worthy insanity to which only would-be kings and Kardashians aspire.
Fable of the Bear and the Bees, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger
The last time we took a close look at Andre Drummond – collectively, you and I, because we’re in this incomparable, unprecedented mess together, as we’re reminded the instant we awake every single day – he was dominating in the archaic sense for the Detroit Pistons as a 22-year-old center, posting grotesque point and rebound totals, particularly on the offensive glass, while not paying much mind to the trends that had already begun shaping the NBA as it is today.
After his historically-hot start, Drummond cooled off, finishing that season averaging 13.8 points and 13.5 rebounds while shooting 38.9% from the free throw line. The Pistons stumbled to a 32-50 record, but at least Drummond was consistent. While big men such as Kevin Love, Chris Bosh and Anthony Davis inched farther from the paint on offense, and Draymond Green was busy redefining the very idea of what a center could be with Golden State, Drummond remained the platonic ideal of centers in bygone eras, towering boulders built to destroy purely by force.
Elasmotherium (“Thin Plate Beast”), Heinrich Harder
Unicorns occupy a peculiar place in Greek culture. Their origin lies not in their influential mythology, the myths and teachings that formed something like a theological basis in ancient times and source material for an avid Edith Hamilton, but rather with the accounts of historians and thinkers who generally believed them to exist, even if they hadn’t ever seen them before. The lines between myth and fact became blurred with almost encouraged ease, as poets, playwrights and dramatists – both professionally and otherwise – began to utilize the image of a unicorn as their means of communication. The unicorn was, and is, a representation of hope; nothing more, nothing less.
Plenty of discussion has surrounded the unicorn in the NBA this season as well, although its version is understood to be a metaphor from the start. Along with a post-Decision manifestation of player power, a personably manic online ego and the most creative use of cupcakes this side of Edible Arrangements, we have Kevin Durant to thank for many things, not the least of which is his dubbing Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis “a unicorn” during the Latvian’s rookie season.