Two teams, born out of necessity in the same year and in service to the same league starting to feel the pressure of a burgeoning challenger not beholden to its own, increasingly antiquated norms, met for the first time in the NBA Finals in this, of all years. While one experienced immediate success, winning a coin toss over the other which led to literally Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and, subsequently, a championship in 1971, the other endured the weird fluctuations that come with acting like a small market team while not being a small market team.
For as influential a year as 1968 was supposed to have been in the minds of those who lived it, two products of that vintage specifically, each of whom have long disappointed their faithful, turned in playoff runs and an NBA Finals for the ages. While the Phoenix Suns’ third run to the championship round ended in something approaching triumphant uncertainty, the Milwaukee Bucks wheezed hot fumes in the face of adversity. Fifty years after their first, the Bucks are the NBA champions.
When the Phoenix Suns traded for Chris Paul, it seemed to be an opportunity, albeit a misguided one: the aged Point God would arrive and, just as he had in OKC before, impart some majestic secret knowledge on the youths, a Gnostic arriving to guide things just enough, to the point that they would be able to grow beyond his available measure upon his departure. He would never be at peace, but if this was his role at 35, Paul would be charitably useful. Only then would he again elevate everyone around him, and so far, he has exceeded that.
Did I think this year’s edition of the Phoenix Suns was that team? Not necessarily, but they had a lot more juice than many previous editions of Chris Paul Teams, with or without the State Farm sponsorship. Despite their youth and various fears, here they are: the orbs whose mascot and logo cause so much consternation, and yet a team whose continued excellence brings a familiar chill to anyone daring themselves to watch following his time with the other Hornets, Clippers, Rockets and Thunder. Finally, now, Chris Paul is in an NBA Finals.
It would be negligence to suggest that Paul’s presence alone turned a team that went undefeated in last year’s abridged bubble – and still missed the playoffs! – into the Western Conference representative this year. Paul is and remains the Point God, perhaps now more than ever, but we’ve already talked that over, so it seems fair and fitting to bestow some glory on the rest, the co. in CP3 and Co.
Just when you think you have a pretty good understanding of the landscape, it shifts. You see the same things, but you see them in a different way, like removing the filter of designer shades [or your last Instagram post]. It isn’t negative; it still works. Maybe it works better than you originally suspected? It always seems worthwhile to shuffle back and forth for a bit just to make sure.
It was going to take someone like Nikola Jokić to prove that what he is currently doing could, in fact, be done. In the NBA in 2019, it is illogical at best, and malpractice at worst, to assume that a big man of most vintages could orchestrate an entire offense, such that passes from the elbows cease being a novelty or the in-between to something better on their way to becoming essential.
In a way that roughly approximates the annual appreciation of Al Horford’s defense, Nikola Jokić has been sensational for the Denver Nuggets in these playoffs. The implications of that adjective are exactly what I mean – you, the viewer, can feel Jokić’s impact on games just as his own teammates, and the typically-confused opposition, feel it.