For those who were sick of the Golden State Warriors and LeBron James winning all the time, you finally have what you wanted in the NBA: parity. Going into the playoffs there were at least six teams who had a legitimate shot at winning the championship. But one question: has it been fun?
Parity like this is unusual in the NBA because talent normally wins out in basketball, especially in a best-of-seven series. Unlike football and baseball, the best players are almost always on the court and have an effect on nearly every play. In baseball your best pitcher takes the mound every five days, maybe a little less in the postseason, and your best hitter rarely has more than five opportunities in a game to create runs. In football a quarterback has the most impact of any player on the field, but he’s still only on the field for about half of the game. A great running back touches the ball 35 times at the absolute most in a 60-play game, and it’s a great day for a wide receiver if he is targeted 14 times. Aaron Donald — the NFL’s best defensive player — is surrounded by three human beings larger than him for most of the game.
In basketball, Draymond Green is the fulcrum for both the Golden State Warriors’ offense and defense. For the Miami Heat, Jimmy Butler is leading them in scoring on one end of the floor, and acting like a construction worker with a stop sign on the other end. Luka Dončić can get wherever he wants on offense, and on defense… at least he’s out there. It’s why Jayson Tatum impacts a game in a way Mike Trout never will, and an MLB best-of-seven is much more of a crapshoot than one in the NBA.
There have been so many great players in these NBA playoffs, but many are on teams with incomplete rosters. Combine that with injury and what has come with this parity has not been a slew of games decided by one possession with a few seconds remaining in the game. It has mostly been blowouts, especially since the Game 7s from the second round — both of which were not closely contested ones.
The Dallas Mavericks went four consecutive games in these playoffs without a margin of victory or defeat under 25 points. The Boston Celtics won Game 7 against the Milwaukee Bucks by 28, with two blowout victories in their Eastern Conference final against the Heat. However, the series is tied at 2-2, and the Celtics have fallen behind by 20 or more points in both losses.
When teams are as even as they have been throughout these playoffs, it actually makes the results more random. Take Sunday night’s Game 4, 102-82, Celtics win that might as well have been by 100 points because the Heat weren’t in contention at any point. The Heat did not make a field goal in the first quarter until Victor Oladipo hit a 3-pointer with three minutes and 22 seconds left in the first quarter. The score before that basket was literally 18-1. A graphic appeared during the game that explained that is the longest a team has gone without a field goal in a playoff game since 2009. An offensive performance so historically putrid came from a team that in the previous game, 48 hours earlier, scored 39 points in the first quarter.
The Mavericks’ postseason run has been almost entirely reliant on 3-point shooting. In the final two games of their second-round win against the Phoenix Suns they made a total of 35 3s and shot better than 40 percent from beyond the arc as a team. In two of the Mavericks’ three losses to the Warriors, they shot under 30 percent from the 3-point line. Down 3-0 to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals they made 20 3s at a 46.5 percent clip in Game 4 to extend the series one more game. Prior to that they were shooting 32.6 percent from 3 for the series.
During the Heat’s second-round series victory against the Philadelphia 76ers, other than Joel Embiid missing the first two games after getting concussed and his face broken in a blowout during the previous round, the biggest difference in the games that the 76ers won was 3-point shooting. A team that is not known for its long-range threats shot 48.5 percent from 3 in consecutive games. The Heat, one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the league, shot below 25 percent from there in consecutive games.
Thank goodness for the Warriors series against the Grizzlies, and that includes those unfortunate three games that Ja Morant missed, as well as six of the seven Bucks-Celtics games. If not for those, these playoffs wouldn’t have been worth watching once Jose Alvarado was no longer bothering Chris Paul and the Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves stopped playing a series where logical basketball did not exist. Also, the Celtics probably aren’t even in the conference finals without the Bucks’ second all-star, Khris Middleton, getting hurt the round before, or if the Bucks get a better seed without Brook Lopez missing most of the season due to injury.
This is what parity looks like in the NBA. When too many teams are good enough to win the championship, that means there are no great teams. When there are no great teams, there is less greatness shown during the NBA’s biggest stage. The games instead turn into 3-point contests, or foul parties, if the officials decide to become the stars of the show, or some team getting their talent MonStared away from them for a night.
Many of the stars in the league right now are very young, so hopefully with some good management decisions teams like the Grizzlies and Mavericks can become great. And hopefully, a team that could’ve been great like the Bucks won’t have injuries decide their fate. But we should all admit that in the NBA, parity bites.