Ten games into the NBA Playoffs, there is one lesson for teams to learn: sit down, shut up, and do everything you can not provoke an NBA superstar, because he will kick your ass.
A common playoffs aphorism is not to trust the first game of any series, that good teams move on, adapt, and at somewhere around Game 4 or 5 these teams have somehow evolved into their true form. This ignores another, more important truth, which is that sometimes certain things happen and it’s beyond the control of any opposing team.
Other times, it’s very much within the realm of their control.
Good teams inherently know not to prod the beast. The San Antonio Spurs know this, and like people who train animals that can murder their trainer at any moment should they decide to, they approach dangerous creatures with caution, patience and deliberate action. Sometimes even the best forethought and preventative posturing can not stop a superstar player like Chris Paul from taking revenge on those who lie in his wake, whether that revenge is directed towards the media, as telekinetic posturing to the Warriors, or a subconscious fuck you to everyone. For Chris Paul (and Blake Griffin), it was a matter of simply calibrating to a setting to engage the Spurs.
The Toronto Raptors and their surrounding bubble of desperation and antagonist moaning need to learn this lesson. Raptors fans, media, bloggers, team promotions, national broadcasters and the Raptors themselves prodded a dormant beast in Paul Pierce. Like a true bully, Pierce then told everyone he was going to kick your ass, and then he did it.
Raptors fans, especially crossover fans from their arenamates the Maple Leafs, need to chill the fuck out. Less this be one of many lessons: Paul Pierce has a lot of enemies, do not make him yours. Grandiose comments about being the “best fans in the NBA” fall flat when, in the fourth quarter and the team is down a few buckets, the Air Canada Centre sounds like a mausoleum. Instead, they’re likely to cheer when an opposing player, no matter how much of an adversary, goes down with an injury. Judging from how audible the cheer was on the TV broadcast, that couldn’t have just been the hockey fans in disguise. Yo, here’s another lesson: don’t.
Greivis Vasquez, who could be paraphrased as telling everyone to “please, God dammit all you people, shut the fuck up,” is a voice that demands to be heard alongside the chorus of Toronto sportspeak that keeps antagonizing the most wizardy Wizard.
Great players require little motivation.
Paul Piece used the inexperience trash talk of the Raptors to roast them for score 20 points on ten shots, and each one hurt like a unique and singular insult. Chris Paul took his revenge on being slighted behind Steph Curry and James Harden in awards voting with an aggressive 32/7/6, helping to facilitate 26 points from Blake Griffin, who unleashed his own form of spectacular aggression on Aron Baynes and the Spurs frontcourt. The two-headed back court menace of the Chicago Bulls turned doubts into relentless offensive production: in their first two playoff games together, Jimmy Butler scored 56 points on 33 shots, and Derrick Rose exceeded years of exhausted expectations by scoring 37 on 30 shots, including a very impressive 23 in the opening game. LeBron James, feeding off too much of the frantic Cleveland playoff energy, had to settle himself down before quietly putting in 20/7/5 alongside Kyrie Irving’s very loud 30 points. With 66 points on 36 shots, Steph Curry lead the Warriors through seven quarters until Klay Thompson finished off Game 2 with 14 fourth quarter points. For great players, the playoffs are the only required motivation.
Anthony Davis –- the superstar lying in wait — has yet to be truly unleashed into these playoffs. Despite his stats – 61 points and 17 rebounds over two games -– there is a real likelihood this is just an appetizer for a much larger feast. Davis gets the comfort of his first two-game playoffs home stand, trading the hot noise of the Bay Area for the brooding pageantry of New Orleans. The Warriors will do their best not to provoke the young talent for fear of unleashing an unholy fury that no Warrior can contain.
Words can be spoken, headlines written, mistakes can be made and people can get pissed off. Do not give them more.
Eight games in two days is an overwhelming introduction to the post-season, but appropriate: we can prepare for this, we’ve been waiting for this. Anticipation delivered something real, albeit in a blur. A light double-header followed the third day, serving as a re-introduction to these teams and re-affirming a gnarly and wonderful truth about the playoffs: superstar performances from signature players dominated the first ten games.
The next two months will be a two-month slaughter and a spectacle.