By Adam Clements
Adam is a new site contributor at The Unsportsmen - You can follow Adam on Instagram for dope NBA content.
The 2018/19 NBA season has been littered with barely fathomable storylines. You had to live through this season to believe it.
It is time to quickly remember the best ones from the season until now before looking ahead to the Finals - All from an Australian fans perspective.
Starting with the dysfunctional Wizards not knowing which Brooks they wanted from Memphis (Marshon or Dillon).
In the cold climes of Minnesota Jimmy Butler swayed between balling out to increase his trade value or doing his best Kobe impersonation to spite his own team by lighting Minnesota on fire. Butler, traded to Philly, ultimately helped Philly to the Eastern Conference semi-finals and took a number in the succession line to the Eastern Conference throne, where they ultimately fell short to a great Raptors team.
In ‘tinsel-town’ the distraction that was the LeBron Lakers loomed over the whole league. They tore a hole in the Western Conference hierarchy, hanging onto 4th place in the West until Christmas Day, but once the self anointed King went down so too did the entire organisation from Jeanie Buss to Big Baller Brand. However that’s enough on the Lakers, I’ve grown tired of the Lakers, who by sheer ineptitude have been stealing headlines even when their season has been over on paper for weeks, but realistically since the All Star Break.
James Harden took over the entire league at some point during the regular season, going on a scoring tear not matched since Wilt Chamberlain in the 1960’s, transforming the way we think about 3 point shooting and isolation play.
All this is before we even begin talking about DeMarcus Cousins and the Warriors doing Warriors things! The squeeze at the top of the West was surprising, not because of typically fierce Western Conference competition but perhaps the teams involved. Denver Nuggets!? This team missed the playoffs last year and now on the enormous back of Nikola Jokic and the scrappy yet effective play of Jamal Murray they were 2nd in the West and narrowly missed the 1st seed.
The NBA Playoffs
The first 2 rounds of the playoffs were essentially fait accompli with all the top seeds advancing except for those Nuggets, who simply ran out of experience against a tight knit, blue collar Portland squad hell bent on screwing up the plans of a perfect conference finals bracket on both sides of the US. One particular play stood out from the 2nd round. The Bounce (well, Bounces) that took the Raptors into the 3rd Round over the revamped 76ers will be forever etched as a playoff moment for the ages, the very first Game 7 Buzzer Beater in NBA history.
Out West, a Kevin Durant-less Warriors impressed without their polarising “best player”. Of course it’s hard to say he’s the best player on the best team when his team has been crusing through the playoffs on their way to yet another Finals berth, but that’s the unicorn that is the Golden State Warriors in 2019 - 4 all stars plus Cousins and recent finals MVP Andre Iguodala.
Out east is where we’ve seen one of the most remarkable playoff runs in history, with one player putting up numbers on both sides of the ball unlike any we’ve seen in quite some time. Purely dominating as the teams go to scorer and locking down whoever necessary on defense, four weeks ago I thought I’d be scribing this paragraph about Giannis Antetokounmpo. But instead, there is a new, understated, softly spoken King in the East. Kawhi Leonard has stolen the throne as only he can. Running on fumes after a huge 7 game series against Philadelphia, Kawhi and the Raptors then had to head straight to Milwaukee for 2 games in 3 nights in a brutal playoff schedule, and after falling down to 2-0 and Toronto’s only hope started limping around in Game 3 it seemed all was lost. But somehow they pulled through that day, with The Klaw clocking up a career high 52 minutes at ScotiaBank Arena in the overtime thriller before backing it up with another win 48 hours later.
But how long could Kawhi keep up? With a debilitating leg injury and a temperamental supporting cast it seemed time was running out for this group. But the ensemble picked up the slack - not that Leonard left much to pick up - to bundle the Bucks out in 6 games. This was a team that hadn’t lost back to back all season, and now they’d lost 4 in a row! Giannis will have to wait until next year, but that’s an entirely new storyline with whispers Brook Lopez, the standout spacing big, might be moving on, and the Championship window north of the Windy City might be blown shut.
The NBA Finals
So now, The Finals are upon us, and still the sideline narrative draw as much interest as the games.
Will Kevin Durant play at all? How will this series affect his legacy if he doesn’t play?
In my opinion if Durant doesn’t play in this series, and the Warriors win, the stain on his career will be severe, and for a guy who “just wanted to be loved by fans”, it doesn’t bode well for him. He’ll have to move on to New York (as rumours suggest) and win a title on his own for the struggling franchise. But will the lure of gunning for a 4th straight title overwhelm that? (Editors note: They can’t pay everybody Clemo!).
On the other side of the coin, the Raptors have their own superstar dramas with the constant chatter about Kawhi leaving for the Clippers this offseason. With Kawhi, the guy is so nonchalant at all times it’s hard to tell if he’s breathing or choking, so who knows what he’s doing next year. If Kawhi can somehow drag this team to a maiden Finals victory to take the Larry O’Brien Trophy over international borders for the first time ever, there might be a Number two hanging in the rafters next season such will be the pandemonium that will ensue in ‘The Six’.
Whatever happens, without doubt it is going be one hell of a series.
Clemo’s Pick: As much as it pains me to say it, Warriors in 6.
I can see them splitting the first 2 games in Toronto before the Warriors take both at home, Raptors defending home court in Game 5 and the Warriors wrapping up the series and an historic 3-peat in Oracle Arena’s last ever NBA game.
If Durant comes in after 2 games we might even see 4-1. But does Durant make this team better? Recent form says no. But that’s another wacky NBA storyline for another wacky day in the NBA. There’ll be plenty more over the next 2 weeks, I can’t wait.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals begins Friday 11am AEST.