We are into the deep water of the playoffs now. The Cavs and the Warriors have already won their way into their respective conference finals, and so they’re waiting, watching, sharpening their claws and their fangs and their knives and their machetes, plotting how best to destroy whatever team gets dropped in front of them. The Spurs are now just one win away from beating the Rockets, which is somehow both a surprise and not a surprise. And the Celtics and Wizards are tied 2–2 in what’s become the most contentious and interesting series of the postseason.
Everything that happens going forward will have sizable consequences. It’s great. The first round is always fun because there’s so much stuff going on, but it’s during the back half of the second round when things begin to become gigantic. As such, let’s do a Catch These: Blessings or Hands? thing with some of the more fun story lines that have revealed themselves before we get to the conference finals. Anything receiving a "Blessings" is good, given that blessings are good, and anything receiving "Hands" is bad, given that "catch these hands" is just a way to say "fight me."
John Wall Cussing at People
Catch These: Blessings
I was in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, and while I was there I went to Beverly Hills for a meeting. I showed up about 45 minutes early because being early is always better than being late, so I began to wander around all the shops and stores a bit. I happened across a very fancy art gallery (an easy way for me to tell if a place is "very fancy" is I just walk in there and if the first person I see makes an "Eww, why are you here?" face, then I know it’s very fancy). They had this big sign out front that said they had some real Picasso sketches in the upstairs area, so that’s where I went because I’d never seen one in real life before.
While up there, though, I saw that they also had some artwork by Rembrandt, whose art I’ve always been fascinated by. I stood there and stared at a drawing of people having a conversation for something like 15 minutes straight, which is the longest I have ever stared at anything that wasn’t a screen or a naked person. It was — and I am not joking when I say this — a very moving experience. I don’t know what it was about that picture, and I also don’t all the way understand what I was feeling, but it was overwhelming. It was honestly beautiful. I was afraid to even breathe because I didn’t want to mess up any of the atoms in the air around it. I just stood there and stared, feeling the gravity of the several hundred years that passed between him drawing that picture and me looking at it. When a person who worked at the gallery came over to talk to me about it, I inexplicably found myself whispering the whole time even though he was speaking at a normal volume. For the first time in my life, and without any explanation from anyone else at all, I understood why people pay great deals of money to own art. Even just replaying that moment in my head right now, I can still feel its power, its pull, its gravity.
Anyway, I mention all of that to say: The way I felt staring at that Rembrandt is the same way I feel when I see John Wall cussing at opposing players during the playoffs. It’s the greatest thing. It is, without question, art. He uses every muscle in his face and body to take regular curse words and turn them into fury axes of hatred and contempt. He’s gotten so good at it that the best part of a John Wall Highlight Play now is the possibility of his sledgehammering someone’s existence into putty with a string of curse words and Disgust Stares afterward. And better still: Since in this round he’s playing the Celtics, a team that he hates, he’s doing it on just regular plays now. This is him existentially dismembering Jae Crowder, his no. 1 enemy on the Celtics this season:
That happened after just a regular 3 during the second quarter of Game 4. Watch it again. Then watch it again. Then watch it a billion more times. It’s perfect. John Wall is perfect. He’s a profanity aesthete. I am so excited by the possibility of his doing it in the conference finals to LeBron, who is also a master at unraveling his opponents’ everything with a face or a gesture, that I can barely even sleep.
People Who Say the Warriors Are Bad for Basketball
Catch These: Hands
Tomfoolery. There can be no string of logic holding that a team as dominant as the Warriors can be considered "bad for basketball." Common arguments:
- "The NBA is less fun when there’s a dominant team." Super incorrect. Think of all the most interesting teams in NBA history. I’m guessing that the ones you’re thinking of are the greatest teams the sport has ever seen. (Maybe the 1983 Sixers, the 1986 Celtics, the 1987 Lakers, the 1996 Bulls, the 2001 Lakers, etc.) It’s always better when there’s a team that’s out in front of everyone else. Every movie needs a villain, you know what I’m saying? That’s why the Finals last year were so incredible and so unbelievable. You had the single winningest team of all time giving up the biggest lead ever given up in the NBA Finals, losing a Game 7 at home in an entirely unbelievable fashion. And then more than that, they went out and convinced one of the five best players in the league to join their team during the offseason so they could go into full-on Apocalypse Now mode on everyone for the next couple of years (assuming KD reups with them after this season). That’s the most fun thing I could think of. Plus, the Warriors making the Finals again this year would make them only the seventh franchise ever to make three straight Finals appearances (Knicks, Celtics, Lakers, Heat, Bulls, Pistons). If they go to four in a row, it’s just them, the Celtics, the Lakers, and the Heat. And if they go to five in a row then it’s just them and that Celtics team from the ’50s and ’60s that won everything. Please explain to me how adding another team to that list is possibly bad.
- "I like the NBA when there’s parity. I like when a lot of teams have a chance to win." Oh, for real? Well, consider this: If we walk backward from 2016 to 2004, we see that eight different teams won a championship over that period. That’s eight different teams winning in just 13 seasons. You have to go all the way from 2003 to 1979 before you get to another batch of years where eight different teams won a title. That’s eight teams winning in 25 seasons. The NBA has more championship parity now than at any point since the merger.
- "The Thunder were so great before KD left." Were they? I hear people say this all the time and I’m not so sure I agree. I mean, please, do not get me wrong. I’m not arguing that they weren’t very good. They were obviously very good. And, as a Spurs fan, I watched them end our season enough times that I was genuinely afraid of them. But great? GREAT? That seems an overestimation. They made it to the conference finals four times in six years, sure, but they were only 10–14 in those games. And in their one and only Finals appearance they dropped four in a row to the Heat after winning the first game. And you might say, "OK, fine, but they nearly beat the 73-win Warriors last year in the conference finals," and to that I would say, "Oh, cool. So they lost to the team that lost to the team that won the Finals?" Look, I get it: It of course would have been cool to see KD and Westbrook stick together and figure it out. That would have been a great story line. But let’s not pretend like watching the Warriors put up something crazy like a 16–2 record in the playoffs this year and then 16–1 next year in the playoffs wouldn’t be incredible too.
The Toronto Raptors
Catch These: Hands
We weren’t expecting you to win the series against the Cavs, but come on. How about a game? Just a single game. Y’all took them to six last year. What happened?
(Conversely, a "LeBron’s Utter Disregard for the Raptors" category here would register as "Catch These: Blessings." It was almost unbelievable how totally unconcerned he was with them. The Raptors won 51 games this season and LeBron played the whole series like when someone is trying to have a serious conversation with you and you’re just doing your very best not to laugh at them. It was inspiring.)
The Rockets vs. the Warriors in the Conference Finals
Catch These: Blessings
Of the Rockets and the Spurs, I definitely think the Spurs have a better chance of beating the Warriors in the conference finals. (To be clear, it’s still a low percentage; something like an 8 percent chance, compared to a 6 percent chance for the Rockets.) And of the Rockets and the Spurs, I definitely love the Spurs and do not love the Rockets. That said, it would be very interesting to watch the Rockets and Warriors turn off the safety settings and shoot fireballs at each other for five games. I mean, the Rockets averaged 40 (!!!) 3-point attempts per game this season. The Warriors averaged more than 31 3-point attempts per game. A combined 3-point attempts per game average of 70 has never, ever, ever happened in the playoffs. What happens if we get one of those games where the Rockets don’t miss at the same time as one of those games where the Warriors don’t miss? Could we get a game where Eric Gordon dives into an inferno lake and goes for 16-for-23 from 3? Could we get a game where Klay and Steph both fire up 10 3-pointers in a quarter? Could we get a playoff game where one of the teams scores 150 points? Is that in play? And if so, who’s gonna clean up the mess when all of Daryl Morey’s insides become his outside?
The Possibility of Gordon Hayward Leaving the Jazz
Catch These: Hands
Six things here:
- Please don’t leave, Gordon.
- It was a great little moment last night, seeing people chanting Gordon’s name after the Warriors dropped a mountain on the Jazz in Game 4. It’s always so cool to see fans understanding the difference between a team losing a game or a series because it didn’t try and a team losing a game or a series because it was just overmatched, like the Jazz were.
- It was a little bit less great listening to Gordon in his postgame press conference when he was asked about what it felt like to hear that from the crowd. He sounded a bit too much like someone who was in the beginning of a We’re Breaking Up conversation for me to feel comfortable.
- For real, please don’t leave, Gordon.
- Seriously, though, please don’t leave, Gordon.
- I don’t have any real connection or investment to the Jazz. And it would be a lie to say it wouldn’t be interesting to see Gordon playing for a team a few steps closer to having a legitimate shot at winning a championship with him on its roster. And if he leaves I will be 100 percent fine with it. But count me among those who want to see Gordon stay. Maybe it’s nostalgia (the most formative years of my NBA-watching youth ran parallel with the handful of seasons when the Jazz were terrifying to everyone that wasn’t the Bulls, and I’d like to see that again), or maybe it’s that I’d like to see Utah win a championship just because I think it’d be funny; I don’t know. But that’s the side I’m on right now.