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Overreactions to the First Round of the NBA Playoffs

LBJ is no MJ, Steph is cooked, AD is a Martian, and Jinglin’ Joe Ingles cannot be stopped

LeBron James, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, and Joe Ingles
LeBron James, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, and Joe Ingles
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Six months ago—this was about a week after the NBA season started—we ran a column in which we looked at several moments that happened in the cluster of opening games, then came up with OVERREACTIONS for them. It included, among other things:

  • Dejounte Murray becoming the first Spurs guard since Manu Ginobili to put up 15 points and 15 rebounds in the same game. The overreaction was that he was going to become the new Ginobili, which, looking back at it now, was less of an “overreaction” and more of just “a very, extremely wrong thing.” (For the record, I still love Dejounte and am very pro-Dejounte.) (Let’s be clear here.)
  • Dwyane Wade letting J.R. Smith take his place in the starting lineup. This is not a joke or even me exaggerating a tiny amount: I 100 percent forgot that Dwyane Wade started the season as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
  • Kevin Durant pointing at his championship-ring finger while arguing with someone sitting in the expensive seats during a Grizzlies-Warriors game. WHAT HAPPENED TO BAD GUY KEVIN DURANT? BAD GUY KEVIN DURANT WAS GOING TO BE SO MUCH FUN. HE WASN’T BAD GUY KEVIN DURANT THIS SEASON, THOUGH. HE WAS JUST REGULAR, VERY-GOOD-AT-BASKETBALL KEVIN DURANT.
  • John Wall making a very impressive block against power forward Tobias Harris. Rereading the blurb for this one made me sad. The play was so great (you can see it here) that I honestly thought it was hinting at this being the season when Wall, coming off a great showing in the 2017 playoffs (minus that Game 7 performance in the semis), was going to be a deadly, deadly basketball human, both in the regular season and post. Alas, he spent the first 82 games batting away rumors that all of his teammates hated him and the last six getting pushed into the Potomac River by Kyle Lowry on NBA TV.

Now that the playoffs are a week old, let’s do the same thing. Let’s look at moments that happened during each of the first-round series from the opening week and then come up with OVERREACTIONS for them.

Stephen Curry biting his mouthguard
Steph Curry
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Warriors (1) vs. Spurs (8)

Winner: Warriors, 4-1

The Thing

Steph Curry did not play for the entire first round of the playoffs.

What’s the Correct Overreaction Here?

Steph is finished. His ankles, held together now with wet pasta, were already enough of a question mark to legitimately argue against the claim he is still a superstar that you can build a championship team around. (A not-fun thing: From December to March, Steph sprained or “tweaked” his ankle three different times, missing 19 games cumulatively before spraining his ankle March 24.) And now, after JaVale McGee accidentally fell back into Steph’s leg this past March, spraining Curry’s MCL, it’s just too much. There’s too much wrong with him. Either send him away this offseason before anyone else realizes that he played only 51 games this year, or rebuild the whole lower half of his body. That’s it. Those are the only two options. Trade him. Or turn him into Basketball RoboCop.

(The whole Steph’s Ankles Are Bad story line is the dumbest thing. Consider this: He played 78 games in the 2012-13 season, 78 games in the 2013-14 season, 80 games in the 2014-15 season, 79 games in the 2015-16 season, and 79 games in the 2016-17 season. That’s more games than LeBron played over that stretch, more games than Kevin Durant played over that stretch, and more games than Steven Adams has played over his five years in the NBA.)

Blazers (3) vs. Pelicans (6)

Winner: Pelicans, 4-0

The Thing

Anthony Davis finally won a playoff game, and then he finally won a playoff series.

What’s the Correct Overreaction Here?

Have you seen Life? It’s a space movie that came out last year. It’s probably not technically great, but actually it is kind of great. It’s about some astronauts who retrieve soil samples from a Mars probe and find a dormant cell. Because space is terrible and nothing good ever happens in it, the cell, which gets nursed into becoming active again, begins to grow way too quickly. It’s cute at first (there’s a neat little scene where the cell, which begins to move and stretch outward, has grown to the size of a nickel and rubs on the finger of the astro-scientist in charge of monitoring it), but then, after it grows to about the size of a petri dish and has an interaction where it realizes its own strength, it becomes extremely aggressive. It crushes the bones in one guy’s hand into dust, kills another guy, escapes out of the lab, and then, growing seemingly by the minute, starts hunting down all the other astronauts.

I don’t want to write out all of the things that happen in the movie because I don’t want to spoil it, but just know that it is very terrible and terrifying for all the humans on the spaceship. And I mention all of this because: It’s the movie I thought about when Anthony Davis won the first playoff game of his career, and then the second, and then the third, and then, a week later, the fourth, sweeping the Trail Blazers out of the postseason. He realized his own playoff strength. It’s very scary, and it’ll be a miracle if we all make it out of here alive.

Note: I wrote this Anthony Davis section before the Warriors and the Pelicans played the first game of their second-round matchup. The Warriors are not afraid of Martians, it seems.

Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens
Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Celtics (2) vs. Bucks (7)

Winner: Celtics, 4-3

The Thing

The Celtics, playing without their two best players, beat the team with the guy that everyone says is going to be the best player on the planet in the next two or so years.

What’s the Correct Overreaction Here?

BRAD STEVENS IS THE BEST COACH IN BASKETBALL NOW! THE CELTICS WOULD’VE WON 68 TO 70 GAMES WITH KYRIE AND GORDON PLAYING! WE’D BE LOOKING AT ONE OF THE ALL-TIME GREAT TEAMS! AND IT’S THEIR FIRST YEAR TOGETHER!

Cavs (4) vs. Pacers (5)

Winner: Cavs, 4-3

The Thing

For the first time in LeBron’s career, it took his team seven games to get out of the first round.

What’s the Correct Overreaction Here?

LEBRON’S BASKETBALL ABILITY HAS FINALLY CRESTED. HE IS NO LONGER IMPROVING. HE’S GETTING WORSE NOW, AND WILL ONLY GET WORSE FROM HERE GOING FORWARD. I HONESTLY DON’T KNOW WHY HE DOESN’T RETIRE. HE’LL NEVER WIN AGAIN. ALL HE’S DOING IS RUINING HIS LEGACY. JORDAN WOULD NEVER DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS. JORDAN ENDED HIS CAREER WITH THE WIZARDS WHEN HE WAS AT HIS ABSOLUTE ZENITH, BECAUSE HE KNEW. BECAUSE HE UNDERSTOOD. BECAUSE HE HAS ALWAYS RESPECTED THE GAME AND UNDERSTOOD THE OBLIGATION HE HAD TOWARD IT, WHAT HE OWED TO IT. ANYWAY, LIKE I WAS SAYING, LEBRON IS A DISASTER, AND THE CAVS WOULD BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT HIM.

Rockets (1) vs. Timberwolves (8)

Winner: Rockets, 4-1

The Thing

Karl-Anthony Towns looked like someone told him that there was a trap door on the court near the rim and if he went near it it’d open it up and drop him down into a tank full of piranhas.

What’s the Correct Overreaction Here?

CLINT CAPELA IS THE NEW HAKEEM OLAJUWON.

(As a basketball player, Clint Capela is tailor-made for what it is that the Rockets want to do on offense and defense. He fits together with Harden the way that Tyson Chandler fit together with Dirk Nowitzki when Dallas went on its title run in 2011, which is to say in the best, most perfectly formed way possible. You watch the Rockets play and you go, “Ah. I get it. I see why everyone here loves Capela so much. He does everything you need him to.” He’s wonderful. And rooting for him is very easy. THAT SAID, I thought Towns was going to put some pain on him during this series. He’s bigger than Capela, stronger than Capela, has a higher usage rate than Capela, so on and so forth. But Towns just never got around to clobbering him. It was so weird. Watching Capela scare Towns out of the paint was like watching a scarecrow scare away a lion. I don’t know what happened. I just know that it did.)

Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Sixers (3) vs. Heat (6)

Winner: Sixers, 4-1

The Thing

Ben Simmons, playing in his first playoffs, was only a handful of assists away from averaging a triple-double for the series.

What’s the Correct Overreaction Here?

Does anyone know if there’s a way that someone can be uninducted into the Hall of Fame? (Or is it “uninducted out of the Hall of Fame”?) Because let’s just go ahead and start scrubbing Magic Johnson’s name from the history books, what with Simmons being better in basically every part of the game, because Simmons is going to gobble up everything that Magic did during his career.

(Actually, and I know this is going to sound like it’s too convenient to be true, but Johnson’s numbers for his first playoff run—which was also during his rookie year—are nearly number-for-number identical to what Simmons has posted in his first playoff run so far. Simmons is at 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, nine assists. Magic’s was 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 9.4 assists. That’s kind of neat.)

Thunder (4) vs. Jazz (5)

Winner: Jazz, 4-2

The Thing(s)

1. Russell Westbrook shot the ball 43 times in the Thunder’s Game 6 loss against the Jazz.

2. The Thunder, who were immediately billed as a superteam after they added Paul George and Carmelo Anthony’s headband this past offseason, couldn’t even push a fifth-seeded Jazz team to a seventh game in the first round.

3. Donovan Mitchell outplayed the reigning league MVP and the only player ever in league history to average a triple-double in two different seasons.

What’s the Correct Overreaction Here?

1. The thing that’s so great about Russell Westbrook is that every piece of all of the things he does and says can be weaponized for him or against him, depending on where you happen to fall in that particular conversation. You could say here that Russ shooting 43 times in a playoff elimination game (AND MAKING ONLY 18 SHOTS) is exactly, precisely, absolutely why the Thunder lost, and why the Thunder will continue to lose, so long as Russell Westbrook is wearing one of their jerseys. Or you could say here that Russ shooting 43 times in a playoff elimination game is exactly, precisely, absolutely why the Thunder even had a chance at winning, and why the Thunder will continue to have a chance at winning, so long as Russell Westbrook is wearing one of their jerseys.

(Donovan Mitchell was being interviewed after the Jazz beat the Thunder and was asked about what it was like to compete in the postseason against Russ, a player Mitchell has openly praised and admired. Mitchell said all the things you’d expect him to say in that spot—about how great Russ is, and how much of a learning experience it is to play against him, etc.—but I wonder how far that extends. Because, and maybe this is just me projecting, but it feels more and more like Russ is becoming the type of player that other players in the league say nice things about but would never choose to play with. I don’t know. It’s just that I love Russell Westbrook, but I don’t think I’d be all that happy if, through whatever turn, he ended up on my beloved Spurs tomorrow. Does that make sense? It feels like it does and also like it doesn’t.)

2. BLOW IT UP. Trade everyone. All of them. Question: How do you have two of the 25 best players in the league on the same team and lose to Ricky Rubio? Answer: with great casualties, is how. BLOW IT UP.

3. PUT ON YOUR THICKEST, STRONGEST, MOST PROTECTIVE OVEN MITTS AND LET’S GET TO COOKING THE HOTTEST OF TAKES: DONOVAN MITCHELL IS A TOP-THREE POINT GUARD IN THE LEAGUE.

Joe Ingles
Joe Ingles
Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Thunder (4) vs. Jazz (5)

Winner: Jazz, 4-2

(I know that it was supposed to be one section per series, but the Jazz-Thunder series was the best of the first round, so it gets two spots.) (It stole its extra spot from the Raptors-Wizards series.) (Apologies to Canada.) (At least you all have universal health care.)

The Thing

Joe Ingles had a strong first-round series against the Thunder, including but not limited to shooting over 46 percent from 3-point land and shooting over 100 percent from Talking Shit To Paul George Every Chance You Get land.

What’s the Correct Overreaction Here?

Same as the beginning of the season, when we ran the OVERREACTION column the first time and Ingles was running his mouth at Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson, there is none. There’s no reaction so big that it could possibly be considered an overreaction. I mean, you’re talking about a guy in the NBA who looks like [ADD IN LITERALLY ANY KIND OF EARTHY WHITE GUY STEREOTYPE YOU WANT RIGHT HERE*]. AND HE’S PLAYING WELL IN THE PLAYOFFS. How often does that kind of thing happen?

(An underrated aspect of Joe Ingles becoming a beloved character in these playoffs is that his name is “Joe Ingles.” You can put literally any adjective in front of it and it sounds like a first-class nickname. He can be Jinglin’ Joe Ingles, or Murderin’ Joe Ingles, or Dancin’ Joe Ingles, or Singin’ Joe Ingles, or whatever. He has a face where you look at it and go, “This guy needs a nickname,” and then it turns out his name is perfect for nicknamification and it all just makes a little too much sense for it not to be kismet.)

(“Joe Ingles looks like …” is always a fun game to play. Stuff like: Joe Ingles looks like he’s really good at hacky sack. Or: Joe Ingles looks like his house smells like incense. Joe Ingles looks like he’d tell you that you’re always welcome to stay at his house, and then you get there and all he has for you to sleep on is a bean bag. Or: Joe Ingles looks like he owns hard copies of all of Phish’s albums. Or: Joe Ingles looks like he’s the good-hearted son nobody talks to anymore because one year at Thanksgiving he called out some of his family members for advocating for All Lives Matter.)

*The no. 1 Earthy White Guy in the history of the NBA is 1976 Bill Walton. Joe’s got a good, long way to go before he can get into that particular VIP room.