The Gold Rush: Gut Check Time: Why I Love the NBA Playoffs

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Updated: May 8, 2015
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By BLS Columnist, Justin Goldman

No matter what the sport, everything is heightened during the playoffs: the media scrutiny, the pressure on the players, the intensity of the games. This next level of drama, and seeing which players shine and which ones wilt under the bright lights, is what makes the playoffs so great. And while it’s true for all sports, I’d argue that it’s especially true for basketball. Maybe it’s because the NBA regular season can be long and monotonous and can seem a little superfluous; maybe it’s because we over-emphasize RINGZZZ when we evaluate the careers of basketball stars; maybe it’s because basketball is the sport that we view most through the lens of the individual player. No matter what the precise reason, it sure feels like the NBA Playoffs offer the best place to find a true gut check.

That’s been especially true in 2015. Just survey the landscape. Here are some of the great gut check moments we’ve already seen, with all four second-round series just two games old:

#1: The Warriors found themselves in the middle of a lackluster effort, playing about as poorly as they could play, in New Orleans in that city’s first playoff game since Chris Paul went to the Clippers. This isn’t as gritty as some of the other moments on this list, but that epic comeback, in which they overcame not just a 20-point deficit but also some pretty shady officiating, showed the character of a team that wasn’t going to just give away a game, that was determined to win every single game it was involved in. And what’s a greater gut check moment than having a shot at a three to tie the game at the buzzer, with Anthony Davis lying at you about to body check you, and drilling that shit?

Shea Serrano summed it up pretty well:

#2: I’m not happy to be writing about this one, but if we’re gonna talk about grit, of course we have to talk about the Memphis Grizzlies and the effort they put out on Tuesday night. They got blown out in Game One, and given that coming into Game Two the Dubs were 42-2 at home this year, pretty much everyone thought the Grizz were about to fall into a 2-0 hole that might have been insurmountable. Instead they came out and put a whooping on the Dubs. Special credit goes to Memphis’ backcourt, led by Tony Allen, who crawled under Klay Thompson’s skin like a guinea worm [link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracunculiasis] and drove him completely insane; and especially to Mike Conley, who, playing with plantar fasciitis and a broken face, scored 22 points, including the dagger three that ended the Dubs’ last gasp fourth-quarter rally.
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For the record, I’m not worried yet—I knew Memphis would be tough, I predicted that the Dubs would win this series in 6, and I still feel good about that call—but when you talk about grit and guts, the Grizz are the NBA team that embodies those qualities the most.

#3: All three of the other second-round series featured Game Two gut checks as well. You see, the home team lost Game One in each of those series. Go down 2-0 and then go on the road, and you’re looking at getting swept. But Atlanta (thanks in large part to an injury to John Wall), Houston (thank to a big second-half from James Harden) and Cleveland (thanks, of course, to LeBron James being a terminator) all came up with big wins. I can’t wait to see what happens in these series. Well, except maybe Hawks-Wiz. If Wall doesn’t come back, Washington’s toast.

#4: The entire Clippers Spurs series. This ended almost a week ago, and everyone’s already written about it already, so I’m sure no one cares about my Two Cents, but HOLY SHIT, HOW INCREDIBLE WAS THAT? I was sure the Clippers had blown it after they melted down in Game Five in LA in a classic Clippers display of bitching and head-casery. You could have made the Spurs a 20-point favorite in Game Six, and I would have bet on them. And of course the Clippers went into San Antonio and gutted out a win. Then came Game Seven, one of the best single basketball games I’ve ever watched. There were 31 ties and 16 lead changes, and the teams were basically separated by a single possession for the entire game. Seriously, the whole fourth quarter, I was just shaking my head and laughing and saying “I can’t believe this game” after every possession.

And of course, as it should be in a game of such magnitude—a win-or-go-home contest between two of the four best teams in the league, to end the greatest first-round series ever played—the three biggest stars stepped up. Blake Griffin put up a triple-double, with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Tim Duncan, who is 39 years old, had 27 points and 11 boards and hit two free throws with eight seconds left to tie the game. And of course, Chris Paul. Understand, before I say this, that I fucking hate Chris Paul. I loved him when he was young on the Hornets, and I respect the shit out of his game, but his constant bitching on the court and his often subtly dirty play has turned him into one of my least favorite players in the NBA. He just seems like a miserable dude.

But all of those gripes take a backseat to what he did on Saturday night. Despite limping through the final three-quarters after pulling his hamstring—an injury bad enough that he missed the first two games of the Clippers’ second-round series—Paul played 37 minutes and scored 27 points, including the mind-blowingly clutch bank shot he hit over Duncan with one second left to give LA the win.

For a guy who’s been unfairly labeled as a playoff choker, and who then got hurt in the first quarter of the biggest game of his career, this was about as big a gut check as you can imagine. And Chris Paul came through, in memorable fashion.

God, I love the NBA Playoffs. I can’t wait to see what happens next.