The 2017-18 NBA season was full of loops and sharp turns, taking fans and teams on a twisting journey that teased everyone about what might happen next. Only there was no surprise party waiting at the end of the day, just the Golden State Warriors and their brooms.
The season gave us a few shakeups in the standings, some players who unexpectedly found themselves on the big stage, no nights off for LeBron James … and the best team rather predictably earned the honor of being crowned, for the third time in four seasons.
The Warriors made quick work of James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, winning 4-0 in the fourth straight meeting between the teams on that stage. The sweep further certified the legacy of Kevin Durant -- who became a back-to-back winner of the Finals MVP award -- and Stephen Curry, the central figure of the Warriors’ dynasty. Other than forcing overtime in Game 1, the only silver lining for the Cavs was James scoring 51 points in that game and nearly averaging a triple-double for the series.
If the end game between the Warriors and Cavs was widely projected when the season tipped off, the events that preceded it weren’t locked into place. This run from October to June took the NBA on an unexpected trip with pit stops in unexpected places.
The Philadelphia 76ers won 52 games and closed with a 16-game winning streak -- two seasons after they went 10-72. The turnaround was a direct result of patience with young players who rapidly became franchise cornerstones after returning from injuries. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, both of whom missed entire seasons, made themselves household names with big performances. Embiid was an All-Star who emerged as one of the game’s best big men, while sharp playmaking skills allowed Simmons to earn Kia Rookie of the Year honors.
The Boston Celtics lost newcomer Gordon Hayward for the season after he suffered a leg injury in the season opener ... and then Kyrie Irving missed the final 14 games and the playoffs with a bum knee ... and still Boston flirted with the East's best record and one win from reaching The Finals.
After trading their star swingman Paul George to Oklahoma City in the offseason, the Indiana Pacers improved by six wins and pushed the Cavs to a Game 7 in the first round. Victor Oladipo, acquired in the George trade, was the catalyst of a new Pacers era and was named Kia Most Improved Player.
Twice a runner-up, James Harden finally won Kia MVP honors after leading the NBA in scoring (30.4) and finishing third in assists (8.8). He teamed with Chris Paul to turn the Houston Rockets into a beast. The Rockets won a franchise-record 65 games and held off the Warriors for the top seed in the West. Paul advanced beyond the semifinals for the first time in his playoff career. Behind steady 3-point shooting and an emerging low-post center in Clint Capela, the Rockets claimed a 3-2 lead on the Warriors in the West finals. But Paul suffered a hamstring injury that benched him the rest of the series as Houston faltered in Games 6 and 7.
On the injury front, New Orleans Pelicans All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles tendon. The Pelicans were forced to scramble in the second half of the season to defy the odds. Anthony Davis responded by playing at MVP level and had help from Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday and the arrival of Nikola Mirotic who infused the Pelicans with outside shooting. New Orleans changed its style in midseason, shocked the Portland Trail Blazers with a first-round sweep and then took a game from the eventual-champion Warriors.
The Utah Jazz had an excuse to trigger a rebuilding process once Hayward left via free agency and center Rudy Gobert, the eventual Kia Defensive Player of the Year, was held to 56 games due to knee issues. Instead, the Jazz (48 wins) flourished under coach Quin Snyder mainly because first-round pick Donovan Mitchell played well beyond his years and became Utah's go-to guy.
At season's end, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets staged essentially a play-in game on the final night for the right to reach the playoffs (which Minnesota won). Russell Westbrook averaged a triple-double for the second straight season ... but couldn’t help the re-tooled Oklahoma City Thunder (with George and Carmelo Anthony) reach the West semifinals. And the Toronto Raptors took the top seed in the East with 59 wins, only to get swept by the Cavs.
In the end, though, it was all about the Warriors. As a champion in their prime, the Warriors therefore gave the NBA plenty, except some suspense in the end.
Eastern Conference first round
Toronto defeated Washington (4-2)
Boston defeated Milwaukee (4-3)
Philadelphia defeated Miami (4-1)
Cleveland defeated Indiana (4-3)
Western Conference first round
Houston defeated Minnesota (4-1)
Golden State defeated San Antonio (4-1)
New Orleans defeated Portland (4-0)
Utah defeated Oklahoma City (4-2)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Cleveland defeated Toronto (4-0)
Boston defeated Philadelphia (4-1)
Western Conference semifinals
Houston defeated Utah (4-1)
Golden State defeated New Orleans (4-1)
Eastern Conference finals
Cleveland defeated Boston (4-3)
Western Conference finals
Golden State defeated Houston (4-3)
Golden State defeated Cleveland (4-0)
Points -- James Harden, Houston Rockets (30.4)
Assists -- Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (10.3)
Rebounds -- Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons (16.0)
Steals -- Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers (2.4)
Blocks -- Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (2.6)
FG% -- Cling Capela, Houston Rockets (65.2)
FT% -- Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors (92.1)
3PT% -- Darren Collison, Indiana Pacers (46.8)
Kia Most Valuable Player -- James Harden, Houston Rockets
Kia Rookie of the Year -- Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Kia Defensive Player of the Year -- Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Kia Most Improved Player -- Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers
Kia Sixth Man of the Year -- Lou Williams, LA Clippers
Coach of the Year -- Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors
All-Star Game MVP -- LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Finals MVP -- Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors