2019-20 Blogtable

Bubble Wrap: The most surprising thing of the playoffs was ...?

Our scribes chime in on what moment or game stood out most in the playoffs.

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What was the most unusual or surprising thing that happened this postseason?

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Steve Aschburner: The Clippers coughing up a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals. Seriously? With that roster, that coaching staff and those expectations? The Lakers’ Staples Center roommates, losing three in a row when many thought they would beat LeBron & Co. to reach The Finals, is one of the NBA’s biggest choke jobs of this century. It cost Doc Rivers his job, dinged Paul George’s reputation (“Playoff P” indeed) and had some critics recasting Kawhi Leonard’s decision to leave Toronto as all about his lifestyle. Based on when it was announced, the Executive of the Year award to GM Lawrence Frank also wound up looking silly, given Lakers GM Rob Pelinka’s roster moves around James. Even with Rivers’ head-scratching record in Game 7s and knack for blowing three times a 3-1 playoff series lead, this was a stunner to me.

Shaun Powell: Maybe that there actually was a postseason? Or that it came to a halt because of the Bucks? In the purest sense, perhaps the collapse by the Clippers. That egg-laying after a 3-1 lead over the Nuggets left the franchise devastated. And the fallout was severe when Doc Rivers departed “by mutual interest.” Surely owner Steve Ballmer was (and still is?) livid over how his team behaved (“Lemon Pepper” Lou, the laughing at the expense of Damian Lillard) and definitely how it performed. This time next summer, the Clippers could be a total wreck if Kawhi Leonard and Paul George bail because the team’s future belongs to Oklahoma City.

John Schuhmann: Besides the fact that it took place in a bubble with no fans? How about that it was probably the most efficient postseason ever? Over the 83 playoff games, teams combined to score 110.8 points per 100 possessions, the highest mark of the 24 postseasons for which we have play-by-play data (and likely NBA history). Regular-season efficiency hit an all-time high of 110.1 points per 100 possessions this year, but it was fair to believe that offense would suffer from a 20-week layoff. That was the case with the Lakers through Game 1 of the first round, but overall, offenses were sharp, despite the layoff and the unique environment. A larger-than-usual jump in the percentage of shots coming from 3-point range (from 38.4% in the regular season to 42.7% in the playoffs) was a factor. A jump in efficiency from the regular season to the playoffs isn’t unusual (it’s happened in 12 of the last 24 years), but it’s noteworthy that it happened given the circumstances and how efficiently the league scored in the regular season.

Sekou Smith: The LA Clippers entered the bubble as the favorite to win it all and exited the competition with an Executive of the Year honor for Lawrence Frank as the only tangible highlight. The Clippers’ collapse after taking a 3-1 lead over Denver in the conference semifinals should be an instructional video for how not to manage the pressure and expectations that come with contender status. The Clippers parted ways with Doc Rivers (who quickly got the Sixers’ coaching job). Stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are facing increased scrutiny within their own locker room and beyond while the makeup of this roster looms as a question marks as they enter the offseason without a coach. Put it this way: Before the confetti fell on the Lakers’ Finals-clinching win over Miami, the Clippers’ supposed takeover of the L.A. basketball throne was already ashes. Their meltdown was so thorough that most of us forgot that Milwaukee’s brutal bubble collapse happened in the same postseason.

Michael C. Wright: Obviously, that moment came in August when the players decided to take a step back to reiterate their support of the Black Lives Matter movement and their stance on racial injustice and police brutality after Jacob Blake was gunned down from behind by police in Kenosha, Wisc. The league postponed playoff matchups between Milwaukee and Orlando, Houston and Oklahoma City and Portland and the Los Angeles Lakers. Doing so created an encouraging domino effect in pro sports as the WNBA and Major League Baseball also postponed games. Their actions and words put more of a spotlight on the injustices taking place in the United States, and with pro sports cancelled, all fans were forced to at least pay attention. The NBA players entered the bubble wanting to use their platform for good, and it appears they accomplished that with this moment.