NBA AM: Where’s The Playoff Drama In 2017?


The NBA rose in popularity during the 1980s, primarily driven by the rivalry of the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. At the forefront of this rivalry were two of the greatest players ever in Celtics forward Larry Bird and Lakers guard Magic Johnson. The teams met in three NBA Finals (1984, 1985, and 1987), with Los Angeles winning two of the three matchups. All three of the series went at least six games and all three were filled with drama.

Drama sells. Drama captivates. Drama creates attachment. Drama sparks conversation. Drama makes you choose a side.

Even outside of the Lakers versus Celtics rivalry, there were plenty of storylines emerging below the top dogs in the earlier rounds before the reaching the Finals. The Celtics were having their way thwarting the upstart Isiah Thomas-led Detroit Pistons. Those same Pistons were denying the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. Series were physical, intense and most importantly, ultra-competitive.

Fast forward to the 2016-17 campaign and ongoing playoffs.

We, as fans, are once again being treated to a collection of superstars set to meet in a trilogy of the highest order. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are running roughshod on the competition, combining for 16 straight wins, four consecutive playoff series sweeps and seemingly haven’t broken a sweat as they rollick to the Conference Finals.

Mostly everyone is anticipating the trilogy. The Warriors defeated the Cavaliers in 2015, while the Cavs defeated Golden State in 2016. The teams split the season series this season. On each side of the equation, supporters have their arguments to stand on.

For Cavaliers supporters, the team pushed the Warriors to six games in 2015 despite the absences of All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love due to injuries.

For Warriors diehards, although the team squandered a 3-1 series lead in the Finals to the Cavaliers, they can point to Draymond Green’s suspension in Game 5 and Andrew Bogut’s late series injury that created driving lanes for LeBron James.

This year, both teams are heading into the Conference Finals fully healthy and no excuses, at least for now, can be used by either side.

But while everyone is gearing up for a Cavaliers versus Warriors Finals three-peat, the questions must be asked: Where is the drama from the rest of the league? Where is the competition?

Let’s take this year’s first round of the playoffs.

On the surface, everything looks fine. Five of the eight first round matchups went at least six games. The Cavaliers and Warriors swept their opponents and Houston dispatched Oklahoma City in five contests.

However, 19 of the 44 first round contests were decided by double-digits—essentially blowouts.

Not convinced?

Let’s move on to the second round of the playoffs—the semifinals.

The Cavaliers and Warriors have advanced. Houston and San Antonio are headed to game six. So are the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics.

On the surface it seems competitive, however, out of the 18 conference semifinals games that have been played to date, 16 of them (89 percent) have been decided by 10 points or more.

That’s right, 89 percent.

Even if you remove Cleveland and Golden State from the mix, 90 percent of the league’s conference semifinal matchups have been decided by double-digits. Yes, the series are going long, but they aren’t coming down to the wire and creating the drama we’ve come to expect during playoff time.

Houston or San Antonio will give Golden State a test in the next round. Will they push the Warriors to the brink? Unlikely, but the series should at least produce some excitement. Ditto on the other side of the fence. Boston and Washington both have elite point guards, which has been a pain point for the Cavaliers defense all season long. Either team should give the Cavaliers some much needed work heading into the Finals, but no one is expecting the matchup to be anything other than a glorified sparring session.

On one hand, as fans, we’re going to be treated to a rare Finals trilogy for all of the marbles. Both teams are relatively young, so a matchup could even be in order next season depending on how free agency plays out.

So, at the end of the day, we’re going to get the Finals matchup we’ve been clamoring for over the past eight months.

But the journey getting there has been devoid of the drama needed to push the NBA’s popularity even higher in the hierarchy of professional sports leagues.

Even back when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were dominating their respective conferences, there was enough drama to keep the interest of even casual fans. Sadly, that may not be the case today.

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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons