These NBA playoffs: Less about excellence than about health

This happened in the very first game of these playoffs. It set a tone. (AP photo)

Derrick Rose was lost in the very first game of this postseason. Thus was a tone set. (AP photo)

On Feb. 21, San Antonio saw an 11-game winning streak end at Portland by the score of 137-97. But the resounding part wasn’t the 40-point margin: It was the message sent. The Spurs hadn’t used their two best players, and Tim Duncan and Tony Parker weren’t hurt.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters: “I can’t run our guys into the ground.”

Then this: “That’s what’s going to happen if you want to put some money in the bank for later.”

We know now that the NBA’s post-lockout regular season, in which 66 games were jammed into four months, served to make a mess of this postseason. Should it come as a coincidence that Popovich’s team has sailed unbeaten through two rounds, while the Chicago Bulls, who tied San Antonio for the regular season’s best record, were gone after six games? Should we be surprised that all that seems to matter in these playoffs is health, or the lack thereof?

It would be wrong to cast the Bulls as a team that went flat-out to rack up wins that didn’t matter: The great Derrick Rose missed 27 regular-season games. Alas, he lasted through only Game 1 of Round 1 before tearing his ACL, and that set a chilling tone. Teammate Joakim Noah was lost to a sprained ankle in Game 3; the Bulls would lose to eight-seeded Philadelphia in six. Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis of the Knicks hurt their knees in Round 1, and so did Josh Smith of the Hawks and Paul Pierce of the Celtics. (Pierce sprained his in a shootaround.)

Chris Bosh, the third of the Heat’s Big Three, suffered an abdominal strain in Game 1 of Round 2 and hasn’t played since, but his loss was partially offset by injuries sustained by the Pacers’ Danny Granger (ankle) and David West (knee) in Game 5. Game 3 of that series saw Dwyane Wade, the second of the Big Three, score five points. Later it was revealed that he had fluid drained from his knee before the game. He scored 71 points in the final two games of the series.

The Celtics weren’t sure if Ray Allen would play a game this postseason because of bone spurs, but he returned in Game 3 of Round 1. Avery Bradley, who starts ahead of Allen, has seen his shoulder pop in and out. Pierce has hobbled through every game since hurting his knee. As for the team Boston beat in Round 1: The Hawks didn’t have Al Horford for the first three games, Smith for Game 3 and Zaza Pachulia for the series.

Blake Griffin of the Clippers wasn’t his ascendant self after hurting his knee in Game 5 of Round 1 against Memphis, and teammate Chris Paul managed to jam his middle finger and strain a hip flexor in the same game. Oh, and Dwight Howard didn’t work a postseason minute for Orlando. He was lost to back surgery.

You could win the NBA title with the guys who’ve been hurt for all or parts of these playoffs: Rose (2011 MVP), Paul (all-NBA first team),  Wade (2006 finals MVP), Allen (surefire Hall of Famer), Howard (all-NBA first team), Griffin (2011 rookie of the year), Horford (2011 all-NBA third team), Pierce (2008 finals MVP) and Smith (should have been an all-NBA selection). That’s assuming any of them would ever get healthy enough to play to capacity, which almost nobody seems capable of doing.

It’s an easy second-guess to say the NBA should have seen this coming, but it should have. There was no cause to ask players to play three times in four nights — three nights in a row in some cases — for the sake of jamming in a couple of more regular-season games to fluff up revenues. Popovich caught on early that the regular season was fool’s gold. By April, Boston coach Doc Rivers had seen Popovich’s example and raised him.

In an April 20 game against the Hawks, Rivers sat his four best players. That night the Celtics essentially forfeited the home-court edge for Round 1, but they won the series. “I’m taking rest and health over home court,” River said then.

Here we must note that injuries can happen. In 2006 the NBA compiled its 60 greatest playoff moments, and two of the top three were functions of injury. Willis Reed tore a thigh muscle in Game 5 of the 1970 finals, missed Game 6 but made a rousing return just before Game 7 was to start. He scored the first two baskets (but no others) and his team won breezing. The rookie Magic Johnson played center in Game 6 of the 1980 finals because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had sprained his ankle in Game 5; Johnson finished with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.

But those famous examples were incidents. What has happened this spring is something approaching a contagion. Too many guys played too many games in too short a span. Too little money, to borrow Popovich’s image, was invested for later, and the bills keep coming.

By Mark Bradley

54 comments Add your comment

Grip

May 25th, 2012
10:48 am

Mark Bradley

May 25th, 2012
10:50 am

Kudos, Grip.

DoctorWych

May 25th, 2012
11:02 am

Slightly off topic, but here goes.
Did anyone besides me, watching the Indiana vs. Miami series, notice the striking similarity between Indiana and the Atlanta Hawks?
No game plan. Players throwing passes out of bounds. Jump shot clunker after clunker. Jump shot air ball after airball. No point guard penetration. Twenty turnovers per game. Opponent scoring dunk after dunk.
If the Pacers and Hawks players swapped teams, no one could tell the difference.

mark

May 25th, 2012
11:06 am

3rd can i get Kudos as well?

DoctorWych

May 25th, 2012
11:15 am

More slightly off topic stuff.
The Hawks lost to a badly crippled Boston Celtics team. These guys have no future other than making and immediatley exiting the playoffs.
But what can anyone do? Mediocre teams are cursed. All they can hope for is to remain mediocre. Best case for the Hawks is to totally blow up this team in exchange for top draft choices and rebuild. It will be painful for a gew years. But, it can’t be anymore painful than watching the current crop of second tier players.

Mark Bradley

May 25th, 2012
11:37 am

Kudos, mark.

tyger

May 25th, 2012
11:47 am

Strike-shortened, condensed seasons still count…

Every 8-10 yrs, one league or the other has labor issues…
They bicker, pout, but eventually hit the field to salvage billions…
A champion is crowned – fans gloat, rings glisten, banners hang…

In the aftermath, the fallen athletes are the unintended victims…
Their careers are slightly shortened, but its the price they pay…
The show must go on…

Years later, the condensed season will be an afterthought…
The Thunder or the Spurs will hang their banners just as proud…
The record book may or may not have an asterick…

Like Barry Bonds’ HR’s – he still hit’em…
The game is played on the field not in the books…
Nothing will ever change that…

Marcus

May 25th, 2012
11:54 am

Yup. So far the injuries have been more series-turning than anything else. The only higher-seeded team in the East with major and/or lingering injuries to a key player to escape so far has been the Heat, pending the BOS/PHI series. Team schizophrenia aside, one could argue that Josh’s injury in Game 2 reduced his physical effectiveness for the rest of the series (shot selection, not so much :( )
We know what happened with CHI, and BOS is on the edge vs. a young and relatively healthy PHI team.

Biggest diff. I saw in the last couple of games in the BOS/PHI series and the BOS/ATL series was PHI’s continued willingness to drive the paint, esp. late in the game instead of settling for jump shots.

The rematches of the teams in the playoffs seem to follow the same trend/results as the reg. season series.

Greg

May 25th, 2012
12:01 pm

The Hawks and the Pacer have nothing in common. The Pacers are a gritty team with heart that really overachieved. The Hawks on the other hand….

That being said, the NBA is almost as badly run as the NHL. The shortsighted decision to put league revenue over the health of the players and the quaility of game shows why people tune out and attendance has suffered.

Dr. Warren

May 25th, 2012
12:22 pm

The Thunder have gained steam among the locals here in Shanghai. Several blue/orange jerseys, knock-offs, of course, emerged from the sea of humanity passing through People’s Square today at lunchtime. No Heat nor Spurs jerseys in sight. I have yet to see a Hawks jersey in six years.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Veteran Fan

May 25th, 2012
12:24 pm

This entire season has been REAL BAD basketball! The only exception has been San Antonio! That said David Stern has set this up so Miami and the “Golden One” can finally win something and justify ESPN’s hype! The fix is in as the tight end barrels down the court, walking without dribbling, and whining on every play! He has never won anything and the league’s credibility is gone if that continues!

Dr. Warren

May 25th, 2012
12:26 pm

Correction: No Heat OR Spurs jerseys.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Mike

May 25th, 2012
1:12 pm

West, Granger, Allen, and Griffin were not banged up bad enough to not contribute at a level they are used to doing. Indiana would have gotten blown out in game 5 anyway. Once Lebron and Wade heated up, that series was over. Chis Paul was definitely banged up to a point where his contribution dropped considerably. I think SA would have still won but in six games, not four.

Your right, Mark. Injuries have marred these playoffs…especially in the East. If all teams were healthy, your second round would have been:

Chicago vs Atlanta (I dont buy that a healthy Hawks team would have lost game 2, 3, or even 6 vs Boston)
Miami vs Indiana (Indiana might still have beaten Orlando with Howard. This is a bit of a toss up).

Miami would have beaten Indiana in at worst 5 games if Bosh was healthy. Chicago would have won in 5 or 6 vs the Hawks.

The West sort of played out right. SA and OKC are the two best teams right now. I’m betting Miami comes out of the East, but if Bosh cant go in the Finals, they need to hope for OKC. They are too much of a jump shooting team. SA will beat Miami without Bosh.

O'Brien

May 25th, 2012
1:13 pm

Mark,

I agree. However, please keep in mind that the players union signed off on the schedule as well, because they wanted to make as much money as possible (imo).

RealTAlk

May 25th, 2012
1:13 pm

Take the Atlanta spirit to the Gallows quick. What a bunch of worthless talentless jerks. I am so sick of people crappy on our city because of lousy ownership! If you can afford to play then GO HOME!!

Mike

May 25th, 2012
1:18 pm

On my comment, I meant OKC is too much of a jump shooting team which is why Miami can beat them without Bosh. OKC doesnt get to the rim as well. The Lakers could have easily been up 3-1 on OKC because of that. Also, Lebron + Wade is better than Durant + Westbrook.

SA is another story. Parker + Duncan + Ginobli + the deepest bench in basketball is too much for Wade + Lebron without Bosh.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Class of '98

May 25th, 2012
1:46 pm

Mark, do you hate writing about the NBA as much as we hate reading it? It’s hard for me to care about grown men running around in shorts. Is it football season yet?

BlahBlahBlah

May 25th, 2012
2:13 pm

How exactly did the Pacers overachieve? They got rolled in Round 2.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

doc

May 25th, 2012
2:29 pm

no second guessing. i said it from the beginning it was going to look like the movie of the 60’s/70’s, “they shoot horses dont they”, about competitive endurance dancing for dollars during the great depression. i am sure you might be just barely old enough to know that one mark, a classic.

all along i have stated the fans lose this season as the players are just as responsible for this fiasco by agreeing to it. yes they have mouths to feed and mortgages to pay and some have multiple mansions to keep up. shallow season with sham results.

best player line in the box score all season had nothing to do with numbers or triple doubles. it was simply this one filled out by pops beside duncan’s name …… dnp,too old. instant classic.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

doc

May 25th, 2012
4:08 pm

heh heh, just read o’b comments, once again.

Dick Luckburst

May 25th, 2012
4:15 pm

Dr. Bradley, who is your NBA champ pick (and in how many games)?

rollo lawson

May 25th, 2012
4:39 pm

A healthy Hawks team at full strength, with a real NBA coach (sorry Larry Drew), would have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals this year. I truly believe this.

Now on to the off-season. Re-upping Larry Drew was a huge mistake. This guy does not know how to rotate his players, nor does he have the balls to “coach” Josh. Jerry Sloan would have been a perfect fit for this team. He would have had them player smarter and tougher.

Sund should not be re-signed either. To find his replacement, start by looking in San Antonio’s and OKC’s front offices for a young up and comer for gm.

As far as the NBA draft, it is very deep. We should be able to find a good rotational player at our spot. I would pick PF/C 6′10 Bernard James from FSU. The guy is older, but he is very mature and could step right in and replace Collins and Dampier easily. He defends, rebounds, blocks shots, and finishes at the rim. That’s more than what Damp and Collins did. Also, find an athletic wing player in the second that can run the floor and defend on the perimeter.

When it comes to the bench, get rid of everyone not named Ivan or T-MAC. I do think T-MAC has had enough of Drew and will be gone. Can’t blame him. Use Capt. Kirk’s money to sign Mo Williams from the Clippers. He would be the perfect sixth man. I would also sign Will Bynum to take Pargo’s spot. I’ve watched this dude for a while now. He can play.

Alex

May 25th, 2012
5:58 pm

Greg Popovich is one of the smartest coaches in all of sports… watching the spurs play is like listening to Bach, while watching the Heat is like listening to Bieber… and if you actually just WATCH them, they are NOT boring — not this year! They are experts at making the unselfish “extra pass” that creates a clean look, and to see defenses fall over themselves trying to keep up with their ball movement is beautiful. Spurs will beat the Thunder in 6 and then dispose of Miami (or whomever comes out of the East… hopefully not miami because the earlier Lebron exits the better) in 5.

KevinM

May 25th, 2012
9:58 pm

Healthy or not, there are always reasons why they lose in the early stages of the playoffs. Like OB pointed out in a couple of blogs, it’s all about the draft choices.

We take Boris Diaw, who has turned out to be anything but a PG. We’re the only team Diaw has played PG for.
Childress, Marvin & Shelden of the mediocre Williams family, Acie Law & Damion James are our failed picks this decade.
We traded away 4 #1 draft picks as well..they turned out to be Rondo, one of the Lopez twins,Jordan Crawford, Chris Singleton.
We have Teague, Josh & Al to show that we aren’t complete embasils. Al is the only all-star in the bunch. A bad display of talent research.

Every team has had injuries and we have played and won without Al, some without Joe, and only Josh has avoided any lengthy injury.

Sund hasn’t proven anything. We haven’t gone anywhere under his guidance. We have stagnated and yet because of injury, we keep the incumbent coach who gets a whole year to prove himself again, we have no youth to develop currently, and our salary cap is whack.

Poor Hawks….we’ve losing ground to Indiana, Miami, Chicago and Philly.
We will not be considered a threat next year for the sake of keeping our coach and we have no idea how to develop a winner.

Save your money folks; Groundhog Day coming to Philips once again in 2012-13.

KevinM

May 25th, 2012
10:02 pm

Sund can claim we’re building it like SA or Detroit…the problem is he stands behind a coach who doesn’t know when to miss a free throw when that’s our best chance.
LD and Sund are middle of pack lifetimers who are satisfied with the results….ask them, they’ll tell you they’re very pleased.

J-Man

May 25th, 2012
11:46 pm

MB……please call out Fredi Gonzalez…………Somebody needs to we are choking games in MAy now 5 in a rwo.

LMJ

May 26th, 2012
7:44 am

Mark……NBA & NHL, why report on them, boring. Just look at the ratings. Noone is watching except a few die hards.

LMJ

May 26th, 2012
7:44 am

Enter your comments here

mountain_jim

May 26th, 2012
7:56 am

The playoffs for me have just shown what a non-factor, non-star, overpaid heartless player Joe Johnson is. , and what an over-matched coach Drew is.

That being said, I think a healthy Za Za would have been enough to beat this Celtics team.
Right now I can’t imagine what could happen this off-season to get me to care about the Hawks next season.

GT

May 26th, 2012
9:39 am

Too many games in too small a period of time, this year. Not only are you injured but you start to not care for the game. The same thing night after night there is no way you don’t get bored with it all, not to mention the physical wear. This year was like a Bataan death march. The fan was getting cheated before, this is cheap product on steroids.

I think the great coaches of the game can keep players heads in the game when the other coaches can’t. But after a while it gets to be like a concentration camp. Who cares about watching zombies run up and done a court, not even the players. They have truly taken the beauty out of the pro game and ruin the college game doing it. Even the high school kids are burned out by the time they get to college, with all the AAU games and camps. The NBA should get them back to at least three years of college. It is the only place these kids ever see normal people, who can help some of them learn to live in a normal world. I not talking about the college coaches most of them are as bad as the bums that hang around the high school gyms, but on those campuses are communities usually of nice people, that give these kids a picture of what life can be outside of the superficial. There is a huge difference in a Michael Jordan or a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar compared to a Josh Smith or a Colby Bryant. Jordan and Abdul-Jabbar had the fortune of landing in college communities that gave them some value. Not much of that in this league or sport any more.

GT

May 26th, 2012
9:40 am

The NBA should get them back to at least three years of college. It is the only place these kids ever see normal people, who can help some of them learn to live in a normal world. I not talking about the college coaches most of them are as bad as the bums that hang around the high school gyms, but on those campuses are communities usually of nice people, that give these kids a picture of what life can be outside of the superficial. There is a huge difference in a Michael Jordan or a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar compared to a Josh Smith or a Colby Bryant. Jordan and Abdul-Jabbar had the fortune of landing in college communities that gave them some value. Not much of that in this league or sport any more.

heartofdarkness

May 26th, 2012
10:10 am

Knees today. Concussions tomorrow. Basketball has turned into rollerderby.

The Hawks don't have the talent

May 26th, 2012
3:16 pm

The bottom line is the Hawks don’t have the talent to contend for a title. Blame the coach all you want but not even the “great” Phil Jackson could win with this team. In case you haven’t been paying attention to the NBA the last 30 years, you have to have superstars to win titles. Gregg Popovich has been riding TIm Duncan’s coat tails for 15 years now. You think he’d have those 4 titles if he was coaching Al Horford instead of Tim Duncan? Gimmie a break! We either have to blow it up build through the draft or land a superstar free agent, and obviously no free agent wants to come to this disfunctional franchise, so all we can hope for is 2nd round exit every year.

donte080

May 26th, 2012
3:41 pm

Mike, I know you probably don’t see OKL play much….but you’ve been smoking too much of that Georgia weed if you seriously think Miami can beat Thunder without Bosh.

STRETCH

May 26th, 2012
3:58 pm

The Knicks hire Woodson, something they will NOT regret while the Hawks fire him and we are stuck with Nancy Drew!

donte080

May 26th, 2012
4:21 pm

re: Hawks Don’t Have talent….

We can thank Billy Knight for where we are, a disjointed team of athletic forwards….Choosing MARVIN Williams over Chris Paul/Deron Williams, Andrew Bynum…..Shelden Williams over Rudy Gaye Brandon Roy…trading too much for Joe Johnson (one of picks used to draft Rajon Rondo) …Acie Law instead of Rodney Stucky….

BTW: Detroit Pistons won an NBA Title without a superstar…so it can be done if you have the right coach…

Ted Striker

May 27th, 2012
12:22 am

Amen and Amen, Mr. Bradley. Fine column.

CHANGE OF SUBJECTS.

There is no reason (save paying for the stadium) to require MLB players to endure a 162 game season over 178 days. In 1876 there were 70 games. Don’t get me wrong. I lubs me somes baseballs. However the quality of the product would be better if MLB didn’t grind players into the ground

bigD

May 27th, 2012
8:54 am

The NBA title will go to whomever the league decides not the players. the officials decide games not by bad foul calls but by momentum killing no calls. Watch closely and you’ll see what I mean.

[...] These NBA playoffs: Less about excellence than about health [...]

Ray

May 27th, 2012
10:49 am

Someone said the Pacers and Hawks are pretty much the same and you can’t tell the difference.

All I’ll say on that is Hawks are actually better than the Pacers talent level wise in fact if Hawks are healthy call me crazy we would have beaten Boston, Sixers, and I don’t know about Miami.

That at least lifts some of our Curse off of ATL.

Still the only real thing the Hawks lacked was a vet like David West nothing against T-mac, Jerry, and Zaza or Ivan, but David West is what I’m hoping for in Ivan Johnson.

Someone like David West would have told them not to back down from Boston even with the injuries.

Then again we need a better HC that’s on Doc Rivers level someone who experiments with anything to get a better result.

Are you serious?

May 27th, 2012
12:27 pm

And, bottom line, we are again on the outside looking in.

As for the Thrashers? The team that the ASG SHOULD have picked to spend money on? Well, I’ll just point to 2 things. First, 2 years ago, the NHL Eastern Conference Finals were between the #7 seed and the #8 seed. Second, this year, the Stanley Cup finals are between the #6 seed in the East and the #8 seed in the West.

Point is, as opposed to the NBA, in the NHL you only have to put together a very good (not great) product that gets hot at the right time. With the money they have poured into the Hawks, the same investment would have provided the city a much better chance for a Champion in the Thrashers and attendance would not have been an issue.

The facts were and are there. Despite being some of the more hated rich people around, the ASG members wouldn’t be where they are in business if they were flat out stupid – so why did these clowns treat their investment like anything other than a business – which needed to be run RIGHT to prosper – the same as anything else they have ever run?

Anyway, after hating on Kovalchuk for leaving, in retrospect – he obviously did the right thing and his new team, which had about the same record as the Thrashers just last year, is on the cusp of winning the Stanley Cup while the Thrashers are now extinct.

If only these ASG buffoons had a clue.

Stepchild

May 28th, 2012
7:58 am

The Hawks were healthy enough to win but still got knocked the fudge out! They were silly enough to extend Drews contract instead of going after a really good coach like Van Gundy or Jerry Sloan….all said and done, just like the Falcons they get eliminated from the playoffs with their second rate coach and second rate players….stay tuned for more heartache!

b ball

May 28th, 2012
9:55 am

Basketball is about the paint. I mined some raw data, and it appears that every single game was won by the team that took the most shots in the paint.

Every single game in the history of b-ball.

[...] best teams. The Bulls have some financial constraints, so they are going to have to …These NBA playoffs: Less about excellence than about healthAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog)all 19 news [...]