As protracted as those eight initial series were -- shorter than most recessions, longer than some pregnancies -- we could have used a best-of-15 format to really develop some budding storylines of raw, human emotion, actual dislike and even unadulterated hatred, without which we're at risk of rooting for mere calisthenics.
Just when the Celtics and the Bulls were getting truly sick of each other after seven bitterly fought games and seven overtime periods, the darn thing ended. No sooner did we see Udonis Haslem steer-wrestle Zaza Pachulia to the floor in Atlanta on Sunday -- a takedown that surely called for two falls out of three -- then Haslem was flinging his jersey into the stands at Philips Arena, he and his Heat teammates out of sight and out of mind until sometime next season.
Philadelphia's Samuel Dalembert never did get a chance to introduce either of his elbows to Dwight Howard's noggin as courtesy and payback, because Orlando wrapped up its clash with the Sixers in six games while the Magic center was idled by a league-imposed sitdown. Kenyon Martin pounded on David West during the Denver-New Orleans matchup but that went about as far, in terms of extracurriculars, as the Hornets' charade as championship contenders.
At least Celtics guard Rajon Rondo was getting under the Bulls' hides, much like a traditional NHL pest, in the way he whacked big man Brad Miller across the chops and arm-whipped Kirk Hinrich into the scorer's table. At least Dwyane Wade and Miami's players and coaches bothered to take umbrage at Josh Smith's J.R. Rider-retro, East Bay Funk dunk attempt in garbage time of Game 5. It surely is no coincidence that the two series that produced the most emotional chafing also happened to be the two that lasted seven games.
It's a proven theory of physics -- from the McHale-Rambis school, I believe -- that friction equals time plus force plus rate, multiplied by an overall fatigue from seeing the other guys' same ugly mugs night after night. Throw some really high stakes into the mix and the natural propensity for extreme competitors to bend rules right to the point of breaking and, usually, NBA playoff viewers can count on some hard fouls, angry glares, semi-skirmishes and overhead camera shots tracking exactly which players did, and which players didn't, leave the bench area during the brouhaha. Then we all get to play acting commish, prending to dole out the next day's suspensions.
Look, for the record, I'm not a hater. I suppose I am a little bit of a hater-lover, though. I love it when opponents comport themselves like combatants. I love it when they take the court for tip-off the way heavyweights take to the ring for title bouts, entering from opposite sides of the arena, they and them vs. you and yours, then stand nose-to-nose with death stares before the opening bell. I love it that those guys, within the boundaries of criminal law, see each other as obstacles to be knocked down, predators trying to swipe food from each other's table.
I'd love the NBA a little more at this time of year, too, if LeBron, Kobe, Dwight, Chauncey, Dirk, Josh, Paul and even Ron -- what the heck, let's go with first names since we're all pals here, pledged to a great multibillion dollar fraternity -- acted instead like eight dogs, one bone.
A big part of the problem is the who. There's no Shaquille O'Neal in these playoffs. No Robert Horry, no more Bruce Bowen, to name a pair of notorious nuisances past. Rasheed Wallace is done, and he's always been more of a bad guy to the referees than to his frat buddies, and Richard Hamilton and his extra-long fingernails are gone, too, Ray Allen's long white sleeves now unnecessary. Kevin Garnett, whose run-ins with Pachulia last year were seeds of vintage stuff, this year is yapping in street clothes, all bark, no bite. Don Nelson isn't around to joust -- old-school needle to new-fangled tweet -- with Mark Cuban. The Bulls have some players with villain potential -- Ben Gordon grabbing his crotch, Miller lumbering about, Hinrich so hard-nosed, Tyrus Thomas a little wild, and then Joakim Noah -- but now they're out as well.
The NBA hierarchy prides itself on wringing out any NHL fisticuffs or MLB grab-and-hold field dances from its sport, and it largely has succeeded. The lack of pads and helmets, the proximity of fans and the in-our-laps vantage points courtesy of HDTV pretty much requires heavy filtering of the mayhem. Time was, even the brightest stars -- Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan -- had ornery streaks (although I admit to being a little bummed upon learning that Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, principals in the most polarizing individual rivalry in team sports, were social pals who dined together).
Now we can't even expect pushing, shoving or vitriol when it's Kobe Bryant vs. Ron Artest. If it's Martin forearming Dirk Nowitzki across the end line in Game 1, we don't even get the Dallas star getting back on his feet before the officials descend. "Dirk Nowitzki did not do anything when he got slammed to the floor," Barkley said on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption on Tuesday. "We as basketball players are not good fighters. But when you know somebody is going to break the fight up, you've got to act like you're pissed. ... [Just] for the rest of your team, you've got to let them know they can't do that."
Just for your fans, too, and the sense that something big and coveted is at stake. And worth all the hours and dollars and emotions we invest in it.
The competition of the NBA postseason is legit. The skill level, breathtaking. The drama played out on the scoreboard and the game clocks, compelling. But the great thing about a genuine dislike in a long series or, better yet, through the renewal of irritations, slights, bruises and rivalries that develop and fester over years, is that they add zest to all of the above, for the participants and the viewers alike.
If it wasn't for bad blood, a bluesman would say, the NBA playoffs might not have no blood at all.