Skip to main content

Six heels dominating the NBA playoffs

Why have the NBA playoffs been so boring in the first round? We look at six NBA villains spoiling the fun. 

Get all of Jeremy Woo's columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.

​In case you didn’t realize, we’re about a week deep into the NBA playoffs. If it feels more like six weeks, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Let’s not pretend here: every ugly slugfest out East and predictable blowout out West has left us hanging and hoping for more.

Dire times tend to call for a special kind of hero to keep things lively. So, sure enough, the playoff plotlines have not been dominated by superstars entertaining us, but by individuals willing to play the heel, mix it up and deliver the antics that keep us talking, if not thinking especially hard.

If you're still getting caught up or haven't been able to watch all the action, here’s a handy guide to the first–round’s most notable antagonists so far.


Patrick Beverley: Professional pest

One very popular basketball trope has to do with repping your hometown. LeBron James loves to remind us he’s from Akron. Didn’t know Kevin Durant was from D.C.? Well, the Wizards would love to remind you. For some this concept mostly sells T-shirts, for others it’s a lifestyle: the espresso machine in the Spurs locker room, of course, belongs to Boris Diaw. To really know a player, you have to understand where he came from.

So, did this annoy you?

How do you feel about this?

If you know anything about Chicago basketball, you know Derrick Rose is from the Windy City. Truth be told, Chicago is not a city full of Derrick Roses—rather, it’s a place crawling with Pat Beverleys. Beverley played in–your–shirt defense as a kid to earn a place on the court, played even harder defense to earn a college scholarship, and then played defense professionally in places like the Ukraine and Russia before going onto play defense professionally for the Houston Rockets.

• MORE NBA: Harden's Game 3 winner a rare bright spot for Rockets

“He is who he is,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said of Beverley earlier this week, “and that’s what made him who he is. You can’t knock somebody for the way he plays. I don’t think he does anything dirty. Now, he does chippy stuff, but chippy is chippy and dirty is dirty.”

Yes, it’s alarming that Beverley is the guy who will be hounding Steph Curry (who missed Games 2 and 3) the next time he takes the court. You might recall that time in 2013 when Beverley ended Russell Westbrook’s playoffs with a controversial play. But when you watch him start something with any of your favorite players, just understand, it’s not personal. Not usually.

Pistons named Stanley

Exhibit A: Stanley Van Gundy

Exhibit B: Stanley Johnson

The most verbally relentless Stans from Detroit since Marshall Mathers have made it their mission to troll LeBron James as hard and as often as possible, until he sweeps them and their inauspicious mind games right out of the playoffs. Van Gundy has already been fined $25,000 for complaining about James getting away with offensive fouls. He actually had to meet with Johnson after the rookie’s bold Game 2 quote-fest. And we get two more Pistons losses’ worth of this!

Hating on LeBron has become an annual springtime staple of the basketball–loving internet community, and now it’s unfolding between characters in a real–life playoff series. It would all be seriously fascinating, if it wasn’t such an obviously boneheaded idea.

• MORE NBA: Does 73 wins matter if Warriors don't win NBA title?

Look, this is LeBron James we’re talking about. The guy who at multiple major junctures of his career has inexplicably sat back and lost his aggression, despite being arguably the most physically gifted basketball player of all time. Yes, much of this came before our current self–aware Dad LeBron-era. But essentially asking for this? Eh…

But hey, Johnson’s a self–assured kid. He’s of the YouTube generation. And what will people probably remember about this series now? LeBron James and Stanley Johnson's 2016 Playoffs Head–to–Head Duel: FULL VIDEO. It’s one way to get in the history books, that’s for sure.

Charlie Villanueva: No fun police

Alright, so pretty much, Charlie Villanueva interrupted Russell Westbrook’s pregame dance routine and created a really annoying ongoing storyline. Here it is below:

1) Does Russell Westbrook take himself way too seriously, even while attempting to be fun and accessible? Even when hitting the dab with his rookie protégé who will one day inherit such a stern on–court countenance? Absolutely.

2) Is Russell Westbrook one of the five most dominant players in the league? Are both of his team’s playoff wins 30-point blowouts over Charlie Villanueva’s team? Does Charlie Villanueva sit on the bench all the time? Are the Thunder going to win this series barring a total collapse? Yeah.

BUT: Did Villanueva testily respond by telling Westbrook to take his dancing hijinks to a nightclub? Yep. And who won Game 2? Ah, right, the Mavericks did. 

The winner is…Charlie Villanueva!

Steven Adams: The natural

It’s quite possible that about one week from now, Steven Adams will be a supremely irritating figure as he peers over that monumental Scottish–Terrier of a mustache to stare down Tim Duncan. They say you can see your own soul reflected back at you in Duncan’s eyes. Adams will soon learn these truths about himself.

But for now, the rugged, quietly stellar Thunder center is pretty much the only lovable thing about his team. He’s from New Zealand, calls people “mate,” refers to Nick Collison as the Yoda to his Luke, makes fun of Zaza Pachulia for having a gigantic head and talks incoherent smack with Dallas’s massive Tunisian backup center, Salah Mejri.

Here he is getting quasi–punched by Ray Felton.

Get to know Steven Adams before some on–court disaster inevitably strikes. Just give him a chance.

Matt Barnes: The grumpy godfather

You kind of have to feel for Matt Barnes right now. For once, he has nothing to be mad about. He’s fought all these battles before and seems to understand the shenanigans really aren’t worth it, not when you’re trailing 2–0 against a cold–blooded, unshakable bear of an team that can trash talk you you in seven different languages and do stuff like this.

• MORE NBA: Playoff schedule: Matchups, TV times, results and more

“We’re coming to a gunfight with spoons,” Barnes said. It’s probably the saddest, realest quote you’ll hear all postseason. This year, he’s a different, more mature kind of villain. He’s not caught up in the moment—for once, he’s alone in the asylum. Well, actually, he’s still definitely in there with Tony Allen and Lance Stephenson and Zach Randolph and Birdman. 

The Suicide Squad Grizzlies may not survive this mission, but we will always remember them.


Steph Curry’s foot

Huh? You didn’t think there was room for an extremely liberal interpretation of “heel?” Lower ankle, whatever, close enough. The MVP’s mysterious injury has the fate of these playoffs in a stranglehold we can only hope is temporary.

Look, the Warriors just lost. It’s still 2–1, and it’s the Rockets, but they still lost, and Steph hasn’t played in two games. Is there more than meets the eye here? Will he come back and drop 40 on Sunday like nothing happened? Are these rhetorical questions less premature than we want them to be?

Enter the real heel running these playoffs. Meet you at Zero Dark Curry.