NBA Playoffs Superlatives: The Best (And Worst) Of The First Round

With the NBA playoffs humming along, it is time for The Crossover to consider first-round superlatives, naming the best quote, worst complaint and more.
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The Crossover audits the first round of the NBA playoffs, considering the biggest surprise, best quote, worst complaint and more. There was tough competition for these titles, with names like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Draymond Green and David Fizdale coming out on top. 

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Biggest Surprise

I’d just sat down for some relaxing Saturday playoff back-to-back-to-back-to-back viewing on a rather comfortable couch, and had nestled in for Bucks-Raptors Game 4. It was a beautiful afternoon, well-suited for a second quarter nap, and Giannis had just caught the ball at halfcourt and sauntered toward the rim for a casual transition finger roll, so casual that it barely mattered that it took him two steps to get there, until all of a sudden...

It was no finger roll.

Yeah, this is the world we live in now.

— Jeremy Woo

Biggest Disappointment

It’s frustrating, but at this stage it's rational to think that Blake Griffin has fallen into the Amare’ Stoudemire vein of high-flying big men with injury-shortened peaks. It’s doubly crappy when you consider the timing. Lob City as it once was died years ago, but Griffin’s bum toe serving as the potential denouement to an extended, weird-yet-enjoyable run of Clippers relevance kind of hurts. Chris Paul will do all he can to survive the first round, Doc Rivers will try to keep the team together this summer, but there’s a dwindling sliver of possibility that Griffin, CP3 and DeAndre get to try the Warriors one more time. It’s also sad that we’re all pretty sure how that would have gone. If this winds up being the final ride for this team, it’s quite a shame.

— J.W.

Biggest Meltdown

The Pacers seemed a lock for a win after scoring 74 points in a dominant first half in Game 3. Cleveland faced a 25-point halftime deficit on the road. No team had ever overcome such a differential entering the second half of a playoff game. Somehow, Indiana still managed to give it all away, sputtering to a historically embarrassing defeat.

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After the break, LeBron James had his way with an Indiana defense that looked lost all series long, and the Pacers retreated into their shells. James and the Cavaliers bullied their way to the bucket. Paul George lost his touch after scoring 21 second-quarter points, and the lead slipped to just six late in the third quarter. The Cavaliers finished the job in the fourth quarter, sending Pacers fans home early from a game their team once controlled. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love didn’t even see the floor for Cleveland in the fourth, as James virtually took down the Pacers himself, finishing with 41 points in the 119–114 Cavaliers win.

— Tim Balk

Best Highlight

Anyone who has ever been on the wrong end of a 2-on-1 defensive drill likely perked up a bit when Draymond Green pulled off this pristine defensive effort against the Trail Blazers. Klay Thompson's head-scratching turnover at halfcourt left the Warriors' defensive ace spread out in between two offensive players, with Damian Lillard dribbling on the wing and Noah Vonleh streaking toward the basket.

Green somehow slowed Lillard's drive enough to force the pass and still found time to contest Vonleh's dunk attempt. The Blazers' spry, 6'9" forward probably thought he had a potential poster, but Green was determined to get a stop, and that's what he did. Just as Vonleh tried to throw down the hammer, Green caught the ball and sparked a Warriors fastbreak. What's more, Draymond did his patented snarl and yell to make the play that much better.

— DeAntae Prince


Best Quote

The NBA playoffs are where legends are born, and David Fizdale’s legend was born the moment he sat down for his press conference after a Game 2 loss to the Spurs and was handed that night’s box score. Fizdale’s ensuing rant was the best theater I’ve seen all year. “Take that for data!” has become a rallying cry of sorts for the Grizzlies, but “They’re not going to rook us!” is actually the best quote of the playoffs.

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​“They’re not going to rook us!” is the kind of expression that can birth a social movement. “You’re not going to rook me!” is the kind of expression I want to yell when I finally rage quit my job. (Also, when was the last time someone made you think about chess?) The best part about Fizdale’s rant is that it (at least seemingly) galvanized his team, who won the next two games in what’s turned out to be a very entertaining series. 

— Rohan Nadkarni

Best Stat Line

With apologies to those continuing the yearlong triple-double parade, the coolest stat line of the playoffs came from an unexpected source. The award goes to Nene, who made 12 field goals on 12 attempts in 25 minutes during the Rockets’ critical Game 4 win. He tied an NBA playoff record for the most makes without a miss, punctuated by an and-one on his final basket with 11.6 seconds to go.

The Rockets’ 15th-year big man simply caught fire and hit shots from all over the court. Just kidding. According data, 10 of his buckets were dunks or layups, and no shots came from more than five feet away from the basket.

Having a perfect night on the floor with at least a dozen attempts is a rarity, not just in the playoffs but any time. The league has only seen 11 instances in the last 30 years. You might expect that list to be dotted with stars instead of guys like Nene, right? Wrong! Incredibly, Nene posted the same 12-for-12 stat line in a 2009 Nuggets victory over the Jazz

Over that 30-year stretch, only two players have authored multiple perfect dozens: Nene and Karl Malone.

Remember Christian Laettner’s famous 10-for-10 in the ‘92 regional final against Duke? Well Nene did him two better. OK, so maybe Laettner also went 10-for-10 from the line and threw in an immortal buzzer-beater. But Nene can take comfort in this fake award, and that his team vanquished Russell Westbrook to help it hold up the rest of the way.

— Mitch Goldich


Best J.R. Smith Moment

In the unpredictable world of the NBA, one thing is absolutely certain: We will never have another J.R. Smith. And in Game 4, Cleveland’s enigmatic shooting guard gave us another moment for the books that only he could produce. With the Cavaliers up 105–102 with seconds left, it was just J.R. Smith, a basketball and acres of open hardwood, an admittedly dangerous combo. Just dribble it out, J.R.! Get fouled, make your free throws, go home happy! LOGIC!

But J.R. Smith is not one for logic.

HE THREW A BEHIND-THE-BACK PASS. We needed a peak J.R. playoff moment, and he pulled through. Unbelievable. Smith was saved, though, when Paul George bricked a three and LeBron James put the series to rest at the free throw line.

Maybe next time he’ll dribble it out or just hold onto the ball. But then again, that wouldn’t be very J.R. Smith-esque, now would it?

J.R. Smith forever and always.

— Zach Pereles

Best Rivalry

It all started when Markieff Morris anointed Paul Millsap a “stretch four” rather than a “power forward.” And ever since then, there’s been no love lost Wizards and the Hawks, the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the East, respectively.

The Morris-Millsap beef has extended throughout the series. In Game 1, Millsap accused the Wizards of playing “MMA.” Morris, who has never been one to back down from anyone, told the Hawks to expect “double MMA” in Game 2. I don’t know what double MMA is, but it worked, as the Wizards held serve at home.

But the Hawks dominated Game 3, and Morris, who has struggled mightily since his 21-point Game 1, dug himself in a deeper hole, calling Millsap a crybaby. Millsap told Morris he should “take his loss and go back to the hotel room.”

Millsap once again dominated in Game 4 and has averaged 25 points per game since Game 1.

While Morris and Millsap take most of the spotlight, John Wall and Dennis Schroder aren’t exactly best friends either, and they haven’t been for a while. Wall had some not-so-nice (and NSFW) words for the opposing point guard after putting him on a poster in Game 2.

He also posterized Kent Bazemore.

Meanwhile, you also have Marcin Gortat yamming all over Millsap and getting T’d up and Wall feuding with a reporter. And we’re only through four games! The pettiness is at an all-time high.

— Z.P.

Most Entertaining Series

When we all took a glimpse at the NBA playoff bracket, there appeared to be a couple cakewalks on the schedule. The Warriors and Cavaliers were expected to roll against anyone, and both teams predictably raced out to first-round sweeps. Another was Spurs-Grizzlies, with most assuming San Antonio would handle Memphis.

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It's almost like we forgot Memphis has one the NBA's longstanding frontcourts and a quietly brilliant guard in Mike Conley. A team that has been criminally underrated was picked to lose yet again, and they put up a fight yet again. Memphis emerged from a 2–0 deficit to even the series, withstanding Kawhi Leonard's 43-point effort in Game 4 and holding down their homecourt. And while San Antonio regained control, it's still surprising that we're here, with the Spurs being pushed to six games and possibly beyond. 

— D.P.

Strangest Moment

Scientist have found a significant number of nervous circuits in the brain are simultaneously responsible for creating both the feeling of love and hate. It's why people sometimes find pets and babies so adorable they “could just eat them up.” And it might be why a Portland Trail Blazers fan would date a Golden State Warriors fan. Damian Lillard has admitted he's now obsessed with beating the Warriors, after all.

Even so, what kind of mental process precedes agreeing to both paint your faces before reaching your lower level seats to a nationally-televised playoff game? Naturally, one team will inevitably lose. And even if you're not swiftly created into a meme, one of you is going to spend a bumper-to-bumper traffic ride home, dejected and dressed like Ronald McDonald’s disappointing younger sibling while your partner is whooping and hollering. You can also factor in the cost, the time allotted for painting and the ramifications for the skin that follows coating it in artificial gunk. (Maybe some are blessed with more forgiving pores than most). But regardless, this was the strangest occurrence of the NBA postseason to date and I don't see anything topping it.​

— Jake Fischer

Worst Complaint

After the Rondo-less Bulls fell to Boston in Game 4 to tie the series at two games apiece, Chicago head coach Fred Hoiberg took the podium and addressed the media. But instead of speaking to his team’s struggles at point guard or its inability to slow down Gerald Green, Hoiberg chose to call out Isaiah Thomas for what he perceived to be a string of double dribbles. 

“When you're allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, [Thomas] is impossible to guard,” Hoiberg said. “He's impossible to guard when you're able to put your hand underneath the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down.”

The second-year head coach may have a point, but Chicago has far greater problems at this point in the series. And Hoiberg’s comments weren’t exactly akin to David Fizdale’s epic rant following Game 2 of the Grizzlies matchup against the Spurs. Bulls star Jimmy Butler even refused to back-up his coach’s postgame comments, telling the media, “I don’t pay attention if [Thomas] be carrying the ball or not.” 

Criticism of officials is standard fare in the NBA playoffs, but while Fizdale’s comments provided a rallying cry for his team and its fans, Hoiberg’s came off as little more than a whimper. Looks like he just got rooked. 

— Michael Shapiro