“Why watch the NBA playoffs this year when we all know it’s going to be another Warriors-Cavaliers series?”
It is a sentiment that has been expressed throughout this past NBA season. Ever since that fateful day, July 4, 2016, when Kevin Durant announced his plans to do the unthinkable: join the team that knocked his Oklahoma City Thunder out of the playoffs and a chance for his first NBA championship, the growing super villain of the NBA, the Golden State Warriors, it has been building up. As fans discovered that the idea of team parity was a noble ideal rather than one that could be implemented, the reaction a large company fears most from its consumers became rampant among casual NBA fans: apathy.
While the NBA is never going to lose diehard fans that love basketball, losing some casual fans that only tune in to compelling and competitive games is a possibility. NBA regular season ratings decreased by 6%1 this season compared to last season. While this is not alarming, it is still part of a larger trend.
That brings us to the current day. The prediction by many of a Cavs-Warriors finals is looking very likely ahead of tonight’s game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Warriors are 12-0 and are returning to their 3rd straight finals. Fans and television personalities alike have criticized the NBA for one of the most boring playoffs in recent memory, and as of a few nights ago, an unprecedented matchup of two 12-0 undefeated teams squaring off in the finals looked like reality.
But that of course did not happen. The Isaiah Thomas-less Boston Celtics beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on the Cavs home court in Game 3 in one of the most shocking victories by a #1 seed in recent memory. Fans have now become interested in the Eastern Conference Finals, thinking that maybe one of the greatest series upsets in NBA history can occur
The Boston Celtics have given NBA fans something they have not had since the Kevin Durant led Thunder went up 3-1 on the Warriors in the WCF last year: Hope
Hope in the unpredictability of sports. Hope in a reality where a movie script finals of a 3rd straight matchup between the same teams doesn’t happen. Hope that a team can reach the finals without the game’s best player on one side and four of the game’s top 20 players on the other.
Now I do not believe that the Cleveland Cavaliers and the greatest basketball player on the planet LeBron James will lose a 2-0 lead to the Celtics and fail to reach the finals, nor am I implying that will help save the NBA on its own, however, what will help the NBA is the appearance of competition, the appearance of a compelling Eastern Conference Finals series, the appearance of David having the chance to beat Goliath.
We thought we had that in game one of the Western Conference Finals, and we did until Zaza Pachulia stepped on Kawhi Leonard’s ankle. Now we have another chance. If the Celtics can win tonight, make the series 2 games to 2, The NBA will once again have the façade of unpredictability. And once again the whole world will be watching.