Happy Monday. It’s a new week, and the playoffs are starting to heat up. The Bucks picked up a big win yesterday to tie things up at 2-2 with the Nets, who just lost Kyrie Irving. It’s been confirmed that both Irving and James Harden will miss Game 5. Then the Suns swept the Nuggets to book a spot in the conference finals. Tonight, the Hawks and Clippers have home games as they try to even things up with the Sixers and Jazz, respectively. To start, let’s get to three thoughts that I have on the league today.
1. Jokic’s Ejection
Here’s the play in question –
Let’s get a few things out of the way:
- This is clearly unnecessarily aggressive, and a Flagrant 1 would have been very appropriate
- Throwing someone out for a flailing steal attempt – no matter where the flail ends up – is absurd
- Throwing out your MVP for this is borderline indefensible
Now, the Suns were already up 3-0 and well on their way to a fourth win. The ejection did not influence the outcome of the series, and it probably didn’t even influence the outcome of the game. It’s very possible Jokic would have played on in a 2-1 series, and the circumstances of the moment do make it somewhat difficult to really rip into the decision.
With that said, it’s part of a larger trend in basketball right now. We’re just calling too many fouls. We’ve got shooters flailing around for contact, and then we have guys who aren’t even shooters moving their elbows around in hopes of some contact and a whistle. We have solid hard fouls being called flagrants. We have Jokic getting the full toss for something like this. I’m sympathetic to the difficulties of officiating, and I won’t pin this on them. The issue goes deeper to the approach the league is taking. At some point, you just have to let the boys play.
2. Those Phoenix Suns
The Suns of the late 2000s were consistently competitive, making the conference finals three times in six years from 2005-2010. Then the entire franchise hit a roadblock as the core of those teams disbanded, and Phoenix didn’t make a postseason appearance – and very rarely came anywhere close – for an entire decade through last season. Now they’ve won the first of four conference finals spots after a dominant sweep of the Nuggets. It’s true that Denver, without Jamal Murray, was the clear underdog from the jump. Don’t let that diminish the accomplishments of the Suns. It’s not easy to sweep anyone in the second round, and they made it look just that.
Chris Paul is the fearless leader, playing beyond his age in a feat just as impressive as LeBron’s. Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton are the young studs, and both have stepped up in a big way in their first postseason. Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, and Cameron Payne headline a tough and energetic supporting cast that has just gotten the job done over the last few weeks. Now the key question – can they do what Nash’s teams never did and reach the Finals for the first time since Charles Barkley led the way back in 1993?
3. Luka “Drama”
Earlier today, The Athletic dropped some breaking news. The Mavs were worried about the relationship between star Luka Doncic and front office members, including the important Haralabos Volgaris. The relationship rifts might end up causing Doncic to leave. Oh no! Here’s the problem – just about everything we know points to a different conclusion. Doncic all but signed an extension with his comments last week after Dallas’s playoff elimination. There is no other evidence of any bad blood either, and Doncic and the Mavs have always seemed to be in a great place with each other. Mark Cuban even took to Twitter to dismiss the report in no uncertain terms.
So why are we hearing about this? The NBA just can’t get out of its own way. In Doncic and Dallas, we have a beautiful pairing that has, despite the two first round exits, been nothing but great for both sides. Sure, the Mavs have some work to do, especially surrounding Kristaps Porzingis, but so does Luka. He’s been in the league three years. These things take time. And that is something the NBA and it’s media seem unable to allow. Every star that isn’t winning it all must be hopelessly disgruntled. Who could imagine a world in which they weren’t? We’ve been through this with other, with Giannis standing out as the prime example. Let’s not make it an every time occurrence. Stars can be happy in one place, and it’s okay to to not pretend otherwise for clicks.
I think the Clips have figured some things out defensively after two games, much like they did in the Mavs series. Down in Atlanta, I see no reason to pick against Philly.