It’s a first round to savor in the NBA and NHL
Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, center, celebrates his winning shot against the Houston Rockets during the last .9 of a second of game six of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series game in Portland, Ore., Friday May 2, 2014. The Trail Blazers won the series in a 99-98 win. (AP Photo/Greg Wahl-Stephens)
Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, top, celebrates a 5-1 win over the San Jose Sharks with teammate Alec Martinez (27) during Game 7 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series on Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Toronto Raptors forward Patrick Patterson (54) and Raptors forward Amir Johnson (15) defend Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce (34) as pierce goes up for a layup in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series at the Barclays Center, Sunday, April 27, 2014, in New York. The Raptors evened the series at 2-2 defeating the Nets 87-79. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
MIAMI – There have never been more than five Game 7s in the entirety of an NBA postseason.
There are five this weekend alone.
Just think, this is supposed to be merely the appetizer course to the annual hockey and basketball postseason feast.
Several more weeks will pass before anyone hoists the Stanley Cup or the Larry O’Brien Trophy. And if the start of these hockey and basketball playoffs were any indication – a record five Game 7s in the opening NBA round, plus three more do-or-die games so far in the NHL, not to mention flairs for the dramatic at just about every turn – what awaits could be epic.
“Does anybody even know what happened in the regular season, with how good the playoffs have been?” asked Miami Heat star LeBron James. “I don’t even know what happened in the regular season. That’s how great of a postseason it’s been.”
It’s just getting started, too.
Yesterday marked the first time in NBA history that there were three Game 7s on the same day. Today will be the 10th day the league has seen multiple Game 7s.
“This is what the NBA’s all about, these pressure-type moments,” said Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce, whose Nets play at Toronto today. “These are the type of games that elevate the good players to great players, and we have so many of them coming up this weekend. It’s an exciting time and we’re going to enjoy it.”
With good reason, too.
Television ratings are up, social media mentions are coming at rates like never before, and ticket resellers are commanding extremely high rates in most markets.
And maybe the best testament to the quality of these playoffs so far is this: There’s two very significant and ongoing stories revolving around racism – one being the banning of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling over comments he made, the other epithets being directed toward P.K. Subban, a black defenseman for the Montreal Canadiens. But even those matters have not been able to completely overshadow the product on the hardwood and ice.
“This league is far bigger than any one owner, any one coach, any one player,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said, while announcing Sterling’s lifetime ban. “This institution has been around for a long time, and it will stand for a long time.”
Out of the first 45 games in this NBA postseason entering yesterday, 30 of them were essentially still undecided entering the final minute of play. There have also been nine games decided by two points or less, including Damian Lillard’s series-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Portland a 99-98 victory over Houston on Friday night.
The Heat rolled to a four-game sweep of Charlotte. Washington needed just five games to oust Chicago. Portland took care of Houston in six games. Everyone else – including top-seeded Indiana and San Antonio – was forced to go the distance in the opening round.
“One through eight,” Portland’s Wesley Matthews said, asked about the magic seen so far in these NBA playoffs, “you never know what’s going to happen.”
Over the first 48 games in the NHL opening round, teams came from behind to win a staggering 28 times. There were a first-round record 10 comebacks from two-goal deficits or more, along with 14 overtime contests.
Plus, there was a true rarity: The Los Angeles Kings lost the first three games of their series with San Jose, then won the next four to advance, becoming just the fourth NHL club to pull off that feat.
“History is not for us,” the Kings’ Justin Williams said. “We look at it as we won four games in a row.”
Remote controls around America are likely wearing down after the last couple weeks, replete with late nights in both the hoops and pucks world. The numbers are clear – people are watching in bunches.
The playoff viewership average of NBA playoff games on TNT is nearly 4 million total viewers, up 16 percent from the comparable period a year ago. Since the playoffs started, TNT has won the nightly ratings battle among total viewers six times, along with 10 times each across the advertiser-coveted men age 18-34 and 18-49 demographics.
And in the NHL, while the numbers didn’t come close to what the NBA was drawing, there was also marked growth, with NBC Sports Group saying first-round viewership was up 57 percent over a year ago.
“This is the best time of year,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said.
Maybe sadly, the first rounds for 2014 will end sometime today, pulling the curtain on perhaps the best opening couple weeks of a winter-sports postseason ever.
Then again, maybe the best really is yet to come. Hockey’s second round is already under way – and it started with a pair of overtime thrillers.