The world's longest stage
By definition, things matter in the postseason. Reputations are molded by a single game, a series can define a career, and key plays go down in history the minute they're replayed for the first time. This makes sense in the NFL, or the NCAA's, where there are relatively few contests involved—the stakes are higher because you only get one chance to win. In the NBA, though, things are inverted. A veritable second season of basketball expanse matters only because we believe it does, as if to make up for the indignity of the regular season; in one game after another, we get greatness on the same scale as a shorter playoffs, but for twenty-five times the events. The entire basketball universe gets reworked during the playoffs, as nearly everyone lucky enough to make it there gets defined in a whole new light. It may not be fair, but it's what makes the playoffs such essential viewing for NBA fans.
That said, I have to admit that I simply cannot watch all of these games. You have to make choices, far from a perfect science but absolutely necessary for survival. I spent this past weekend melting into the couch, catching at least a half of every game, and five of them in their entirety. When I came up for air, and remembered that I had shit to do, and admitted that "NBA playoffs" is not an excuse to forego any and all interpersonal contact for a month, I decided what serieses mattered to me. Bulls/Wiz. Nuggets/Spurs. Phoenix vs. whoever. I would rather make sure to follow the mini-epic all the way through, rather than selectively catch bits and pieces of all of them (excepting game seven's, of course).
You'll notice the conspicuous absence of the Dallas/Houston tango, the Texas showdown, I-35 slugfest, etc. I liked both teams headed into the playoffs, but T-Mac is so consistently, casually breathtaking that it's boring, and the Mavs are good without Nash but not nearly as watchable. Wandered by a bar last night that was filled half with Rockets fans, half Dallas; judging from the back-and-forth noise, I figured it was tight. Checked ESPN later and saw that Houston won with a last-second shot by T-Mac. Sounds interesting. But odds are there will be other miracle jumpers, maybe even real buzzer-beaters. I can live with missing one, especially in a game where Dallas seems to have been put up points despite a JVG trademark dismantling.
Then I wake up today to find T-Mac suddenly christened an unstoppable winner who has proved himself the equal of Kobe and LeBron. I didn't see the game, but I hear he was his usual sick self on offense, and positively shut down Dirk (anyone remember he used to be a stopper on Toronto? or that it was only a few years ago that he was getting blocks and steals at an alarming clip for a guard?) on defense. I've always believed that McGrady was way, way more than just a "great scorer," a supernatural talent that someone just had to figure out how to make total use of. Good to see that JVG figured it out in one night, and that by sunrise the days of T-Mac: Style King were long past.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I have to buy it. As an article of faith. It's the kind of irrational exuberance that makes playoff-viewing tick, that has to take place if you're really getting not just a whole new season, but a whole new league for a month plus. I may not have seen it with my own eyes, but if you ask me today I'd say T-Mac might well be the best player in the league.