Roy Hibbert’s epitaph has been written so many times in these NBA playoffs, despite a minor technicality: Hibbert and the Indiana Pacers are not yet dead.
The same was done for Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers, who lost their first game after the Donald Sterling controversy erupted in April. Even this moron said Doc Rivers looked “finished” after his team lost by 22 points to the Golden State Warriors. Had the road ended there for the Clips, the storyline would have been tidily written.
Sterling ruined a promising Clippers season. The players, unable to overcome the distractions, had wilted. Mark Jackson, leader of men, would still be coaching the Warriors, at this very moment, in the Western Conference semifinals.
Yet it wasn’t so tidy. The Clippers regrouped to beat the Warriors. Hibbert answered critics with 28 points and nine rebounds in Game 2 against the Washington Wizards, and Indiana now leads that series 3-2. Facts keep complicating the reactionary narrative.
All of this is thanks to the seven-game series format of the NBA playoffs, a much-maligned system that allegedly wrings the drama out of the postseason and assures that the best teams are always standing at the end. The latter is indisputable, the former debatable. The best teams invariably survive to the late rounds and the NBA Finals, for sure, but whether that is a bad thing depends on one’s definition of drama.
There is no excuse-making in a seven-game series. There is no whining about balls that didn’t bounce your way — at least, no whining that anybody takes seriously. If the ball didn’t bounce your way in one game, you have six other chances to make your own luck. Officiating evens out over the course of the series. Adjustments get made, or not, and it’s completely reliant upon the coaches and players taking part.
Is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s series with the Clippers any less dramatic because it is a series of battles, rather than one isolated skirmish? Was the first round, which featured five Game 7’s, unexciting because the Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Nets and Pacers had to sweat before they could advance?
Perhaps a one-and-done format would make games more tense, but it would also remove the element many diehards love about their sport: The best team wins. To this day, New England Patriots fans can insist that their team was superior to the New York Giants in 2007 and exasperate over Eli Manning’s dumb luck. It is much harder for anyone to claim that the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers were better than the Detroit Pistons, who dispatched L.A. in five games.
Nobody knows this better than LeBron James. His Heat lost Game 1 in the last two NBA Finals. In single-elimination, we would still be having the ridiculous arguments over James’ lack of a killer instinct or clutch gene. Perceptive observers can point out that James is one huge Ray Allen shot from losing two of the last three finals, but there is no disputing James’ worthiness as a champion. His team won, multiple times, over the opponent. Case closed.
Essentially, it comes down to drama versus truth. If you want to see some fluky Cinderella overachieve for a couple of days, go watch the NCAA tournament. Plenty of people prefer to watch the best at their best, however, which is why TV ratings will be higher for a series including James and Kevin Durant than they would be for Indiana-Memphis.
Hibbert’s downfall could be coming, eventually. He was a no-show again in Game 5, and if Indy gets bounced, the big man will get the bulk of the blame. But Hibbert’s story is still being written, and once it is, we will know it’s real and not contrived.