Despite the absence of LeBron James, the 2019 playoffs have not disappointed. The last time James missed the playoffs the year was 2005 and Steve Nash won his first MVP. The San Antonio Spurs won their third championship, and Tim Duncan was named Finals MVP. Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Allen Iverson were still in their primes. The 2005 draft would produce Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Lou Williams, and the number one pick was Andrew Bogut. Needless to say, a lot has changed.
This year's playoffs have produced a plethora of clutch moments, plays, and headlines. Damion Lillard’s sidestep three-pointer from 30 plus feet on Paul George to send the Thunder home and advance the Trailblazers to the second round. Kevin Durant’s offensive onslaught in the first round of the Clippers was one of the best scoring performances we have ever seen.
The reemergence of Kawhi Leonard as the best two-way player in the game has drawn comparisons to the great Michal Jordan. Nikola Jokic is basically averaging a triple-double and has the Nuggets one game from the western conference finals. Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden have had teams scratching their heads all season on how to stop them. The playoffs have been no different sparking discussions and debates on what’s a foul and what is not a foul while trying to defend these two superstars.
Round two of the Rockets vs Warriors has met all expectations and has not disappointed. Durant and Harden are having one of the best duels in recent history. They a both putting up astronomical numbers KD is averaging 36 points, 5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. On 46% shooting from the field and 48% from three, while playing a whopping 45 minutes per game. Harden has been equally impressive and up to the task averaging 35.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. He’s shooting 41% from the field and 34% from 3.
The majority of his makes have been the step back variety. This go to move by Harden has been unguardable and demoralizing to the Warriors defenders, and has been the centerpiece of “landing gate”. The story dominated the headlines after game one and drew much debate. The debate was over where a defender can land on closeout in relationship to the jump shooter and not be called for a foul. The Rockets provide video evidence to the league office showing how frequent Harden was fouled while attempting a three in game one. With the series tied at 2-2 games, apiece the stage has been set for an incredible ending to one of the best playoff series in league history.
With LeBron aging and coming out of his prime three players have taken center stage in the debate of who is the best player in the league. Kawhi, KD, and Giannis have used the stage of the playoffs to stake their claim to being the best player in the league. Giannis is averaging 28.4 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 4 assists on 51% shooting from the field. His brilliant, aggressive play has the Bucks on the precipice of make their first eastern conference finals since the Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and Glen Robinson days. He has followed up an MVP type regular season with a high level of play fueled with determination and grit in the playoffs.
Kawhi Leonard’s elevated play as stated earlier has drawn comparisons to the great Michael Jordan. Leonard is averaging 31.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on 57% from the field and 46% from three my goodness! During the game last night the announcer stated that he is currently shooting 75% at the rim, 63% in the mid-range, and 46% from three. These type numbers along with his great defensive play show why he has been getting compared to “His Airness”. Leonard looks healthy and more explosive after missing last season due to an injured quad muscle. With his health concerns now behind him, when this playoffs are over you would not be wrong in saying he is now the best player in the league.
That brings us to Mr. Durant who many have argued has taken the title as best in the league from James two years ago. Some feel until he leaves a loaded Warriors team he can not be seen as the best in the league. With the playoffs, Durant is having whichever aisle of the argument you fall on you can no longer deny the fact that KD is the best player in the world. Kevin Durant is averaging 35.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists on 51% shooting from the field and 42% from three.
In the last four games of the Clippers series, he averaged 38.7 points and put up 50 points in the closeout win. In the Rockets series with Steph Curry struggling and Klay Thompson unable to get on track KD has had to shoulder the offensive burden. Durant has become a great distributor and playmaker for the Warriors so much so that, Steve Kerr has made him the primary ball handler in the fourth quarter of games. Whether Durant wins his third straight title and finals MVP, or the Rockets eliminate the Warriors KD has solidified himself as the best player in the NBA.
LeBron James has spoiled all of us with an impressive all-time great career. He made eight straight finals winning 3 championships and three finals MVPs. He has four league MVP’s to his name and has been named to the All-NBA team a total of 14 times and 12 to the first team. At some point, Father Time catches up with you, and someone has to take your place. The game continues to go on, and all you can ask of yourself is did you elevate the game? Did you give it your best? Did I leave the game in good hands? The answers to all three questions is a resounding yes. The league has the most talent it has ever had, and this playoffs have demonstrated just that. Even though we all want to see King James compete in the playoffs, the 2019 playoffs have still given us a feeling of enjoyment despite the King’s absence.