If it were anyone other than the Dallas Mavericks—a team whose past playoff flameouts are legendary—the Western Conference championship series would be over today.
The word “devastating” is the only apt one for Monday night’s developments: Oklahoma City, at home, blew a 15-point lead with 5 minutes left and now find themselves down three games to one, teetering on the brink of losing, again, in the Western Conference Finals. They were poised to knot the series at 2-2, on the verge of overcoming what appears to be a postseason-long hierarchical rift between maybe the best player in the game, Kevin Durant, and the NBA’s fourth-best point guard, Russell Westbrook. It [...]
That headline says it all, really. The teams whose core players are nearing 30, or have passed it, certainly looked aged last weekend. The Lakers lost, as did the Spurs, while the Celtics, Mavericks and Heat escaped by the skin of their teeth in about as exciting a first round of playoffs as I can remember.
Rarely is the end for basketball players both extreme and definitive; instead, often a gradual deterioration takes place. Players will start getting beaten off the dribble or having their shots blocked—signs that don’t immediately show up in the traditional stats line. But a decline in skills becomes more noticeable when the playoffs arrive [...]