Column: NHL playoffs best show in sports; NBA a snoozer
If you’re looking for some excitement, forget about the NBA playoffs.
They’ve been a total snooze, filled with blowouts and only a handful of must-see moments.
The lack of drama has been especially striking when compared to the NHL postseason, which has produced one thrill after another.
Games 7s? Check. Overtime goals? Check. Fierce rivalries? Check.
Once again, hockey’s playoffs are proving to be the most compelling show in all of sports, leaving hoops and most everything else in their wake.
Just check out that game late Thursday night, when the Edmonton Oilers won the Battle of Alberta with a 5-4 overtime victory over the Calgary Flames.
The Western Conference semifinal only went to five games, making it a bit of an outlier for these Stanley Cup playoffs, which have featured five of 11 series going the seven-game max — and two of those decided by overtime goals in Game 7.
Still, the Oilers-Flames showdown produced plenty of “Did you see that?!” moments, including a stunning stretch in the decisive contest when the teams combined for four goals — two by each squad — in a 71-second span.
That was the fastest four goals in NHL playoff history, breaking a 46-year-old record.
“It was crazy,” said Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, who is tied with teammate Connor McDavid for the playoff scoring lead at 26 points. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The only regret for hockey fans was this series not lasting a couple of more games.
Calgary’s only win in the series was a hugely entertaining 9-6 shootout in Game 1, when the Flames squandered a four-goal lead but bounced back for the victory.
After that, the Oilers rallied from a two-goal deficit to capture Game 2, and recovered again to take Game 4 with two late goals after the Flames wiped out Edmonton’s 3-0 lead with a trio of scores in less than 2 minutes.
Then came Game 5, which proved to be a most fitting capper.
What a series!
There was another exhilarating finish Friday night, when Darren Helm scored with 5.6 seconds left in regulation to give Colorado a series-ending 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues, sending the Avalanche to the conference final against the Oilers.
Now, let’s venture over to the the opposite end of the emotional scale.
The NBA playoffs.
Roughly an hour before McDavid scored the overtime clincher for the Oilers, the Golden State Warriors locked up their spot in the NBA Finals with a ho-hum win over the Dallas Mavericks that was a microcosm of the entire basketball postseason.
The Warriors raced out to a 17-point halftime lead and went on cruise control the rest of the way. The Mavericks trailed by as many as 25, cut the margin down to eight late in the third period, but couldn’t get over the hump in a 120-110 setback.
In the Eastern Conference, there was finally a bit of back-and-forth as the top-seeded Miami Heat forced a decisive Game 7 by gutting out a 111-103 victory in Boston over the Celtics on Friday night.
No matter who comes out on top Sunday, it feels like we’re all losers. Four of the first five games were decided by double-digit margins, including 20- and 25-point blowouts.
Even Game 3, which wound up a 109-103 win for Miami, wasn’t really that close. The Heat bolted to a 26-point lead in the first half and withstood a furious Boston comeback.
Forty-two of the first 80 games in these NBA playoffs were decided by double digits — with 15 of those at least a 20-point victory and another seven that weren’t even remotely competitive, finishing with margins of at least 30 points.
Stunningly, one of those max blowouts was Game 7 of the West semifinals, when the top-seeded Phoenix Suns — who had the league’s best record during the regular season at 64-18 — were blitzed 123-90 on their home court by the Mavericks.
That came after a series that may have looked somewhat close from afar, given it was among just three of the 14 series to go the full seven games, but that would be a misnomer.
Even before the Game 7 rout, three other games had been decided by at least 20 points. Not once did a game go down to the final possession.
Celtics coach Boston coach Ime Udoka had some thoughts on the NBA”s sorry state of affairs in the postseason.
“A big part of it is the scoring nowadays,” he said. “Teams go on crazy runs. Defense, depending on the team, is more of a luxury at times. It’s not always the premium with every team. A lot of times you have these shootouts, and they can get ugly pretty quickly.”
Indeed, the league has devolved into a rather one-dimensional offensive style, with wins and losses essentially coming down to which team gets hot beyond the 3-point arc.
Another theory that’s been advanced is the lack of additional rest days between games, especially when much of that time can be eaten up by travel.
Whatever the case, this is hardly a new conundrum for the NBA.
Last year’s postseason was slightly more competitive, but the average margin was still 12.5 points (compared to 13.0 this year) and well over half the games (49 of 85) were decided by double-figure margins.
And let’s not forget TNT analyst and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley expressing his disgust with the lack of competitive playoff games a full five years ago.
“Thank God for the NHL playoffs,” he griped back in 2017. “That’s what I would be watching in the back instead of some of these blowouts.”
That still applies today.
Let’s all give thanks for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And the remote control that allows us to flip away from the NBA postseason.
Paul Newberry is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports and more AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.