As if 2020 didn’t need anything weirder, this summer we were introduced to “bubble basketball.”
The NBA returned to TV July 31, only inviting the top teams from each conference that were eligible or already in the playoffs. The first few weeks featured each team playing eight seeding games to determine the seedings. Seedings are the rankings within each conference. After the seeds were determined, the playoffs began and we are now at the conference finals of the playoff with four teams left and only one round to go until the Finals.
This year’s playoffs were nothing less than expected in 2020; upsets and shocks within the first two rounds shook up the NBA. To start, the Oklahoma City Thunder, who many thought would tank this season, became the fifth seed to end the season. They took the Houston Rockets, the fourth seed, to seven games when many thought it should have been over in five. If that wasn’t enough to shock the league, the Denver Nuggets overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Utah Jazz. This comes from the epic dual between Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and Nuggets star Jamal Murray. The series showcased both stars scoring 50 points each, two games each, and showed Murray lead his team to a comeback. Only for him to again lead yet another 3-1 comeback, something that’s never been done before, against the championship favorites Los Angeles Clippers. Murray wasn’t alone as his team stepped up, including Nikola Jokic, who finished game seven of the Clippers series with a triple-double.
The first two rounds of the eastern conference weren’t as similar as there were three sweeps in the first round with the only other series being pushed to five games with the Milwaukee Bucks losing game one to the Orlando Magic, but then went on to complete a gentleman’s sweep and beat the Magic the next four games. The second round posed more interest as the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics reached game seven with the Celtics outlasting the Raptors after blowing a potential 3-0 lead due to a last-second buzzer beater by OG Anunoby in game three. We also see the shocking five seed Miami Heat defeat the Bucks in the second round in five games, leading to a Celtics/Heat Eastern Conference Finals.
The conference finals for both the East and West are set with the Celtics taking on the Heat in the East and the Lakers facing the Nuggets in the West. This wasn’t expected as most had the Bucks and Clippers making their respected conferences. This is why many players are blaming the bubble for the shift in tempo within the game. The gyms these games are being played in are looked at as a “shooters paradise.” There are no fans at these games, just fan-simulated noises to give teams a bit of a feel for the crowd. Otherwise, it’s just strictly basketball being played, no home-field advantages, heckling fans and even an extra rest day for travel. Players are playing games every other day, and the fatigue is clearly shown in play during the games. The bubble, put together by commissioner Adam Silver, was designed this way to restart the season that was abruptly ended due to Covid-19. Many players didn’t like the idea and didn’t even want to play with everything going on currently in today’s world with police shootings and social injustice.
Overall, bubble basketball has shown the true talents of these teams. Many expected a similar outcome to other years where the winners are in clear distance. This year we prepare to crown a new champion with all but one team, the Lakers, being the only title favorites prior to the season beginning.