Expect the Unexpected Come NBA Playoffs

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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 10: Reflected in the NBA Championship Trophy, President Obama and Vice President Biden welcome the 2016 NBA champions Cleveland Cavaliers to The White House on November 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/WireImage)
As the NBA regular season winds down, the Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled. Before picking up wins against the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, and Orlando Magic, the Cavs lost 11 of their previous 18 games. Despite that, you’d still be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think that Cleveland will make the NBA Finals. Or at the very least, someone who thinks that the Cavs aren’t still the clear-cut favorite to make it out of the Eastern Conference.
The consensus is overwhelming, as it’s been all season: the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are primed to meet for a third consecutive NBA Finals match-up. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the past year in the sports world, it’s that nothing is as inevitable as it may seem.

Expect the Unexpected Come NBA Playoffs

It all began a year ago yesterday. On April 4, 2016, Villanova  —  a team notorious for choking, having had lost in the second or third round of the tournament in five of the six years prior  —  shocked the world and beat the North Carolina Tar Heels, a historical powerhouse. Not only that, but ‘Nova pulled out the victory by making one of the most incredible shots in the history of college basketball. To top it all off, Kris Jenkins’ game winner came only after Marcus Paige tied the game with a miraculous three-pointer that seemingly should’ve thrown the Wildcats into disarray.

But the NCAA Tournament is supposed to be surprising. It’s not called March Madness for nothing. Everything that’s happened in sports since then, though, has been just as unbelievable.

In April, the Warriors broke the NBA wins record, finishing 73–9 in the regular season. Stephen Curry passed the 400 mark in terms of made three-pointers, surpassing the previous record (also held by Curry) by more than 100 threes, on the same night that Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in the final game of his career  — another unprecedented event. Curry became the first ever unanimous NBA MVP just a few days later.

You know the rest. Two months later, LeBron James led the Cavs back from down 3–1 in the Finals, the first such comeback. Cleveland won its first title in any major North American sport since 1964. And while the meme parade commenced, baseball season began.

The trend of wackiness struck the MLB. The Cleveland Indians made a huge mid-season push, taking the American League by storm and winning their division. They advanced to their first World Series in nearly two decades, and the Tribe was on the brink of winning Cleveland’s second major sports championship within a few months, after a 52-year drought.

But fate intervened. After a 71-year wait, the Chicago Cubs made it back to the World Series. And finally, after 108 years, the Cubs won it all, making history in the sweetest way possible. Of course, they pulled off a 3–1 comeback of their own. Given the never-ending jokes made over the summer, Cleveland might have had that one coming.

The stunning sports results didn’t end in 2016. Just over a month into the new year, the New England Patriots made Super Bowl LI one to remember. Trailing 28–3 early in the third quarter, the Patriots did what perhaps only they can do, pulling off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in order to beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime. Maybe that one shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given New England’s four previous championships in the Brady-Belichick era, but the comeback was breathtaking nonetheless.

Finally, the 2017 edition of March Madness arrived. While the men’s bracket had its fair share of upsets, two number one seeds made it to tonight’s National Championship game. (Sure, few expected Gonzaga to live up to its seeding, but there wasn’t a single match-up in which the Bulldogs weren’t favored, besides the National Championship game, which they lost.) The women’s bracket was where the real bombshell dropped this year.

On Friday, Mississippi State beat the UConn women’s team in the Final Four to snap the Huskies’ 111-game winning streak. One hundred and eleven games. The streak spanned three seasons. Connecticut hadn’t lost since November 2014, when Markelle Fultz was just a high school junior and the “man bun” hadn’t even gotten popular yet (before it could become unpopular again).

So, here we are. Russell Westbrook is about to average a triple-double over the course of an entire season (knock on wood), something that only Oscar Robertson has ever done, and hasn’t happened in the last 55 years. Last night, Westbrook already tied Robertson’s record for triple-doubles in a season with 41. Say what you want about how he does it, or whether it makes a difference in the MVP race, but if you say you could’ve seen this coming, you’re lying.

And yet, most people are still ready to dismiss “the field” come playoff time. The consensus has been Cavs-Warriors the whole time, and it’s still Cavs-Warriors. Experts have said it, and so have the simulation-based SportsLine projections, among others.

Look: I’m not saying that round three of Cleveland vs. Golden State won’t happen. It’s probably the most likely scenario. But it’s far from a certainty. If there’s anything the past 12 months in sports have taught us, it’s to never rule anything out.

Crazy things happen. Kevin Durant signs with the Warriors, Dwyane Wade leaves Miami, and Devin Booker scores 70 points in a game. A Finals that includes a team other than the Cavs or Warriors — well, that should hardly be considered Earth-shattering anymore.

We already knew that anything is possible. Now, it’s no longer hyperbole.

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1 COMMENT

  1. “Lior Kozai might just make an unexpected diving catch in ultimate frisbee this summer.”
    Anything is possible.
    Great article buddy!

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