Anyone who knows me well knows that two of my favorite things in the world are basketball and Hip Hop. And while I enjoy just about any basketball game whether it be a pick-up game, or high school and college match-ups (men and women’s) and I’m a fan of various sub-genres of Rap from all time-periods, I have very specific passions for NBA basketball and Old School Hip Hop. As such, what I’ve done for the following piece is take a lyric from some of my favorite old school jams that says something about the 4 remaining teams representing the East and West in the NBA Conference Finals (Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers in the East and San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder in the West). So without further ado, let’s rap about some NBA Playoffs.
Pacers — “The turntables might wobble, but they don’t fall down!” (RUN DMC, ‘Peter Piper’)
As recapped during our Round 1 Predictions, despite playing great basketball and leading the Eastern Conference for the bulk of the year, the Indiana Pacers backed into the Playoffs with a 12-13 finish and then needed 7 games to close out the 8th seeded Atlanta Hawks (who at 38-44 were the only team in the Playoffs that finished the regular season with a sub .500 record). And while their 2nd round ousting of the 5th seeded Washington Wizards only took 6 games, to call the Pacers inconsistent would be a gross understatement. No player exemplifies Indiana’s inconsistencies more than Roy Hibbert. At times he’s played like the 2-time All Star he is while at others it may as well have been me out there manning the paint for the Pacers (posting 0 points 3 times these Playoffs and less than 8 points another 5 times). Additionally, with rumors of inner turmoil stemming from a late April altercation between guards Lance Stephenson and late-season acquisition Evan Turner swirling, much of the optimism built up from the team’s 42-13 start had waned. Never mind losing Game 5 of their Round 2 match-up vs. Washington by 22 (and being down by as may as 30 at one point) – a close-out game IN INDIANA by the way. The pundits have to wonder, “how strong can a team who gets blown out at home in a close-out game really be?”
And that’s where Run DMC’s line from ‘Peter Piper’ comes in to play. Let’s face it- all things considered, as maddening as the Pacers have been over the last 10 weeks or so, they’re EXACTLY WHERE THEY WANTED TO BE. Last year when the Pacers lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, they strongly felt that had they had home court advantage in that series they would’ve advanced to the Finals instead of the Heat. Lo and behold, 1 year later they’re in the ECFs again versus Miami, WITH HOME COURT (and at the time of this post, a 1-0 series lead). Say what you will about the Pacers, but much like Jam Master Jay’s turntables they have very much wobbled but they have NOT fallen down. If I were a betting man I’d call Miami in 7 (barring a major injury to one of Miami’s key contributors), but I strongly believe that Pacers are the only team in the Eastern Conference with the talent to give the Heat a run for their money. And once again, despite their many mishaps as of late they’re actually 3 wins away from the NBA Finals. Those are some mighty resilient turntables in Indiana.
Side Note: On one of the many posthumous Tupac songs, ‘Catchin’ Feelins’ (off the ‘Better Dayz’ album), he puts his own spin on Run’s line by rapping “My homeboys might squabble but we don’t fall down!” Given that many basketball media types have speculated that the Lance Stephenson vs. Evan Turner beef was the catalyst for Indiana’s fall from grace over the last couple of months, ‘Pac’s version of the lyric is equally if not more fitting for this post. For authenticity’s sake however, I had to go with the RUN DMC lyric.
Miami Heat — “Don’t call it a comeback! I’ve been here for years! Rockin’ my peers and puttin’ suckers in fear!” (LL Cool J, ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’)
Let’s be real here; at this point, the Lebron, Wade, and Bosh led Heat expect to be playing in June. Since coming together in 2011 they’ve made 3 straight Finals appearances (winning in 2012 and 2013). They’re now playing in their 4th straight Eastern Conference Finals with a chance to advance to their 4th straight Finals; something that hasn’t happened since the Bird, Parish, and McHale led Celtics went to 4 straight Finals from 1984-1987 (winning 2 of 4 along the way). Like those mid-80s Celtics, these Heat have done their fair share of rockin’ their peers and puttin’ fear into the hearts of their opponents. This year is no different, and as such we certainly shouldn’t consider this 2014 run a comeback. Nor should we think for one second that the Heat don’t have what it takes to rock the league for another 2 rounds. The Heat may be down a game to the Pacers right now, but their track record speaks for itself and they have the ultimate knockout punch in Lebron James. Look for the Heat to steal Game 7 in Indiana and advance to their 4th straight Finals.
San Antonio Spurs — “And my game plan is keeping at a steady pace. Ain’t no reason to rush, it ain’t no race. I’ma hit the top just when I wanna. And it’s a matter of time and I’m gonna.” (Kool Moe Dee, ‘I Go To Work’)
The Tim Duncan era Spurs have never been about flash, glitz, or glamor. Since Greg Popovich took over coaching duties 18 games into the 1996 season, the Spurs have won nearly 67% of their regular season games (967 wins), 61% of their playoff games (126 wins and counting in 17 post-season appearances), 12 division titles, 5 conference titles, and 4 NBA Championships. Only the Lakers have more Finals appearances (7) and wins (5) in that time period, but unlike any of those Shaq & Kobe and then Kobe & Gasol teams the Spurs have never been very popular beyond their home base of San Antonio. To the casual eye, they’re just not a very fun team to watch. They’ve never really had any high-flier dunking types or over the top personalities. Tim Duncan, quite possibly the greatest power forward of all-time already, simply goes on about his business, scoring when necessary, rebounding, setting screens, manning the paint on defense, and leading the likes of Avery Johnson and Sean Elliot, and later Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli by example. Greg Popovich’s no-nonsense approach has kept this franchise steady throughout the years, failing to win at least 50 games only once since 1997, and that was in the strike-shortened 50 game 1998-1999 season when they went 37-13 en route to their first Championship. Mind you, even in the strike-shortened 66 game season of 2011-2012 they finished 50-16.
So with all that in mind, Kool Moe Dee’s bars about pacing oneself and hitting the top on one’s own whim resonate loudly as a critical character trait of these Spurs. They never seem flustered and rarely exhibit any confusion or rushing of plays on the court. Popovich is known for resting his aging stars considerably during the regular season, potentially sacrificing wins at times for the greater goal of keeping his best players fresh for the playoffs. And more times that not, it works. They do their way, at their pace, when they “wanna.” And when it comes to winning, it’s only a matter of time before they’re “gonna.” Look for Spurs to face the Heat in a rematch of last year’s Finals.
Oklahoma City Thunder — “Turning nothing into something is God’s work. And you’ll get nothing without struggle and hard work.” (Nas, ‘Doo Rags’)
We conclude with the OKC Thunder, a small market team that won just 23 games in its first season as the Thunder back in 2008-2009 (the franchise was previously the Seattle Supersonics). Somehow, with the development of Kevin Durant into the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player and Russell Westbrook into a 3-time All Star, the Thunder have become the class of the Northwest Division, finishing 1st in that division over the past 4 years. While admittedly, it’s a bit of a stretch to call OKC’s rapid ascension ‘God’s work’, there is indeed something magical about a team from Oklahoma City (does that city even have any other pro teams???) amongst the NBA’s elite, spots usually reserved for historically dominant franchises like the Lakers, Celtics, and Bulls. But what really strikes me about Nas’ lyric from Doo Rags as it pertains to OKC is the second line, “you’ll get nothing without struggle and hard work.”
After losing to the Heat in the 2012 Finals with a core of Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden, Thunder management, having decided that they would not be able to afford him long-term, opted to trade Harden in a pre-emptive cost-saving move. Many thought that losing a player of Harden’s caliber would spell doom for OKC’s title aspirations, but there they were right in the thick of the NBA’s elite last year until Westbrook went down for the Playoffs with an injury (resulting in OKC being ousted by the Memphis Grizzlies, who went on to lose to the Spurs in the Conference Finals). And that brings us to their Western Conference Finals match-up versus the Spurs, which they’ll have to somehow find a way to win without the services of big-man Serge Ibaka (averaging a solid 12 points and 7 rebounds in these playoffs) who suffered a calf injury in the close-out game against the Clippers and is out for the rest of the post-season. It seems like Durant and co. can’t catch a break.
But as Nas points out, it’s only after we struggle and work hard that we achieve anything meaningful. So maybe this is the year that the Thunder, amidst the adversity of losing a critical starter in their rotation, finds a way to overcome said adversity and breaks through for its first Larry O’Brien trophy. What a wonderful story that would be. Unfortunately, I think the Spurs are locked in and still motivated by last year’s crushing defeat at the hands of the Heat in the Finals, and as such will use that motivation to send OKC home in 6 on their way to a rematch.
That concludes our column, but we’ll be back with more as the Conference Finals progress and the NBA Finals approach. Until then, keep bumping those old school tracks and enjoy the playoffs.