The Cleveland Cavaliers were trailing Indiana by 25 points at halftime on Thursday, and then surged behind LeBron James for a 119-114 victory. LeBron’s 41-point effort was being celebrated on “SportsCenter” late into the night and well into Friday as another addition to his Top 2 all-time career.
Grand though it was as a performance, I would have found it even more important to LeBron’s legacy if the comeback actually had made a difference in the eventual outcome of the first-round series.
The Cavaliers already were leading 2-0 and, win or lose Thursday, they were going to advance and everyone knew it — including NBA fans in Indianapolis.
There is a rare major upset taking place in this opening round of the NBA playoffs, with Chicago winning the first two games at Boston. There are extenuating circumstances, what with the Celtics rattled by the death of star Isaiah Thomas’ sister, and the fact the No. 1 seed was handed to Boston because the Cavaliers didn’t really give a hoot.
Bottom line: When the NBA playoffs started last weekend, chances were 80 percent that Golden State and Cleveland were headed for a third consecutive match in the NBA Finals, and now you can add a few percentiles.
There is something eminently more interesting to concern Minnesota’s sports fans than the first round of the NBA playoffs — namely, the unpredictable and fierce first round of the NHL playoffs.
The NBA traces its heritage to the Basketball Association of America in 1946-47. It has never had a team come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. Only three teams — Portland (2003), Denver (1994) and N.Y. Knicks (1951) — even thought about it by getting to a Game 7.
I bring that up for this reason:
The Wild trailed St. Louis 3-0 after losing Sunday in St. Louis. Then, our heroes stayed alive in St. Louis on Wednesday night, and we know they are going to win again on Saturday back in St. Paul, and when they do that, the Blues will be tighter than a Kardashian’s jeans and the Wild will go back and win Game 6 on Monday, and then we’ll get the Game 7 monkey off coach Bruce Boudreau’s back.
That’s how a hockey fan’s brain is allowed to work in the NHL playoffs. That’s the outrageous level of hope provided to all parties invested in the NHL’s Round of 16.
OK, it hasn’t happened much in NHL history, four times out of 187, but two of those comebacks from 3-0 have been in this decade:
Los Angeles in 2014 and Philadelphia in 2010.
It’s a new world in the NHL since the lockout of 2004-05. The owners lost a season, but they came out of it with a hard salary cap. Twelve years later (and one more partial lockout), Commissioner Gary Bettman’s well-balanced league has a playoff product that immediately hooks the customers with its intensity, and also its mystery.
Bettman still gets booed energetically when he appears in most venues, especially in Canada. Hey, we all love to bad-mouth commissioners, but this guy has been vastly underrated for what he’s done to build the NHL.
He was hired away from the NBA on Feb. 1, 1993. A few weeks later, Norm Green moved the North Stars to Dallas, so it wasn’t a great first impression here in Minnesota.
Anaheim and Florida already were being added for 1993-94, making it a 26-team league. Quebec City moved to Denver in 1995, Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996 and Hartford to Raleigh, N.C., in 1997. Then came expansion, with Nashville, Columbus, Atlanta (now Winnipeg Jets II) and the Wild, and with Las Vegas on the way next fall as No. 31.
Bettman talked early and often about growing the game with the Southern sprawl of the league. He was often ridiculed, but we have all noticed where Auston Matthews, the rookie star of the Toronto Maple Leafs, learned to love and play the game, right?
In Phoenix, as a fan of the Coyotes.
There are also complaints about the newer playoff system, where the first two rounds are played mostly in divisions, but what actually is wrong with having a quarterfinal matchup as excellent as Pittsburgh vs. Washington?
Plus, Washington has to get there first. Consider the whodunit Bettman has authored in the first round with his top five point-scoring teams:
Capitals (118) went ahead 3-2 on Toronto with an overtime victory Friday night. Penguins (111) advanced. Blackhawks (109) swept by Nashville. Blue Jackets (108) eliminated by Pittsburgh. Wild (106) trail Blues 3-1.
Sports are supposed to be unpredictable. Bettman’s league gives it to us in chapters.