Elevated to the rank of national sport in the United States – in particular during the “ March Madness » which sets the country ablaze around the university basketball tournament – the art of “brackets” will not have survived the first round of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs. This discipline of filling tables predicting the winners of each series of the final stages of the North American Basketball League to the final winner – with large sums at stake if a winner emerges – has been undermined this year. Never have the final stages of the NBA reserved so many surprises in the first round.
By taking the best, Sunday, April 30, on the Sacramento Kings at home in the seventh and final game of the series of the first round of the playoffs, the Golden State Warriors of an immense Stephen Curry (50 points), completed the table of franchises qualified for the conference semi-finals. Sixth in a regularly contested season, the defending Californian champions sent the ghosts of Sacramento on vacation, third in the regular season and back in the playoffs for the first time after seventeen years of scarcity.
This reversal of the hierarchy of the regular season is not the only one. In the Western Conference, in addition to the Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers of LeBron James, from the dams (play-in), overcame the Memphis Grizzlies, second in the West after 82 regular season games. And in the East, the New York Knicks (5e) got the better of the Cleveland Cavaliers (4e); and the eighth-placed Miami Heat from the play-in toppled the season-number-one Milwaukee Bucks.
Two duels of good students
Two of the conference semi-finals – second round of the final stages which count four – therefore see opposing teams absent from the top 4 of their conferences – Golden State against the Lakers and Miami against New York –, where the year past the top seeds of each conference had passed the first round.
Since sixteen teams (out of 30 in the League) qualified for the playoffs in 1984, never had a first round resulted in so many reversals. On twelve occasions, three lower-ranked teams had reversed the forecasts – the last in 2014 – but never again until then. And according to the American media ESPN, whose bracket is one of the most popular, a first round of the playoffs reserves an elimination and a half on average each year.
But not all series in the first round ended in an “upset”. In the East, the franchises of the Boston Celtics, winners of the Atlanta Hawks, and the Philadelphia Sixers, who got the better of the Brooklyn Nets, will face each other in the second round in a duel of good students. Similarly, in the West, the Denver Nuggets, who supplanted the Minnesota Timberwolves of Frenchman Rudy Gobert, and the Phoenix Suns, winners of the Los Angeles Clippers, held their seeded rank.
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Enough to maintain the hope of the few “survivors” of the early playoff brackets, which saw many surprises in the NBA in the first round. But from the first game of the second round, the Miami Heat went to win on the floor of the New York Knicks, yet better ranked. Which bodes well for a new hodgepodge in the tables.