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Sports: Comebacks In Basketball Playoffs


Time now for sports.


MARTIN: Look, there, up in the sky. It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it is NPR's own sports hero Mike Pesca on the line from New York. Good morning.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: How are you?

MARTIN: I am well. How are you?

PESCA: Trying to think what my sports kryptonite is. It might be NASCAR.

MARTIN: Got to keep the NASCAR away from him. Keep it away. OK. So, let's talk about basketball, because it's playoff time, which I'm told is a big deal. And last night was game seven between the Chicago Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets. What happened?

PESCA: Well, this was an amazing game seven. It was a well-played game. I wouldn't call it amazing because of a final shot or a buzzer-beater, anything like that. The Bulls won. They won, you know, by single digits, but it was a good game. The amazing thing was just that the Bulls were there and that they were able to win. Before, during the whole season, hanging over the Bulls was the fact that Derek Rose, a former MVP, one of the best players of basketball, was hurt, couldn't play. And then he was actually cleared to play but he just doesn't feel right. He doesn't feel confident about his injured knee, so he's not going. This causes some sports radio people to be very upset that he's drawing a salary. But in fact, it helps them draw a salary by having this ire. OK. So, you have Derek Rose out. The Bulls had two NBA All-Stars without him. One was Luol Deng. He was out. He was so sick, they gave him a spinal tap. They thought he might have meningitis but he didn't. The whole team has the flu. It's kind of disgusting but kind of inspirational - inspirusting(ph) or something. They're vomiting on the sidelines as they're playing. Nate Robinson...

MARTIN: Stop. This is a morning show.

PESCA: That's true. OK. So, they're experiencing some symptoms.

MARTIN: They're sick. OK.

PESCA: Anyway, they're so depleted, you cannot believe a team like this can mount any sort of serious challenge, but they win. They are the hardest-working team I've seen in a long, long time. Joachim Noah, their other All-Star, is so good on both ends of the court. And their coach, Tom Thibodeau, is - he's excellent. He's this anonymous guy who came through the ranks. And so I don't know what they're going to do going on in the playoffs, especially with all these hurt players. But it was kind of amazing. Hey, and Brooklyn had a good season. Their first year in Brooklyn, they made the playoffs. At courtside, all these guys with neck beards and porkpie hats and all the hipsters came out. So, it's kind of good both ways but what the Bulls did inspired me.

MARTIN: OK. That's always happy. So, we almost went to game seven in two other playoff series - a couple of very big comebacks - but the Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks, held off their challengers. They're playing tonight. But isn't this kind of unusual, Mike? It seems like there are fewer game sevens in these playoffs.

PESCA: Yes. This year in this round there were. There were a couple of sweeps. The Spurs and the Heat swept their opponents. There was just that game seven series we talked about with the Bulls. And then everything else was a six-game series. Why didn't they go the distance? Different answers in different series. Stephen Curry of Golden State was the answer against Denver. He's amazing. The Oklahoma City Thunder was on their way to just crushing the Rockets. Then they lost Russell Westbrook, one of their best players. It really dooms their playoff chances. And I think with the Knicks, they allowed the Celtics to get a couple games and then everyone was fascinated by the nonsense that they wore black before game five. And the Knicks said, you know what, we're a much better team. We'll just come out and beat the Celtics. So, yeah, without game sevens it's less interesting. Maybe in the next round.

MARTIN: Really quick - is it worth paying attention to all these other games at all? I mean, the Miami Heat - aren't they just going to sweep every other team?

PESCA: That's a good question, and this is why I've reconceptualized how I think about the NBA. You know, in college basketball, it's a backwards tournament. We care about those opening rounds and the small teams that win the first round. And by the semifinals, actually, television viewership peters out. With the NBA, it's usually like, well, let's get through the early rounds and let's see who wins. I say take your pleasure in stories like the Bulls and Stephen Curry. Because no one might be able to beat the Heat, but that doesn't mean there's not drama in the NBA.

MARTIN: I always like a little drama, so does NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks so much, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.


MARTIN: And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.