How can you tell the difference between the NBA Playoffs and the regular season?
A. The physical nature of the games.
B. LeBron James doesn’t rest.
C. The Knicks aren’t playing.
D. All the above.
Of course, the answer is D. Everything about the postseason is different from the league’s 82-game warm-up. (Sure, LeBron still gets plenty of rest but only after his annual first round series sweep.)
The point is that everyone — players, coaches, referees — are more focused at this time of year. And that dialed-in attitude includes the postgame press conferences, which never seem to disappoint.
From Memphis coach David Fizdale’s memorable “Take that for data” rant to Russell Westbrook hogging the microphone from a teammate on Sunday as if it were still the fourth quarter of a close game, some of the best entertainment arrives 30 minutes after the final buzzer.
Even soft-spoken, mild-mannered Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg joined the party on Sunday by accusing Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas of being a serial traveler.
“Let me say this, Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player,” Hoiberg said following Boston’s Game 4 victory. “An unbelievable competitor — he’s a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight. But when you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he is impossible to guard. He’s impossible to guard when you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball and take two or three steps and put it back down. It’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”
Hoiberg looked uncomfortable, and for obvious reasons, as he issued his complaint about Thomas’ ball handling skills. Days earlier, Thomas had attended the funeral for his 22-year-old sister who died tragically in a single car crash. Her death, as well as Thomas having to grieve publicly during a playoff series, has become the story of the first round.
It’s impossible not to have empathy for Thomas. Hoiberg certainly does but he’s also wants to win. Therefore, he’s looking for an edge even it if means calling out Thomas during this very emotional time in Thomas’ life. Is Hoiberg desperate? Absolutely. But this is the playoffs and all is fair in love, war and press conferences.
Fizdale called out the referees after Memphis fell behind 0-2 and his rant has become a rallying cry for the team and the city. The Grizzlies have since tied the series at 2-2. Fizdale set the bar for podium performances this year while Westbrook’s pathetic antics following Oklahoma City’s devastating Game 4 loss is running a close second.
This was classic Westbrook: taking over a press conference the way he takes over a game, occasionally to the detriment of his team.
The Thunder lost 113-109 to the Houston Rockets in Game 4 and is now one loss from elimination. A recurring theme throughout the series has been the Thunder’s inability to hold a lead with Westbrook on the bench. On Sunday, OKC was outscored 13-4 with Westbrook on the bench. When a local reporter asked Thunder center Steven Adams about the trend, Westbrook jumped in.
“Hold on, Steven,” Westbrook said. “I don’t want nobody to try and split us up. We’re all one team. If I go to the bench and Steven’s on the floor and I’m off the floor, we’re in this together. Don’t split us up. Don’t try to split us up. Don’t try to make us go against each other or make it Russell and the rest of the guys. Russell against Houston. I don’t want to hear that. We’re in this together. We play as a team. That’s all that matters.”
Two more times the reporter tried to defend his legitimate question and each time Westbrook interrupted before finally saying, “next question.”
Incredibly, Adams never said a word. He just sat there silent like so many of Westbrook’s teammates do when Westbrook has the ball and running around trying to go one-on-five.
It was a telling scene. The likely MVP candidate doesn’t seem to trust his teammates even during interview sessions. Why Adams would even be on stage with Westbrook makes no sense, especially when Westbrook is stealing questions that aren’t intended for him.
Last year, when Westbrook was asked a question about Mavs owner Mark Cuban saying he wasn’t a superstar, Kevin Durant interrupted and called Cuban “an idiot.” It was the appropriate time for a teammate to stand up for his guy. Six weeks later, of course, Durant left OKC for Golden State.
It’s now Westbrook’s show, both on the court and at the podium…occasionally to the detriment of his team.