A Walk Through The Abnormal 2019-20 NBA Season
Arjun Khanna and Chinmay Menon, Undergraduate Batch of 2023
Battle of Los Angeles
One of the aspects that made the 2019-20 season memorable were the off-season trades. The NBA community witnessed some of the most exciting signings in its history, such as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn Nets and Russel Westbrook to Houston. However, the highlights of the offseason remained the signings of the two teams from LA. As expected, Anthony Davis’s move to the Lakers, where he joined Lebron James, made them the favorites to win the title. However, when the defending champion and NBA finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, and the reigning MVP finalist, Paul George joined the Clippers, the title race became evenly poised. For the first time in NBA history, the two predicted strongest teams were from the same city. One had the best player in the world, while the other had the reigning champion. Both had their share of exciting role players in Rajon Rondo, Lou Williams, Alex Caruso and Montrezl Harrell. But alas, everyone knew that only one of those teams could make it out of the Western Conference. The stage was set for one of the most exciting seasons ever.
Loss of Legends
After a marvelous first half of the season filled with exciting highlights and moments, 2020 started on a rough note. On 1st January 2020, David Stern, the former NBA commissioner and the man who globalized basketball, passed away at the age of 77. The league had lost its most influential member outside the court. But amidst these times, there was another mishappening. Just 25 days later, a helicopter crash in California took the lives of all nine people on board, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, leaving the world devastated. Fans had lost one of the greatest players to ever step on court, players had lost a mentor and a friend, his family lost a loving member and the world lost a great human being. NBA teams around the league started games with one team breaking the 8-second violation and the other, the 24-second violation in honour of both his jersey numbers.
New All-Star Game Format
This year witnessed a change in the All-Star game format, leading to one of the most competitive games in history, contrary to the usual boring all-star games. Scores after each of the first three quarters would be reset and the winner of each quarter would receive $10,000 to donate to the charity of their choice. In the fourth quarter, however, things were a bit different. Each of the team’s points through the first three quarters were added, and 24 (in honour of Kobe) was added to the higher total. This became the target for both the teams and the team to reach the target first won the match. In addition to the incentive of being able to donate their winnings to charity, players also wanted to honour Kobe’s legacy who was known to give it his all every game. This resulted in a nail-biting game that went down to the final seconds. The teams led by Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James wore the numbers 2 and 24, respectively in honour of Gianna and Kobe. The infamous All-Star game MVP award was renamed The NBA Allstar Game Kobe Bryant MVP award and its first recipient was Kawhi Leonard for his stellar performance of putting up 30 points, 7 rebounds,4 assists and 2 steals.
Final Score: Team LeBron 157-155 Team Giannis
Suspension of the NBA Season
Just when the season was building up to be one of the most competitive in recent years, basketball fans across the world received the devastating news of Rudy Gobert testing positive for Covid-19. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, was quick to take action and suspended the season indefinitely. The next three months would see sports fans left with nothing but recordings and highlights of past matches. When there was little to no hope of basketball returning this year, Adam Silver announced, what would be a glimmer of hope for all fans worldwide, the NBA would return on the 31st of July, 2020.
The NBA season finally returned to Disneyworld, Orlando, where the players and coaching staff stayed for a duration of 96 days. This was termed the NBA ‘bubble’. The teams used the eight regular-season games to dust off the rust of the hiatus in preparation for the most crucial part of the season, the NBA Playoffs. The Phoenix Suns, who have been far from successful in recent years, shocked the world by going undefeated in these eight games; however still narrowly missed out on a playoff spot.
NBA Playoffs in the Bubble
The stage was finally set for the NBA playoffs. In the western conference, Lakers were set to be tested by the in-form Blazers led by Damian Lillard, while Clippers were getting a run for their money by a young Mavericks team led by Luka and Porzingis. The eastern conference felt relatively one-sided, with the Milwaukee Bucks led by the league MVP himself, Giannis Antetokounmpo, being the dominant favourites.
The Western conference saw two of the closest series in recent times with Denver getting the best of Utah and the Rockets beating the Thunder, both in seven games. With their historical performances, Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell combined for 475 points, an NBA record for most by opponents in a Playoff series. Despite just having a 0.02% chance of making the Playoffs, the Thunder took the Rockets to the final seconds of game 7. Meanwhile, the Clippers handled a gutsy Mavericks team in six games, while the Lakers comfortably put away the Blazers in five.
The second round saw some shocking upsets, with the Milwaukee Bucks, the favourites to win the Eastern conference this year, losing to the Miami Heat in five games, but only after a heroic performance by Khris Middleton, who salvaged one game for the Bucks. Celtics and Raptors went back and forth trading games, with the Celtics getting the better of the defending champions in a tight seven-game series, setting up a Celtics vs. Heat eastern conference finals. In the west, the Denver Nuggets pulled off the biggest upset in sports this year when they came back from their second 3-1 deficit of the postseason against the Clippers, who were heavily favoured to win the championship.
With the Clippers and Bucks out of the way, the Lakers seemed to have a wide-open path to the championship. They blew past the Nuggets in five after a game-winning three-pointer from Anthony Davis in Game 2. The East saw a closer series with the Heat overcoming the Celtics’ young and talented core in six games.
Multiple storylines surrounded the finals matchup. Lebron James facing his old team, Jimmy Butler having potentially his last chance to salvage a ring, and this being a must-win final for Lebron to build his case against Michael Jordan in the GOAT debate.
In the first few minutes of Game 1, it looked like the onset of a competitive series. However, these expectations were soon shattered when the Heat lost two of their key players in Dragic and Bam, due to injuries. Bam was to return only in game 4 and Dragic in Game 6, but the two of them were far from their natural skill and were obviously still fighting their injuries. The impact of the injuries proved costly as the Heats were only able to win a couple of games thanks to Jimmy Butler’s historical performance.
The season drew to a close with, the Lakers lifting their 17th championship in dominant fashion by putting away the Heat with ease. Lebron James was named the Finals MVP, solidifying his legacy as one of the greatest the game has ever witnessed.