At times, it still feels uncomfortable. It looks familiar, and yet, still strange. But even the most cautious of us, those of us still worried about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and variants and fourth waves and social distancing, cannot deny it: Watching the NBA Playoffs with crowds, even less-than-full-capacity crowds, has been awesome.
Is it safe? We certainly hope so. Arenas appear to be taking precautions, including testing and vaccine confirmations. If it’s not safe, which I suppose we’ll know for sure in a couple of weeks, then none of it will have been worth it.
But it’s been really freakin’ cool watching and hearing crowds get behind big plays and momentum shifts.
According to the latest SB Nation Reacts survey, more than 50 percent of fans around the league said the inclusion of crowds has significantly improved the viewing experience. Only 16 percent said it hasn’t improved the experience at all. (Presumably, those people like falling asleep to the sounds of sneakers squeaking on hardwood.)
Now, for Toronto Raptors fans, this is still somewhat bittersweet. Our team isn’t in the playoffs, after all, and even if they were, they’d be playing in front of a non-basketball crowd cheering for the “road” team in Tampa. But it also is a hopeful glimpse of the future: if the vaccine rollouts continue apace, the Raptors and their fans should indeed be back at Scotiabank arena next season.
And I have no doubt that whatever size crowd is allowed into that building, they’re gonna blow the roof off on opening night, welcoming the Raptors back home.
(I’m also pretty confident that none of our fans will display the boorish behaviour we’ve seen in New York, Utah and Philadelphia this week. F--k those “fans,” forever and ever.)
Meanwhile! There’s actual b-ball on the court, too. So far, the opening round series have been pretty dang entertaining. Nikola Jokic is putting up incredible numbers. Ja Morant just scored 47 points! Trae Young hit a game winner in MSG! LeBron James is doing LeBron James things. Chris Paul is getting injured.
Oh wait, that last one sucks and is not entertaining at all. Our latest SBN Reacts poll, conducted before last night’s games, tells us that 30 percent of fans around the country believe the Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers series is the best of the group. With Paul looking significantly slower again last night, that number’s probably dropping.
The New York Knicks series against the Atlanta Hawks is the next most popular choice, with 21 percent of the vote, and you’ll get no argument from me there. The two teams are evenly matched, feature a bevy of young, hungry players and yeah, that MSG crowd can’t be beat.
Beyond just thinking Suns-Lakers is entertaining, more than a quarter of fans surveyed believe the Suns best display the characteristics of a successful team, one that plays on both ends, has players that fit into specific roles, and shares the ball effectively. While I don’t disagree (though again, Paul’s injury changes that equation), I’m not sure I agree with the giant margin seen in the graph below:
The Suns are a runaway favourite in that poll. Was it sent out to mainly Suns fans? Where are the defending champs? Seventh seed or not, I don’t know how anyone can think a LeBron James-led team doesn’t have the characteristics of a successful playoff team. Dude has been to the Finals nine of the last 10 years!
A highly amusing and entertaining fact not captured in the above graph: The Boston Celtics, everyone’s favourite team to hate, came dead last in that poll, with only .27% of the vote. It’s going great in Beantown! You love to see it.
To vote in the Reacts surveys and have your voice heard each week, sign up here.