Ah, the playoffs: LeBron’s wrecking crew act, Marchand’s licking lunacy

In the NBA, Toronto could not withstand the irresistible force that is LeBron James. In the NHL, the rule book has been abandoned

Bruce DowbigginTo paraphrase that old breakup line, “It ain’t you, Toronto. It’s LeBron.”

Because no one gets to break up with Toronto, the humiliation of the Raptors by LeBron James is being seen as all about Hogtown. Sad. But when you’re the centre of your own universe, you think you should be able to buy, intimidate or use every means at your disposal to get what you want. Now.

The kabuki from courtside jester Drake sums up Toronto’s pretensions to National Basketball Association relevance. The pop singer tried to diss the Cleveland Cavaliers, efforting the resistance his own team abandoned days ago. But Drake’s wannabe act was put in his place by the collapse of his Eastern Conference regular-season winners.

While the Cavs won one more game to sweep the Raptors on Monday, the dagger to Toronto’s hopes of entertaining Shaq, Charles Barkley and the NBA elite for the Eastern Final came with a LeBron buzzer beater in Game 3. How fatal was that shot to the Raps? “Shot hurts my heart and we ain’t playing!” tweeted a rival NBA player with no stake in the game.

The Raps were a fine team all year. The backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry was a machine. Their big man, Jonas Valanciunas, made great strides. Their bench was a terror. They used it to subdue Washington in six games in the first round of the playoffs.

And then along came LeBron. Here’s the 2018 playoff line for the 33-year-old. The last four lines represent his punishment of the Raps that has earned him the nickname LeBronto.

38 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds
43 points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds
26 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds
45 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds
22 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds
44 points, 8 assists, 10 rebounds
32 points, 7 assists, 13 rebounds
28 points, 8 assists, 12 rebounds
46 points, 5 assists, 12 rebounds
24 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds
29 points, 11 assists, rebounds

In short, it wasn’t about you, Toronto. The man is greatness. He does this to everyone this side of the Golden State Warriors. He’s indefatigable. He’s a wrecking ball with the hands of a cat burglar. You had no one who could – or wanted to – stop him.

Don’t despair. He’s a free agent this summer. Maybe he’ll come to Toronto to be the final piece of the Raptors championship puzzle. Maybe he’ll go to L.A., where you’ll only have to see him in the NBA Final.

But trust me. This isn’t about you. Hard as that is to accept in Toronto.

* * *

There’s a hankering for nostalgia in our society. Doing it the way they did it back in the day. Old-timey values.

This sentimentality does not extend, however, to watching hockey the way it was played 15 or 20 years. If I wanted to see how Darryl Sutter likes hockey played, I’d just call him up for a chat.

And yet the National Hockey League, in its wisdom, has decided to throw away many of the advancements of the past decade and return to the bad old days of clutch and tackle in the playoffs. After empowering referees to call fouls as they occur in the regular season, we’re back to the days of ‘managing’ games to keep them close.

As anyone who’s been watching knows, managing games means the recessive elements on the ice dictate play. So casual obstruction, subtle interference and some blatant mugging are back in, uncalled by zebras.

Remember when hurrying up faceoffs was a priority? Today’s faceoffs are slower than the Mueller inquiry. They still result in many unsatisfactory draws.

The Winnipeg Jets have been an exception in many cases. Their élan and speed are the hockey we’ve been trying to permit. But other series have ground down to trench warfare, punctuated by Sean Avery II – Brad Marchand – and his licking lunacy.

(Maybe this is paranoia, but does this happen every time Jeremy Jacobs’ Bruins get on a run in the postseason?)

It’s unfair to blame the referees. It’s not like they got together to concoct a plan to sidetrack the playoffs. This recidivism starts at the top of the league, where commissioner Gary Bettman and his cohorts show the resolve of a boozer being offered one for the road. Obsessed with appeasing the Don Cherry crew, they keep pushing away fans who want more of the Jets and less of the two-handed checks into the boards. 

Hopefully the Jets will prevail. After all, the Bruins are now eliminated. Maybe we’ll have a classic final. But I wouldn’t bet on it. Because in the NHL, it’s all about Gary … not you.

Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.


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