Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NBA Playoffs: A Different Game as the Quest for the Championship Enters Its Final Phase, a Group of Veteran Sportswriters Talk about What's Unique - and What Needs Changing - in Professional Basketball. BASKETBALL FINALS

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

NBA Playoffs: A Different Game as the Quest for the Championship Enters Its Final Phase, a Group of Veteran Sportswriters Talk about What's Unique - and What Needs Changing - in Professional Basketball. BASKETBALL FINALS

Article excerpt

SIXTEEN basketball teams began chasing the National Basketball Association championship in mid-April, and by press time three teams were left: the Chicago Bulls in the East; the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers in the West.

To put the two-month-long postseason in focus, and to discuss some of basketball's current issues, a group of print journalists with extensive NBA writing experience (see box for credentials) agreed to share their thoughts with Monitor readers. Excerpts from separate interviews follow.

Is NBA basketball a different game in the playoffs, as many claim?

Joe Gilmartin (Phoenix Gazette): Yes, you have much more intensity because everything is compressed. If an entire NBA game lasted only 12 minutes (instead of 48) you'd be talking about some fierce concentration, and that's pretty much what happens during the playoffs.

Johnette Howard (The National): It helps that there's only a finite amount of time left: When you're in January and talking about playing as hard as you can for the next six months, it's physically impossible. Now you see more guys going for rebounds, more guys going for loose balls, and more guys playing defense the way they should - if they could - all the time.

Bob Ryan (Boston Globe): There's much harder play going on during the course of the regular season than critics contend, but in the playoffs most everybody gets to the maximum level. There's an assumption on the part of the coaches and players that every possession is meaningful, much more so than in an average regular-season game. You don't want to be thinking after the game, "If I had only made that particular play in the first quarter we might have won." In a regular-season game it's a difficult enough rationalization; in the playoffs it's a very painful thought.

Sam Goldaper (New York Times): The coaching is better, too, because there's more time to prepare. In the regular season you are playing a different team each night. The team you see in December you may not see again until March. Another difference in the playoffs is that the referees call fewer fouls. They let 'em play.

Terry Pluto (Beacon Journal, Akron, Ohio): In no other sport do the officials drastically change their view of the game from the regular season to the playoffs the way they do in the NBA. In the World Series, the strike zone isn't adjusted to be bigger or smaller, yet in the NBA, for whatever reason, they allow more contact in the playoffs. They say they don't want to create a parade to the foul line, but they don't want to do that during the regular season either.

Gilmartin: The rules and officiating in other sports are more precise than they are in basketball, where the objective is to keep the riot going without letting a war start. Because of the intensity in the playoffs, you have to let the players play harder; there's more colliding.

Pluto: It's like there are all these unwritten rules about the playoffs: It's going to be more physical; it's going to be slower. Teams are afraid to run the ball up the court. It's not a 94-foot (full-court) game anymore. The offenses don't start until a step or two inside halfcourt. Games are a test of wills. One team wants to run, the other doesn't, and it seems invariably the conservative thought wins.

What is the relationship of the regular 82-game season to the playoffs? …

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