The Bubblies Strike Back 🍾🍾

Our awards for the Best of the Playoffs. Plus, what's wrong with Team USA?

Programming note: Normally, this would be the last issue of the season. However, with the NBA Finals suddenly getting good, and more important things (like the NBA draft) just two weeks away, we’re going to keep rolling right into the offseason. You’re welcome!

Thanks again for everyone who has read and helped us grow. As always, your feedback is welcome: feedback@savethelottery.com.

OPENING TIP

Welcome back to the second annual Bubblies, Save The Lottery’s awards for the very best of the NBA Bubble!

You may be tempted to point out that the NBA is no longer being played in a quarantined hot zone inside Disney World, but if you think that is going to convince us to just abandon our valuable intellectual property, think again.

Welcome back! The nominees for The Bubblies (official slogan: “Still Better Than The Grammys”) are:

BEST GAME

And the Bubbly goes to:

Clippers - Jazz. Prior to this moment, the Clippers had never been to a conference finals. Ever. But of course, they had never had a one-two punch like Kawhi and PG either. So of course, it made perfect sense when Terrance Mann somehow dropped 39, bringing the Clips back from the dead and into history.

BIGGEST SHOT

And the Bubbly goes to:

It’s gotta be KD. Dame has a heck of a case here, but Durant’s shot had everything. First, the degree of difficulty. PJ Tucker is a good defender and does absolutely everything right here. Second, he’s fading both hard to his right and backward, and that shot could not be more down. Finally, this shot also doubles as one of the most disappointing moments in recent Nets history. If Durant’s big toe isn’t on the line, that shot ends the series, and in all likelihood, the Nets are housing the Suns right now in the Finals.

BEST SINGLE GAME PERFORMANCE

And the Bubbly goes to:

KD might actually vote for Dame on this one, if his Twitter account is anything to go by.

But the answer is Durant’s Game Five. You probably don’t need to look this up, but just in case, the list of players who have put up a 45+, 15+, 10+ in the playoffs is one name long.

BIGGEST LEVEL UP

  • Trae Young

  • Devin Booker

  • Deandre Ayton

And the Bubbly goes to:

It’s possible that Ayton took the biggest jump, from ‘possible bust’ to ‘third best payer on a finals team.’ His play is a revelation. But going from star to superstar is the toughest jump to make, and that’s exactly what Ice Trae did this year.

The NBA needs a supervillain, and Young happily obliged: doing pushups on the court, ripping the heart out of Madison Square Garden, and shimmying before he even shoots.

MOST CRUSHING DISSAPOINTMENT

  • Ben Simmons

  • Julius Randle

  • The Mavs

  • The Lakers

And the Bubby goes to:

The many injuries in the playoffs were tough to take, but with respect to the MASH unit, this award goes to Ben Simmons. Zach Lowe’s podcast is an STL favorite, and he literally went from discussing whether Philly should move Simmons for Dame Lillard to discussing what else Philly would need to include to trade Simmons for CJ McCollum in the course of two weeks.

BODY PART OF THE YEAR

  • Anthony Davis’s Groin

  • James Harden’s Hamstring

  • Kevin Durant’s Toe

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Knee

  • Ben Simmons’s Cerebral Cortex

And the Bubbly goes to:

We were tempted to vote for Simmons here too, but no one wants to revisit that free throw shooting performance. No, the only winner here can be Giannis’s knee.

It’s been noted that if anyone at STL headquarters suffered this injury, we would never walk again. Giannis, meanwhile, was back in less than a week and was dropping 41/13/6 three games after this happened. He is an extraterrestrial.

MBP (Most Bubbliest Player)

  • Chris Paul

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo

  • Devin Booker

  • Kevin Durant

And the Bubbly goes to:

Giannis. Last year, the tactical play was to pressure the Bucks to see how they could improve this season. He could play out his contract this year, hit free agency, and then the world was his oyster. But that’s not the Antetokounmpo way, apparently. Giannis never hit free agency, instead signing with the small-market Bucks right after the season ended. And now, despite the Bucks not having another All-Star on their roster this season, they sit two games from NBA immortality.


TWEET OF THE WEEK

With the news of Brad Beal and Kevin Love departing Team USA, Keldon Johnson and JaVale McGee were announced as replacements. While they may not be the heroes Team USA needs (more below), they certainly are the heroes it deserves…


STL INVESTIGATES: Is Team Nigeria The Single Greatest Collection Of Basketball Talent Ever Assembled?


Yeah, nah. It’s really not.

Oh. In that case….


STL INVESTIGATES: What’s wrong with Team USA?

Team USA started its warmups for the Olympics this week and promptly lost games to Nigeria and Australia. Needless to say, this raised some eyebrows. The previous two times that Team USA has faced Nigeria, they won by 43 and 83 points, respectively. So losing feels like a step in the wrong direction.

Needless to say, the intertubes have been full of thinkers thinking thoughts about what is wrong with Team USA. STL investigates.

THEORY ONE: The world is catching up to us!

So this is true, while simultaneously not having anything to do with Team USA losing games. The NBA has moved aggressively to expand globally, and the level of basketball has risen dramatically in many places. That said, prior to starting 0-2 this year, the US was 54-2 in international friendlies.

The Nigerian national team started the following players:

  • Ike Nwamu

  • KZ Okpala

  • Precious Achiuwa

  • Gabe Vincent

  • Josh Okogie

Dedicated readers may have noticed that four of those five players were actually on NBA rosters last year, and two of them even played a reasonable amount of minutes. But when Precious Achiuwa is your best player, I mean, you know, like, c’mon. Nigeria is not catching up to us.

THEORY TWO: Team USA has a bunch of chuckers.

This is also true. Kevin Durant, Zach Lavine, Bradley Beal, Dame Lillard, and Jason Tatum are all players who have been recognized for a certain fondness for attempting the odd field goal. These guys aren’t quite Dwayne Bacon, but you know.

On the other hand, that’s a ridiculous collection of talent! Who cares if there aren’t enough shots to go around? Anyone who feels like shooting can go ahead, and be many, many orders of magnitude better than anyone on the opposing team. And if anyone gets unhappy with their touches, they can complain to Gregg Popovich (who, as we have pointed out, is literally former military intelligence, and will simply end you).

Let’s just say that we are unconvinced that this collection of talent (and let’s not forget Bam Adebayo, Draymond and Jerami Grant) can’t figure out any way to get a good shot up.

THEORY THREE: Kevin Love is ruining everything.

Kevin Love did not have a great season. He missed most of it, and when he played, Cleveland Fans mostly just wished he was missing more of it. So when he was chosen as the token white guy on Team USA, there were some who objected and accused USA Basketball of tokenism. But that is ridiculous. Kevin Love was chosen because… because… well, we at STL are not one hundred percent sure why he was chosen, actually. And to be fair, he can’t really stay in front of his man, switch, or protect the rim. It hasn’t been pretty when he’s out there.

But he played 3 minutes and one second against Nigeria. His plus minus can’t possibly be that bad. (ed. note: maybe he can? Just before we went to press, Love was sent home, replaced with the immortal JaVale McGee… so long, Kevin!)

THE ACTUAL REASON TEAM USA IS STRUGGLING:

They are exhausted.

Did you see the season they just had? They played NBA level basketball every other day for six months. That’s completely outlandish.

Then did you see the NBA playoffs? It often looked less like a tournament and more like the Hunger Games, in which poor souls representing various districts battle until all but one of them is literally dead.

In spite of all that, many of the NBA’s top talents agreed to fly to Japan to represent their country in an Olympics with no fans. That’s a display of patriotism grand enough to make it more than a little dusty in STL headquarters.

So now they have some warmup games. And if you think any of them are going to go full bore, we want to ask you something. What do you think the conversation is like, in which, say, Bradley Beal explains to his wife and agent that he blew out his ACL in an international friendly against Nigeria? We bet it would go… not good.


AT THE BUZZER