May 9, 2013

Animosity Makes the NBA and NHL Playoffs Great

By - Tim Swift

Animosity: Bitter hostility or open enmity; active hatred.

The NBA and NHL playoffs are built on this very word.

Some of the best playoff series in the history of the two sports are forged by a healthy amount of strong dislike between the squads involved. Anytime you have a 6 or 7-game series, it's going to bring out the best, and worst, in both teams. When you are guarding the same guy or getting checked by the same dude for up to two-straight weeks, tempers are bound to flare.

Photo by: Getty Images
Personally, this is one of the things that I love about the playoffs. Teams generate a strong dislike for one another that can carry on for years and lay the foundation for historic rivalries.

At times, the first round series between the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers resembled something right out of the WWE, especially the multiple altercations that took place between Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin. In each of the first three games, the two were involved in double fouls, and at one point in Game 6, they wrestled to the floor, culminating with Randolph's hand wrapped around Griffin's neck. You even had Chris Paul take a cheap shot on Marc Gasol in the final minutes of that game with a forearm to the stomach. The fact that the Spaniard has been dealing with an abdominal tear made it even uglier.

When you have contrasting styles like the Grizzlies and Clippers, you tend to get that type of hate for each other. Los Angeles is YouTube's favorite team; Lob City, with huge dunks from Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, and killer crossovers from Chris Paul. Memphis, on the other hand, is a physical defensive team, led by Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and the man who coined the phrase "grit and grind," defensive specialist Tony Allen.

The Grizzlies and Clippers have faced off in the postseason a total of 13 times over the last 2 years, making this a budding rivalry that should be fun to watch for many years to come.

The animosity has already ramped up in the NHL playoffs, especially between the Canadians and Senators.

In Game 1, Eric Gryba unleashed a brutal (but some say legal) hit on Lars Eller, that left Eller motionless and bloodied on the ice. Then in Game 3, full-blown brawls between entire lines resulted in 239 penalty minutes. A few of the highlights (or lowlights) in that one included a Rene Bourque cheap elbow on Cory Conacher, and Josh Gorges shooting the puck intentionally at Kyle Turris in the final seconds. There were a total of 14 fighting majors, but despite all of the madness, no one was suspended for Game 4. (Really, Brendan Shanahan?)

From 1996 through 2002, the biggest rivalry in the NHL was the blood-feud between the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche. Fights, big hits and clutch goals were all on display, as the two squads faced off 5 times in a 7-year span. Every time these teams met in May, it was must-see TV, and you were sure to witness some of the most passionate hockey that the NHL has every produced.

The fire of this rivalry was stoked by two huge (and illegal) hits in the 1996 Western Conference Finals. First, you had Vyacheslav Kozlov ramming Adam Foote's head into the boards in Game 3. Then, as retribution in Game 6, Claude Lemieux returned the favor on Kris Draper, breaking his jaw in the process. The two hits set off hockey's best rivalry of the last 20 years.

The best rivalry over the last 30 years in the NBA was on display in the 1980s, between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. It was ignited in Game 4 of the 1984 Finals when Kevin McHale closelined Kurt Rambis as he went up for a shot. That hit changed the entire complexion of the series, and helped lead the Celtics to the '84 championship. In 1985 and 1987, the physical play continued, but the Purple & Gold played tougher en route to two NBA titles.

Again, the contrasting styles is what made these games so great; the Celtics, with their physical play and half-court precision, and the Lakers, with the best running game in NBA history.

Simply put, animosity is a cornerstone of the postseason, and whether you like it or not, there will be plenty more to come over the next several weeks. It makes the NBA and NHL playoffs even more intriguing to watch.


  1. I love how the NHL has to prep their refs for playoff season. lol

  2. Hate made the Bulls-Pistons series awesome back in the day too.