Here are the rivalries that not too many people saw coming.
Trae Young vs. Madison Square Garden
With the New York Knicks playing in their first home playoff game in eight years, the Madison Square Garden was rocking. It was Trae Young’s first playoff game ever, and he was supposed to be nervous, jittery.
Instead, with the ballgame tied and clock running down, Young showed what Ice Trae was all about. He zoomed past a double team and let go one of his coldest, sub-zero level floaters that hit the bottom of the net.
ICE IN HIS VEINS ??@TheTraeYoung silences the MSG crowd with the winner in Game 1!#BelieveAtlanta | @ATLHawks pic.twitter.com/2yXV3YtQ2W— NBA Australia (@NBA_AU) May 24, 2021
All of a sudden, MSG, which the whole game pounded on Trae’s ears, fell silent. After a villainous 32 points, 10 assists, and the game-winner, there were definitely shades of '90s Reggie Miller in the building.
The New York crowd screamed, booed, and disrespected him, but after Game 1, it was Trae who was rocking.
LeBron James vs. Jae Crowder
A LeBron James-Jae Crowder matchup has been a sneaky playoff tradition.
Crowder has always been given the headache of a task to defend LeBron. He always understood the assignment: get physical with LeBron and try to throw him off his game. “Try” being the operative word.
The King swept Jae’s team in 2015, gentleman swept in 2017, then beat his Miami Heat in the finals last year.
And now this:
Lakers bench was loving this Bron reverse on Crowder 😂 pic.twitter.com/oBqf69UDUh— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 28, 2021
In Game 3 of their first-round clash, LeBron kept going at Jae, now a Phoenix Sun, and the Lakers' bench loved it. Jae Crowder, after seeing LeBron too many times in the playoffs, not too much.
Luka Doncic vs. free throws
On the offensive end, Luka Doncic can pull off a Kobe Bryant and get anything he wants—fadeaway, drive, stepback, anything. But when he gets to the free throw line, he becomes more of a Shaquille O’Neal (only Shaq was a bit better).
Doncic hit 73 percent of his freebies this season, a slight dip from the 76 percent last season. In the first four games of the playoffs though, Doncic shot a terrible 40 percent.
In total, he has missed 19 freebies already, which means his 33 points per game average should’ve been higher.
In Game 3, Luka missed six of his 13 attempts. In Game 4, he missed all five. Both were losses for the Dallas Mavericks.
If and when Luka becomes a deadly free throw shooter as he is a deadly stepback 3-point shooter, then it’s going to be a big, big problem for the league.
Kevin Durant vs. Marcus Smart
Marcus Smart probably has no business getting in the way of Kevin Durant, who’s a few inches short of a 7-footer with the mobility of a shooting guard.
But Smart, a 6-foot-3 guard who can take on anyone, always finds a way.
The two had a bit of a spirited conversation after a hard foul by Smart sent KD crashing to the floor. A slap of the hand here and a slight shove there resulted in double technical fouls.
This is what you get when two tough competitors, regardless of height and position, are out to get wins in the playoffs.