The NBA playoffs are the pinnacle for true hoop fans — the volume gets turned up and the highlights come fast and furious. The 7-game series format encourages narrative back-and-forth as in few other sports, helping build rivalries and reputations. (Hockey gets the same 7-game series juice; baseball’s 7-gamers are different because of pitching rotations; the NFL is one and done.)
And even though they play the NBA season from October to April, it’s during the two-month playoff period that reputations are built for posterity, for better or for worse. Sometimes new nicknames, built to suit the heightened moment, emerge to enhance the playoff intensity. (Either that or old nicknames take on refreshed meaning under the glare of the playoff lights.)
Here are three nicknames that are currently ringing true — or just plain entertaining fans — as the NBA playoffs start soaring.
1) Serge IBLOCKA: The dynamic leaper and defensive stopper Serge Ibaka, who has been a playoff staple since his days in OKC, cementing his nickname Serge IBLOCKA during the Toronto Raptors playoff run.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 21, 2019
2) Russell Westbrick: On the flipside, sometimes a player gets a nickname they really don’t want. In this case Russell Westbrook‘s performance has him flirting with the unflattering Russell Westbrick for his less-than-MVP caliber shooting percentages. This one won’t stick, because Westbrook — the 2017 NBA MVP — is just too good a player and also because shooting alone doesn’t accurately describe his amazing impact on a basketball game.
Still, this season Westbrook shot just 42.8 percent from the field including 29 percent of his 3-point attempts (and just 65.6 percent from the free throw line). In two of his first four 2019 playoff games, Westbrook shot 25 percent or worse from the field.
3) Mitchell Donovan: Legendary and excitable NBA announcer Marv Albert never yelled out that Jordan Michael had just executed a singular slam over Patrick Ewing. But calling 1990s Bulls games was Marv’s heyday. These days Albert is a bit less concerned with getting the players’ names exactly right.
But Albert’s accidental but close-enough-don’t-nitpick moniker for young Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell is pretty good: Albert just turns the name around and excitedly yells Mitchell Donovan!
And since Mitchell had 31 points including 19 in the 4th quarter of Game 4 against the Rockets, Albert had more than few opportunities to say his name — and Mitchell Donovan started to feel pretty natural. Besides, in Marv’s defense, Mitchell was doing some wildly athletic 180 degree stuff out there on the court — and he was mixing up more than just the announcer. Mitchell Donovan would be a good character for Space Jam 2 though, right? Hear that LeBron?
Mitchell Donovan is taking over the fourth quarter. pic.twitter.com/DJDviLBahW
— Kane Pitman (@mkebucksaus) April 23, 2019