By Harris Rubenstein
The more things change, the more they stay the same. This time it was T-Wolves Gaming winning their 2nd consecutive TIPOFF powered by AT&T in dominant fashion over 76ers GC, sweeping them 2-0. Their prolific run saw them not lose a single game in the bracket round, showing the Western Conference that last year’s playoffs are just that, last year.
In honor of the league moving onto 3v3 for the tournament, let’s do a little 3v3 of our own for each conference! Updated points standings are below for those interested in the early playoff hunt on the 5v5 side.
1. Gen.G Tigers of Shanghai – 6 points
2. 76ers GC – 5 points
t-3. Heat Check Gaming – 4 points
t-3. Knicks Gaming – 4 points
t-3. NetsGC – 4 points
t-3. Raptors Uprising GC – 4 points
t-3. Wizards District Gaming – 4 points
8. Grizz Gaming – 2 points
9. Celtics Crossover Gaming – 1 point
10. Hawks Talon GC – 1 points
11. Magic Gaming – 1 point
12. Hornets Venom GT – 1 point
1. In-Person Play Defined The Conference
The stage exposes all. Always has, always will. For the East, it was a bit more merciless. The #2 seed NetsGC, #3 seed Wizards DG, and #4 seed Raptors Uprising GC all fell in the first round to the ruthless best of 1 as their individual weaknesses were picked apart live on stage. Wizards DG’s troublesome offense reared its ugly head in full as they couldn’t get past Knicks Gaming, a team they easily handled just last August in the NBA 2K League playoffs. NetsGC saw their young backcourt cripple under the intense defensive pressure of FutureClutch, Dtrick, and the rest of the fierce Heat Check Gaming. Finally, Raptors Uprising GC got sent home by the eventual Eastern reps in the Finals, 76ers GC, as their chaotic style screeched to a halt against the slow pace of Dre and DT. These teams aren’t bad by any means (it’s the Wiz we are talking about here) and they are all very much in range of a playoff spot, but it was clear that all three need to go back to the drawing board in one way or another.
2. Defense Wins Championships…With Elite Guard Play
I think it’s fair to say that every team in the East bracket play could at least play above average defense. They all had a huge defensive highlight at some point, but good defense clearly wasn’t enough. If everyone can defend well, then what is the separator? Guards. Guards, Guards, Guards. Either you got a really good one, or you don’t. If that elite guard is playing poorly, you’re probably going to lose (looking at you Nets GC.) But the big issue came the deeper we got into the tournament. ReturnofDJ shined for most of the group stage for Gen.G Tigers of Shanghai, but a 3/15 Game 3 performance against 76ers GC left a bad taste in the mouth. Sav was good enough for a round, but eventually his poor shooting and turnovers was too great for Bsmoove to overcome in the Conference Finals. Even Dre and Reizey were felled by the mighty T-Wolves Gaming defense. Every team in this conference can play defense, but the best backcourt is going to win the East this year.
3. Can The East Beat The West?
I’m shouting at myself right now, “Harris, the conferences only played one series against each other, what could you possibly take from that?” Everything!! Kidding of course, but it was concerning to say the least. We all watched the same tournament right? It was as obvious to everyone else how much further along the West teams were right? There are some good East teams! I don’t think they can beat the best West teams. The pace and guard play is just overwhelming. 76ers GC in THE TIPOFF is not the best we will see out of the East this year, but asking any of them to take down an elite West team in a best of 3 series? Can Gen.G beat Lakers Gaming? Does Heat Check Gaming stand a chance against a fully equipped Warriors Gaming Squad? No way to know until THE TURN, but for now, East teams have their work cut out for them.
1. T-Wolves Gaming – 9 points
2. Lakers Gaming – 6 points
3. Jazz Gaming – 5 points
4. Warriors Gaming Squad – 5 points
5. DUX Infinitos – 4 points
6. Bucks Gaming – 3 points
7. Mavs Gaming – 3 points
8. Pistons GT – 2 points
9. Kings Guard Gaming – 1 point
10. Blazer5 Gaming – 1 point
11. Pacers Gaming – 1 point
12. Cavs Legion GC – 0 points
1. T-Wolves Gaming v2.0
There is something really special about growth in sports, especially at the team level for fans. It’s satisfying, trackable, and if done correctly, it creates a different element of FOCUS. This T-Wolves Gaming team put up one of the most disappointing playoff performances ever last year when they were 1st rounded by Warriors Gaming Squad. Not acceptable. So what did they do? They grew up. The whole team seems much more connected and mature this year. Not in the sense that the players themselves matured (though you could argue that as well!), but the connections between them have. The level of trust between BearDaBeast and Kaii is basically unbreakable at this point. Slaughter has grown from just being a good Center to being one of the best on-court leaders in all of 2K and he was rewarded with a Tipoff MVP. Everyone listens to him now. The two new guys in TBShiftay and DJayTooCold accepted their roles immediately BECAUSE the Big 3 are more mature in their understanding of how to win together. Now, this won’t matter if they flame out of the playoffs this year, but I gotta say, I like T-Wolves Gaming 2.0. They won the Tipoff last year too, so we can pump the breaks on them winning the title right now, but good to know that T-Wolves Gaming is just as good as we hoped.
2. We Have A Party Crasher!
Scott Cole has long said that an NBA 2K League with a good Lakers Gaming is the best version of the NBA 2K League. Well, damnit he’s right. Seeing the classic Purple and Gold playing a unique style of ball and most importantly, winning games, is a wonderful sight. They play a cohesive brand of basketball that involves a ton of trust and communication. Having 2, sometimes 3, primary playmakers on the offensive end at all times is a huge advantage. Krazy’s development as a passer, Regg’s as a spot up and hockey assist guy, and Reese’s resurgence make this 3-headed monster an absolute must-watch. They did get cut down by T-Wolves Gaming, but their impact on the league is complete. Lakers Gaming is here and the days of 3-win seasons are behind them…hopefully.
3. What Did We Learn?
There is always a valuable lesson to come out of NBA 2K League tournaments. Whether it’s a new meta or the emergence of a new star, we always learn something. The lesson we were taught this time around is quite simple, parity is the name of the game this year. T-Wolves Gaming were outstanding this tournament and will likely come in at #1 on me Power Rankings this week, but I don’t think any of us are convinced they are the true and only title contender in the league. I also don’t think any of us are convinced that we have seen the best of the Eastern Conference yet. We’ve finally hit the point in the league competitively where, outside of 2-3 teams, there are no easy games anymore. Every team will play you tough, every team will attack your weaknesses, and every team is going to push you to the edge. As a viewer and a writer, it’s fantastic. For the players, it must be a pretty grueling process. But true parity has finally been achieved in the league, and we’re better off for it.