The best quotes, rants, beefs, pettiness and more from the first round of the NBA playoffs

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Houston’s Patrick Beverley delivered one of many great postgame quotes during the first round. (Getty)
Houston’s Patrick Beverley delivered one of many great postgame quotes during the first round. (Getty)

It doesn’t even require a particularly thought-provoking question. “What happened on that play when … ?” Or, “What did he say to you when … ?” You know, the typical, give-me-a-bland-quote-that-I-can-plug-into-my-story type of inquiry.

Every postgame sports news conference is infested with them, and there’s often no expectation for an insightful or genuine response. “Oh, just players playing hard.” You brace for it. “That’s between me and him.” You might even doze off, knowing the answer will be a non-answer. That’s what athletes are taught. That’s what the implicit media codes that plague many professional and college sports require.

But not here. Not in the NBA, where players speak their minds, personalities flourish, anger and annoyance simmer, and pettiness rampages unfettered by unwritten rules or gentlemanly etiquette. The disregard for those silly codes is part of what makes the league great. And no two weeks were a better example of it than the first round of the 2017 playoffs.

So, back to the question. Patrick Beverley, “What did Russell Westbrook say to you during that exchange that got you so upset?”

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“That’s actually the first time we’ve exchanged words this postseason,” Beverley said, with a slightly suspicious sincerity. “It shocked me, he looked up and said, ‘No one can guard me. I got 40 points.’ I’m like, ‘That’s nice. Took 34 shots to get it.’

Mic drop. Wait, no. Mic still in hand …

“I’m not trying to bash anybody, but, I mean, men lie, women lie, but the numbers don’t.”

And how about you, Russell? “Can you talk about what happened there?”

Yes. Yes he can. He most certainly can.

“Oh, yeah, he was talking ’bout how he was first-team all-defense, but I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, ’cause I had 42 at the time,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know what he was talking ’bout. Maybe he was dreaming or some s—. I don’t know.”

Glorious. Just glorious.

The two had clashed on the court in the fourth quarter of Game 5. But this is the NBA, where players learn to hate each other over the course of seven games, and don’t unlearn the hate in between games. So the beef that began on the court? It didn’t end there. Not in this first round, the friskiest of first rounds. Westbrook v. Beverley was great. It was also just the tip of the iceberg. The last two weeks have had it all.

Category 1: Russell Westbrook

“Maybe he was dreaming or some s—” wasn’t Westbrook’s only great moment. He had four overall, and three at the podium. The first came after his 51-point, 13-assist, 10-rebound performance in a Game 2 loss. Asked about the line — the first 50-point triple-double in playoff history — he gave a genuine, succinct, pissed-off response: “I don’t give a f— about the line. We lost.”

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After a Game 4 loss in which the Thunder again collapsed in two short stretches without Westbrook on the floor, Westbrook’s podium companion, Steven Adams, got a question about the team’s struggles with Westbrook on the bench. But he never got to answer that question. “Hold on, Steven,” Westbrook began…

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The question was a perfectly fair one. But Westbrook took exception to it. Whether or not he was in the right here, he spoke his mind.

But the real gem of Westbrook’s postseason media outings, other than the Beverley spat, came in between Games 4 and 5. In Game 4, the Rockets bench didn’t hide the pleasure they derived from Andre Roberson’s free throw futility. Any reaction to the antics, Russ?

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“I didn’t see it,” Westbrook said. “It’s probably the guys that don’t play.”

Category 2: Real beefs

The best non-Westbrook feud was one that livened up an otherwise pedestrian series. Let’s delve into Paul Millsap v. Markieff Morris.

We begin after a physical Game 1 with a frustrated Millsap. “The difference in the game,” Millsap said, “was we were playing basketball and they were playing MMA.” Morris, who had jawed with Millsap during the contest, jabbed back: “If that’s MMA, then what we do next might be double-MMA.” It was one of four MMA references in Morris’ postgame comments after hearing of Millsap’s.

The narrative of the series then pulled in the feud. Fans latched on, and brought “DOUBLE MMA” signs to Game 2, which the Wizards won to go up 2-0.

In Game 3, Millsap and the Hawks got some revenge and cut the deficit to 2-1. That ticked off Morris, who afterward called Millsap a “crybaby.” The accusation was relayed to Millsap. His reaction — along with Dennis Schroder’s — was outstanding.

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Millsap’s advice for Morris: “Take his loss and go back to the hotel.”

Now it was personal, and now Hawks fans were involved as well. At Game 4, they wanted to let Morris know who the real crybaby was:

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The series, for the most part, was dull, with home teams holding serve through the first five games, and the Wizards breaking the Hawks in Game 6. The banter, however, has been anything but.

Elsewhere in the East, Jimmy Butler and Marcus Smart went at it on the court and in front of microphones. Smart, a certified flopper, had gotten underneath Butler’s skin. In Game 4 between the Bulls and Celtics, the two had to be separated by coaches and teammates. At the podium later on, Butler aired his frustrations:

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“He’s a great actor, acting tough, that’s what he does — but I don’t think he’s about that,” Butler said. “I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So he need to take it somewhere else ’cause I’m not the one for that.

“We’re not gonna sit here and get in each other faces,” Butler continued after some prompting. “Like I said, he’s not about that life. Calm it down.”

Smart, unlike most NBA players, wouldn’t take the bait when reporters fished for a response — “Are you about that life?” — the following day. When Smart was asked whether he’d ever been accused of not being tough before: “Never.” When he was asked for his reaction: “Haha.” The “haha” was sarcastic as heck, and it was great.

Smart wasn’t the only player to refuse a reporter’s bait. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan was asked about Matthew Dellavedova’s possibly illegal screens in the Bucks-Raptors series. Deep down inside, he clearly had a fiery response. Instead, he checked himself. “If you pay my fine, I’ll answer that question,” he quipped.

Category 3: Rants

David Fizdale is a treasure. Maybe not quite a national treasure, but certainly a basketball treasure. And after his Memphis Grizzlies went down 2-0 to the Spurs, he unleashed a legendary rant that will undoubtedly stand as the best of the playoffs:

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The full rant is long and remarkably eloquent. The end is the best: “I know Pop’s got pedigree, and I’m a young rookie, but they not gon’ rook us. That’s unacceptable. That was unprofessional. My guys dug in that game, and earned the right to be in that game, and they did not even give us a chance. Take that for data!”

Not many rants have multiple epic lines. This one did. “Take that for data!” was the most emphatic, and even spawned a T-shirt. But “They not gon’ rook us,” was arguably even better. Both were phenomenal.

Chicago’s Fred Hoiberg also went on a less fiery rant about officiating after Bulls-Celtics Game 4. His wasn’t as fun, in part because it had a little Old Man Yells at Cloud (but doesn’t actually yell) in it:

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Hoiberg isn’t really the epic-rant type. And he got exposed for his lack of rantability by a reporter after Game 5. “Fred, did you see, uh, Isaiah carry the ball at all this game?”

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Now we’ve got petty reporters too! Amazing.

Hoiberg took the L in the game, and took another L at the podium. But, as we’ll soon see, it’s not often that reporters get the best of coaches in this fashion. Usually, in fact, it’s the other way around.

Category 4: Calling out dumb questions

News conferences are always full of terrible questions. Usually players and coaches let them slide. Chris Paul isn’t one of those players. Doc Rivers isn’t one of those coaches. Here’s Paul, when asked, “Will the Clippers be back here Sunday playing a Game 7?”

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NBA players won’t just call out each other. They’ll call you out of you’re not doing your job well. Paul was right, too. This was a stupid question.

Doc Rivers, on the other hand, was less right earlier in the series. He was asked a perfectly legitimate question about end-of-game strategy. Rather than explain the rationale behind his answer — which, by the way, can absolutely be disputed — he snapped, and called the reporter’s suggestion “the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard”:

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Then there’s Gregg Popovich, who has probably never said a single incorrect word in his life. He also often says single words as answers, unless he’s going on and on about how horrible Donald Trump is. Or unless he’s embarrassing a reporter who arrived late to a news conference and asked a repetitive question:

And then there was all the Paul George drama. George had two postgame quotes that were open to interpretation. After Game 1, in which George passed out of a double team on the Pacers’ final possession when down one point, he said, “I’ve got to get the last shot.” After Game 2, he said that Lance Stephenson has “got to learn to control himself.” Some interpretations were that George was throwing his teammates under the bus. After seeing those reactions, George had two choice words to describe them: “Complete ignorance.”

Category 5: Social media

The Bucks and Raptors stayed relatively mum in front of the media. But on social media? And in other non-basketball-related avenues? Just the opposite.

Let’s start in Milwaukee, where, before Game 3 … BARNEY THEME SONG:

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During Game 4, we also had a young Bucks fan savagely kicking a blow-up dinosaur during a timeout before dunking on a mini-hoop.

But the last laugh? Ah, yes, that went to Toronto — who was so confident that it would get the last laugh that it bought rapsin6.com before the game, and produced this marvelous video to put its metaphorical foot on the metaphorical throat of the Bucks in this series-long social media/extracurricular battle.

Category 6: Cupcakes

The Golden State Warriors, in the NBA Pettiness Wars, are like the quiet kid in middle school who occasionally gets picked on, takes the teasing in stride, doesn’t react … and then suddenly, somewhat awkwardly, slightly hesitantly but nonetheless effectively stars chirping back. The Warriors have been the main targets of the two most petty players in the NBA, LeBron James and Westbrook. Led by Draymond Green, they started to fight back in February with Cupcake T-shirts. Even Kevin Durant’s mother got in on the act. And now?

We’ve got a full-fledged petty heavyweight (pettyweight?):

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Stay petty, Kevin Durant. Stay petty, NBA. You’re better because of it.

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