When confronted with negative emotion, it’s natural for humans to turn to food. Today, we examine the regional gastronomy of the first eight teams eliminated from the NBA playoffs so their fans know exactly how to eat their feelings.
I’m sure locals from these cities could easily point out glaring errors in my estimation of their city’s cuisine, but that kind of accuracy is reserved for winners, and that’s simply not what these teams are.
No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies: pulled pork
Ja Morant’s speed and power is a combination nearly as potent as garlic powder and paprika, but even a barbecue novice knows a championship-worthy rub requires contributions from the whole spice rack.
Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell shredded the Grizzlies’ defense as if it were a tender pork shoulder while center Rudy Gobert’s defense smothered Memphis’ offense like a thick, tangy barbecue sauce.
With yet another first-round playoff exit, the Grizzlies are really testing their fans’ patience. At least a rack of slow-cooked ribs comes out tasty after spending so much time stuck in a pit.
No. 8 Washington Wizards: some very well-known foods you’ve definitely heard of
What is Washington’s signature food, exactly?
There are sausages called half-smokes, but they originated in Maryland. Then there’s a twist on barbecue sauce known as Mumbo sauce, but that hardly constitutes a full dish.
Maybe we can count both. After all, the Wizards reached the postseason despite never establishing a leader between Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal.
I suppose D.C. cuisine is one of those things only locals understand, like why someone would root for a team that hasn’t made it past the first round in 13 of its last 17 playoff appearances.
No. 7 Boston Celtics: clam chowder
Whether you’re coaching the Celtics or simmering a creamy shellfish broth, you’re working with hardy stock.
While Boston typically plays well enough to take leftovers to the second round, its Finals hopes quickly boiled over in 2021. Not even standout forward Jayson Tatum’s 50-point performance in Game 3 let the Celtics cut through the rich ladles of scoring the Brooklyn Nets’ star-studded roster heaped on.
Now, the Celtics are reorganizing their front office like a chef cleaning out his fridge. It’s hard to say what specifically went rotten for Boston, but something certainly stank this season.
No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers: street tacos
It’s ludicrous to say LeBron James is a corn shell of his former self. Still, the cracks in James’ play showed against the Phoenix Suns, and he couldn’t carry the sloppier ingredients around him.
Between James exiting the court when his team trailed in the fourth quarter of Game 5 or forward Kyle Kuzma posting a pitiful 2 points in Game 6, the Lakers embodied the fatal flaw of every taco. Sure, they’re delicious when the components are fresh and well balanced, but once crunch time comes, things tend to fall apart.
No. 6 Miami Heat: Cuban sandwiches
It didn’t take long for the Milwaukee Bucks to expose the holes in the block of Swiss cheese that is the Heat.
Like the thinly sliced dill pickles that adorn a Cubano, Butler can be polarizing. This year, he didn’t bring much sweetness to counter all his bite, logging a meager 15 points per game on 30% shooting.
Bucks center Giannis Antetokounmpo was a ripping hot plancha against the Heat, scorching their defense and squeezing their offense like a panini press. By Game 4, Miami was a smushed, melted memory of the 2020 Finals team.
No. 6 Portland Trail Blazers: Nong’s khao man gai
Khao man gai begins with simple poached chicken and rice. Then comes Nong’s signature chili soy sauce, an X factor that totally transforms the relatively mundane ingredients it accompanies.
All-star guard Damian Lillard has carried a perfectly fine but occasionally unremarkable Portland team for the better part of a decade. Yet as sweet as Lillard’s play is, the Denver Nuggets brought too much heat, even if it wasn’t flashy.
Despite the acclaim Nong’s sauce attracts, Khao man gai is ultimately Thai comfort food. What’s more comfortable than the Trailblazers losing in the first round?
No. 5 Dallas Mavericks: Frito pie
Luka Donĉić is hotter than chili con carne from the 3-point line, handles the ball smoother than melted cheddar cheese and regularly carries his underperforming teammates like a sturdy, scoop-shaped corn chip.
Unfortunately, Frito pie will always get outclassed by more refined cuisine. Donĉić is a treat to watch, but Dallas couldn’t hang with a more well-rounded Los Angeles Clippers crew.
Again, rooting for the Mavericks is like enjoying a slice of classic Texan comfort food. It’s a delightful surprise in the moment, but you’re left with an awful feeling deep in your stomach once it’s over.
No. 4 New York Knicks: bagel and lox
New Yorkers will tell you not to toast a fresh bagel, but that’s precisely what Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young did to the Knicks.
Next comes the cream cheese, colloquially known as schmear. While spectators at Madison Square Garden mocked Young with demeaning chants, the only names getting smeared were those on the back of the Knicks’ jerseys.
Finally, we arrive at the lox, raw salmon as cold as one of Young’s fourth-quarter 3-pointers. Lox are typically brined in a solution primarily composed of sodium, making them nearly as salty as a Knicks fan.