Here’s a condensed recap of what happened in the 2011 NBA playoffs:
Zach Randolph became one of the two-or-three-best power forwards in the game. Derrick Rose became Jordan’s official successor after advancing past Indiana and Atlanta in the first two rounds. LeBron James became a better player than Jordan, but no more than two-and-a-half weeks later was the ultimate euphemism to describe the act of “coming up short.”
Among other things, Rick Carlisle became one of the best coaches in the league. Tyson Chandler became the second-or-third-best center in the league. Dirk Nowitzki went from being one of the top-50 players of all time and a guy who just couldn’t get it done to one of the top-25 (maybe even 20) players of all time.
In other words, a lot of stuff will happen in the two-and-a-half-month stretch of playoff basketball. For better or worse, we will overreact and attempt to draw large-scale conclusions every chance we get. We will flip-flop predictions, change our attitudes of players and coaches, predetermine the final legacies of a number of people, and a few of us might even go as far as to prematurely rescind or acquiesce a few Hall of Fame ballots. All of this will be done on a game-to-game basis, too.
So without taking up any more of your time, here’s your very first stock report of the league’s star players in the 2012 NBA playoffs.
Andrew Bynum’s ascent to greatness still continues. It seems as if the Lakers have played on Sunday national TV for the past month now, and each time they play, Andrew Bynum seems to put up a more amazing stat line than the one before.
With 10 blocks on Sunday, Bynum tied the NBA record set by Utah's Mark Eaton on April 26, 1985, and matched by Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon on April 29, 1990. He became the second player in playoff history to record a triple-double by virtue of getting 10 or more blocks. He also became the first Laker to record a playoff triple-double since Magic Johnson did it in 1992.
With Dwight Howard out for the remainder of the season, there isn’t much of anything that can be done to stop Andrew Bynum from becoming the league’s best big man. Is there?
Actually, is there anything from stopping the Lakers in the playoffs? With the two seven-footers manning the inside, Mike Brown’s defensive expertise should be on full display as it was yesterday against Utah. I’m already beginning to reconsider my San Antonio-out-of-the-west pick.
The Thunder came scarily close to losing Game 1 to Dallas on Saturday night. Thanks to some late-game heroics by Kevin Durant, we’re not talking about the Thunder possibly getting upset in the first round to the reigning world champions.
In one play, Kevin Durant encapsulated what the NBA has been over the last half-decade or so by exemplifying one of his best assets...the clutch factor.
In case you didn’t see his game-winning shot Saturday night, Durant banked it off the side of the rim, got a generous bounce off the backboard and the ball somehow fell in the cylinder. Some people might call that luck, others might call it clutch. In the year 2012, it all depends on who you ask.
The first thing that went through my head when this happened was, “What is Skip Bayless going to say?” In fact, over the last half-decade of the NBA playoffs, I’ve left 8- percent of every game asking that question. “What is Skip Bayless going to say?” The man has essentially changed the way we watch the NBA game.
Durant finished the game having gone 10-for-27 from the field and 1-for-7 from three, but don’t ever try telling anyone that those numbers matter. Did they win? Yes.
They got the win, it happened near the final buzzer, Kevin Durant took the shot, Kevin Durant made the shot, and if I could say something to LeBron James right now, all I would say is that, "sometimes it just isn’t fair."
So, we learned something over the weekend. We learned that there is actual proof of a “clutch gene” inside Kevin Durant. This is big news because anytime a guy clanks a shot in to grab a one-point lead, we’ve got to anoint him. Don’t worry though, we’ll be taking it all back when Oklahoma City is eliminated by L.A. in the next round. Or perhaps when they’re eliminated by Dallas this round. I won’t rule either of the two out—the Thunder look lost when Westbrook and/or Durant can’t get shots to fall.
After the astonishing comeback win in Game 1 against Memphis, Chris Paul said the game ball went to Reggie Evans. I would actually give the game ball to Nick Young if I had to give it to anyone besides Paul.
The Clippers comeback wasn’t ever officially “a comeback” until Young nailed three-straight three-pointers in a span of less than a minute. Personally, I can’t remember the last time there was a comeback of this proportion, but that’s probably because I can’t recall the last time a guy hit three-straight three-pointers in that short of a time span when it was so crucial to do so. But that’s neither here or there right now.
The Clippers tied the NBA playoff record for largest deficit overcome at the end of three quarters, when they trailed by 21. At one point they were trailing by 27 points. Sunday’s epic comeback win was the Clippers fourth playoff road victory in team history, too. Because the Clips seem to be setting all types of franchise records this season, I’m forced to give nearly all of the credit to the same player who made the Clips' 40-24 record (franchise-best in terms of winning percentage) possible...Chris Paul.
The guy is clearly one of the smartest players in the NBA. On Sunday, he knew the game was still in reach, he came in and knew exactly when to push the ball and who, when and where to go with it. Without Paul, Nick Young never gets the chance at three quick-trigger threes in perfect rhythm. Without Paul, Reggie Evans doesn’t get the perfect pass that leads to the go-ahead bucket. Without Paul, the Clippers never find themselves playing in that game in the first place.
Compare the Clippers' comeback with that of the Celtics' near comeback against the Hawks and the difference is that Paul was solely responsible for handling the ball, he didn't panic, didn’t resort to taking threes himself, and did not force anything too quickly into the shot clock on offensive possessions. Meanwhile, the Celtics couldn’t seem to decide between Garnett, Pierce and Rondo. That doesn’t mean the Clippers are better or have an advantage over Boston, it just means there’s only one Chris Paul and he’s playing for the Clippers.
And it is worth noting that—for the purposes of this article—Chris Paul hit the two game-winning free-throws. If the Clippers somehow advance past Memphis, there’s no telling how crazy this Chris Paul saga could get. The man is seeking redemption from 2008 against the Spurs in the Western semifinals.
Rudy Gay earned the honor of being the first star to miss a game-winning shot in the 2012 playoffs. He also became the first player in NBA history to have attempted a game-winning shot when his team had previously been up 27 points just eight minutes prior.
However, Gay made it a lot harder on himself than it had to be. If you have the ball and your team is down by a point with more than five seconds left, you’ve got to get a shot off within seconds of inbounding the ball. Not only does it allow you the chance to get the ball back on a offensive rebound or after fouling the other team and sending them to the line to go up by three, but the odds of hitting that shot become mathematically higher because the pressure is far less. When Gay inbounded, there were eight seconds and change left to play. If he took the shot off the inbound, the Grizzlies would have had a great chance of winning when you consider how poor of free-throwers there were on the floor for Los Angeles.
The funny part is that in the last nine minutes of the game, Rudy Gay made the Grizzlies' only field goal when he noticed he had a mismatch and sunk a 10-foot baseline jumper over the shorter Paul. Considering it had been eight minutes since the Grizzlies’ last field goal, I’d say that was pretty clutch on his part.
The Magic took Game 1 from the Pacers on Saturday and they did it without Dwight Howard. Right now Dwight is sitting at home secretly praying the Magic lose this series. No, not because he despises Stan and has proven to be a terrible teammate, but because he needs to protect his brand. If the Magic were to pull off this series—no matter if it is against Indiana or no—Howard would instantaneously become LeBron James 2.0.
If the Magic were to win a series without him, that would pretty much spell the end of things for the two sides in Orlando. Then again, maybe that’s what he wants.
Either way, if you’re Dwight Howard, you are in a lose-lose situation. If Orlando wins this series, we’ll read into it, we’ll have a jolly old time making up Dwight Howard theories, and he’ll probably have to book it out of Orlando. Sadly, doing this will make things all the more worse, especially if it involves going to the Brooklyn Nets.
But hey...it’s only Game 1 of a seven-game series.
Anything New York Knicks
I heard a rumor that the Knicks could upset the Heat in Round 1. I heard the same rumor last year when they played the Celtics in the first round. Last year the Celtics swept New York, and on Saturday the Knicks lost to Miami by 33 points. Iman Shumpert or not, I'm not buying into the stock of anything that's related to basketball in the Metropolis until I see something telling me I should.
On Saturday, Rose was ruled out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Everyone suffers from Rose’s absence in these playoffs, but looking at it from the outside, Derrick Rose isn’t in such a bad position right now.
Simply put, when the playoffs are over, we won’t have the chance to question Derrick Rose’s clutch gene or his “it” factor, nor will we be able to revoke his 2011 MVP or overly contrast him to Jordan. We won’t be able to do anything but say, “If D-Rose would have been healthy, the Bulls would have won it all,” and there won’t be anything anyone could say to ever disprove that. In this day in age of the NBA, that’s almost as good as a ring...at least for now.