Linsanity and the Most Surprising Phenomenons of the 2011-12 NBA Season
Every NBA season has its surprise storylines and breakthrough players.
The 2011-12 season was one of the best yet. We had unheralded D-League point guards, one of the league's best players failing in the clutch and the league's worst-ever team all in one shortened season.
The phenomena this season were some of the most engrossing and world-famous the league has ever known and certainly contributed to yet another season of growth in the number of NBA fans worldwide.
The Chicago Bulls suffered many injuries to several key players throughout the 2012 season.
Derrick Rose missed 19 games before finally blowing out his ACL in the opening game of the playoffs and Luol Deng played the majority of the season with a torn ligament in his left wrist, to name just two.
When Rose went down, backup guard C.J. Watson stepped forward, and he ended up missing time, too, and proving ineffective.
Then came John Lucas III. A roster-spot filler not expected to see any playing time save in 40-point wins and losses ended up providing some startling performances including a 24-point binge against the Miami Heat, punctuated with a got-to-see-it-to-believe-it fade-away long two over LeBron James.
Lucas could be relied on to act as a spark plug for the Bulls when their offense was stalling and out of ideas.
Nobody deserves this break like Lucas does. Having bounced around between various different countries, continents and leagues, Lucas landed with the Bulls and finally seems to have found a home.
6. Indiana Pacers
While the Indiana Pacers were not so much of a phenomenon, they were one of the league's surprise stories.
Built by newly-crowned Executive of the Year Larry Bird, the Pacers stormed to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and very nearly booted the Miami Heat out of the second round of the playoffs, holding a 2-1 series lead before losing in six games.
The Pacers were on a few lists as a team that could improve on last year's (eight-seed worthy) performance, but few, if any, had the Pacers going as high as the third-best team in the East and even fewer had them down to finish the season with more wins that the Los Angeles Lakers.
5. Kyle Lowry's Breakthrough
Kyle Lowry has been a good point guard for the Houston Rockets before this season.
This season, that changed.
Lowry had a career-season and is now being touted as the answer to several point guard-less teams searching for someone young and talented to run their offense.
The Rockets did miss the playoffs, but Lowry's improved play helped them stay in contention until the dying moments of the regular season. Now, he could be in line for a major payday and a trade to a contending team.
How times have changed.
4. The Bobcats' Terrible Season
Charlotte Bobcats fans are tired of hearing all of this.
The Bobcats posted an NBA-worst 7-59 win/loss record this season, "good" for the worst-ever record in the long history of the league.
Seven wins. Just seven.
The Bobcats were 7-36 at one point before ending the season on a brutal 23-game losing streak, just three short of the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers' all-time losing streak of 26 games in one season.
The Bobcats defied expectations they were so bad. Everyone knew they would finish at the bottom, but this was something unheard of.
Players and coaches just looked shot for ideas midway through the season and seemed to accept their journey to an all-time low.
3. 'Too Old Spurs' Keep on Winning
Last year was supposedly the beginning of the end for the San Antonio Spurs as currently constructed.
That was after a shocking opening-round loss to the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
Fast forward 12 months and the Spurs won 11 straight games on three separate occasions in the regular season, including a 20-game winning streak from April through to their exit in the Western Conference finals.
Before meeting the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West finals, the Spurs had swept both the overmatched Utah Jazz and under-experienced Los Angeles Clippers to the side and even won the opening two games of the conference finals before the Thunder woke up and won the next four games.
Tim Duncan partied like it was 1999 and Manu Ginobili returned from a serious hand injury to be a major contributor. Tony Parker also underlined his status as one of the league's top guards.
Perhaps now is the time to break up the Spurs, on a high. Or do they go for one final, final, final run with this group as Duncan and Co. played so well?
2. LeBron James in the Clutch
LeBron James and the clutch are like old enemies.
This past season the rivalry intensified and LeBron was vilified no matter what he did in the crunch time of close ball games.
Shoot and miss: not clutch.
Shoot and score: just one game/meaningless regular season game.
Pass to Wade/Bosh: riding his teammates.
Pass to open player: making the "wrong" play (often the right one anyway).
His options were many yet he came in for criticism no matter what. It became expected that when the game was on the line either LeBron would shoot and miss or he would defer to a teammate, so predictable that it became not-so surprising after a certain amount of times.
Those critics, however, were silenced in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against Boston, where LeBron went off for 45 points in one of his greatest ever performances in a must-win game for the Heat.
It couldn't be anyone else, could it?
Jeremy Lin had the whole world talking about his actions with a basketball. I had people who've never taken an interest in basketball come up to me and talk to me about this kid Jeremy Lin from New York.
Coming to New York on the back of cuts from two separate teams, Lin was days from being cut from the Knicks before injury forced the team to keep him—and start him.
Lin announced himself to the world by helping the Knicks beat Deron Williams' Nets, the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz in short order. At that stage, the basketball world knew of Lin—and Linsanity was born.
Then came the Sunday afternoon national-TV game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Madison Square Garden.
Lin went for 38 points in a famous Knicks' victory.
Suddenly, "Linsanity" was everywhere. The whole world knew who the young point guard was and what he was doing in NBA in the span of a few short weeks.
The icing on the cake, for me, was his game in Toronto against the Raptors. With the game tied with eight seconds left, Lin waved off his teammates in favor of an isolation play. He raised up and splashed home a walk-off game-winning three-pointer. Despite the game being in Toronto, the arena erupted—and so did Twitter.
Next to the dictionary definition of "phenomenon" there should be a freeze-frame of that shot.