The Top Five Attributes of an NBA Postseason
The regular season’s 82 games has been compared to that of a marathon time and again. If that comparison holds any accuracy, the playoffs can only amount to one critical, final sprint.
The criteria for a postseason making its way into the NBA’s most historic ranks certainly varies. While one postseason may prove to be historic due to a single series alone, another’s historic worth may hinge on stars developing into superstars and superstars developing into legends.
Think back to Magic Johnson’s 42-point, 15-rebound, and seven-assist night that propelled the Lakers to victory in the 1980 NBA Finals. That night propelled Johnson to a Finals MVP award in his rookie season–a feat that remains unmatched by any rookie in NBA history.
Still, certain attributes are universal of every historic postseason.
Which have we seen so far this year?
Let’s face it, playoff series between two teams that respect each other overtly aren’t any fun.
I’ve never understood how some can enjoy a series in which both teams say all the “right things,” neither shows any chippy-ness or edge, and both feel obliged to shake hands at the end as though no one was playing for championships, their legacies, their contracts. or livelihood.
There’s nothing wrong with sportsmanship, but engaging in activities like handshaking and congratulating simply for the sake of it is an idea that needs to be done away with.
Case in point: Over a year and another MVP title later, people are still talking about the least important stat of the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James’ 0 HPG (handshakes per game).
The NBA is a man’s game.
Simply put: Something’s wrong if testosterone doesn’t play a role in a contest featuring two separate groups of a dozen men fighting for competing interests.
Forgive me if I like seeing the occasional melee or the occasional send-a-message foul.
Sometimes basketball comes down to more than X’s and O’s, screens and pick-and-rolls. Sometimes it comes down to composure, fortitude, and which team has the biggest set of non-Spalding balls.
Verdict: We’ve seen plenty of this. The Celtics-Heat series alone had an entire postseason’s worth, but the end of the Lakers-Suns series definitely added more of a taste.
2: Trash Talk
Yeah, this stems off No. 1 a little, but who’s counting?
My own personal philosophy on trash talk is this: Say whatever you want, but only if you can back it up. Unfortunately, that’s a standard that most can’t
seem to understand.
Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash are certainly the biggest culprits in breaking the rule this postseason.
After calling Lamar Odom’s 19-point, 19-rebound Game One opening “lucky,” Stoudemire went on to average only six rebounds in the series and was a constant liability on an already soft defense.
Later, his partner in crime, Steve Nash, guaranteed a home victory in Game Six–and we saw how that turned out.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s attempt to mitigate the insult of Nash’s ridiculous guarantee was likely an attempt to keep the Lakers’ heads level.
The Celtics' Paul Pierce has also engaged in his share of trash talk this season–the difference is that his team has been able to back his mouth…so far.
After the Celtics took a 2-0 lead on the Orlando Magic, Paul Pierce’s Twitter account posted “Anyone got a broom?” However, that post was reportedly the work of a hacker, as Pierce denied any involvement.
Hey, why shouldn’t we believe him?
It's not like the Twitter post was consistent with Pierce’s quote in the post-game interview of Game Two: “We’re coming home to close it out.”
Besides, this guy doesn’t have a history of running his mouth when the chips fall in his favor, does he?
Sometimes, the most entertaining thing about trash talk is looking forward to the talker being shut up.
Verdict: Anytime you ask if you’ve enough trash talk and you see Paul Pierce’s name anywhere near the subject, your question is answered.
The NBA offers few story lines juicier than playoff rematches.
Even regular season games between teams that have recently faced off in the playoffs can boast playoff-like atmospheres.
Actual playoff rematches are exponentially more intense.
When predicting the outcome of playoff series, many analysts turn to regular season matchups. Ironically, previous postseason matches tend to be a more accurate predictor.
In the several playoff rematches in the last decade, the victors have generally repeated their success.
The Lakers have faced off against the Spurs five times, winning four.
The Jazz ousted the Rockets in two consecutive years from 2007-2008.
The Lakers dispatched of the Kings during every postseason of their Three-Peat Championships of the early decade.
The Spurs took four of the last five postseason battles with the Suns.
The Lakers dispatched the Jazz in the last three consecutive postseasons.
The Pistons were on the verge of reopening their long-dead historic rivalry with the Boston Celtics before they fell apart in 2009.
The Nuggets seemed to be on the verge of creating a rivalry with the Lakers during last year’s Western Conference Finals. That series saw the Nuggets on the brink of avenging their previous postseason sweep at the hands of the Lakers in a very competitive six-game series.
The list goes on and on, but anytime teams face off in the postseason more than once, there is always the chance that a historic rivalry will be born.
Verdict: We’ve seen rematches galore in 2010. Lakers-Suns, Spurs-Suns, Spurs-Mavericks, Celtics-Cavs, and Magic-Celtics. Take your pick.
4: Player Emergence/Development
While history will always be a key part in the NBA’s appeal, too much repetition can become dull. When unexpected players leave their mark on the postseason, it injects new life into the NBA and balances tradition with unpredictability.
2002 saw masterful contributions from Robert Horry, arguably the greatest role player of all time.
2004 saw Chauncey Billups lead a rugged Pistons team eerily reminiscent of the original Bad Boy Pistons of the '80s over the heavily favored, star-studded Lakers.
2006 saw Dwyane Wade lead the nearly down-and-out Miami Heat to an improbable victory over a Mavericks team that had crushed them by an average of 24.5 points in the regular season, and were in command of a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in a series they already led 2-0.
2007 saw LeBron James single-handedly dismantle a Pistons team that was known for their imposing defense.
2009 saw a revitalized Nuggets team led by Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, but characterized by a host of talented, rugged role players such as Chris “Birdman” Anderson, Nene, and JR Smith tear through their first two playoff opponents. Their rampage was highlighted by a 58-point thrashing of the Hornets in New Orleans.
2010 has a host of candidates. Rajon Rondo has emerged as the Celtics clear-cut best player by leading them back to the NBA Finals. After a slow start, Kobe Bryant is probably playing the best basketball of his career. Steve Nash gave everything he had during the Suns' improbable run to the Western Conference Finals.
Verdict: We’ve definitely seen a lot of development this postseason.
Ron Artest went from never being in a Conference Finals to being only four wins away from becoming an NBA Champion, Steve Nash showed a grit previously unseen by anyone in a Phoenix uniform since Charles Barkley,
Kobe Bryant is playing as well as Michael Jordan ever has, and Rajon Rondo has a legitimate shot at becoming the best point guard in Celtics history by the end of his career.
5: NBA Finals Rematches
Easily the best entertainment the NBA has to offer, Finals rematches are not only great for TV ratings and overall drama, they’re instant classics.
Lost amid all the Lakers and Celtics lore out there is the fact that this year’s Finals rematch is the first the NBA has seen in a dozen years.
To put that in perspective, Phil Jackson was in Chicago, Kobe Bryant was a bench rider, LeBron James was barely even in adolescence, there were only four divisions in basketball, and oh yeah…Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan was still winning Championships on the court.
It's been that long.
Regular playoff rematches are entertaining to be sure, but those matchups are appetizers at best. Finals rematches offer a full course meal.
You think teams go all out in regular Finals matchups?
After bouncing the Phoenix Suns from Game Six, Derek Fisher claimed that players never forget a Finals loss, and the entire Lakers team repeatedly cited the embarrassing blowout loss in the 2008 Finals as motivation on their way to claiming the 2009 Championship.
To cap that off, here’s an insane stat I can’t stop repeating: The Lakers and Celtics' previous three games were decided by three total points.
The game of basketball doesn’t offer more intensity than this.
Taking all of this into consideration, the last NBA Finals of the first decade of the 2000s may prove that the basketball gods saved the best for last.
Verdict: Lakers-Celtics. Need I say more?