"You learn something new every day" insists the old adage. Fans may live up to this quotation by following their favorite team, or maybe by tracking each league's MVP, but there is no question that this year's NBA post season has given fans much to think about. Whether it is LeBron James shutting the mouths of skeptics or the experience of being dethroned by an unlikely foe, the 2011 NBA playoffs have certainly left basketball fans with no shortage of lessons learned.
In order to be the best, you need to beat the best, or so the story is told. One of the heavy favorites entering the conference finals was the friend of the Finals, the San Antonio Spurs. Unfortunately for the Alamo, the young Memphis Grizzlies came sent the Spurs on an early vacation in six games by simply out-playing them on what seemed like an endless supply of energy.
The Celtics also looked like a strong contender to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but the one element that stood between them and another Finals appearance was youth. And the Miami Heat, I guess.
The bottom line is that if you have been to the Finals before and now have a veteran lineup, you cannot overlook the younger teams that have never stepped into basketball's biggest spotlight—even if that team is sub-.500.
Earlier in the season, the Lakers were understandably fed up with all the coverage the Heat were receiving, thus taking away their three-peat spotlight. Well guys, maybe they media knew something that you didn’t.
The Lakers kicked off the playoffs by losing to the injured and less-talented New Orleans Hornets. Twice, for that matter. Experts predicted that series would last four games, and in the next round, it did—just in reverse.
The Dallas Mavericks entered the series against LA after fighting off the Portland Trailblazers, and they used this momentum to walk right into the Staples Center and win the first two games of the series. Before the Lakers could figure out how to turn the ship around, they were beaten mercilessly in game four in Dallas by a score of 122-86.
The Lakers showed fatigue, a lack of discipline, a lack of chemistry, and failed to bring any of the defense that they used to win past championships, thus leaving LA to be three-peat dreamers.
After a disappointing six-point effort in game three at Boston, Bosh said "My emotions got the best of me early on and it kind of dictated what I was doing for the rest of the game,” right to the papers. This showed weakness, intimidation, and, most surprisingly, honesty.
Bosh's sentiment was likely shared by many unseasoned players during this post season, except that he was one of the first to actually say it. It may have riled up the Boston fans a little more, or given fuel for more trash talk between the two teams, but at least he displayed something that’s sometimes hard to come by in the press room: a good, wholesome, honest answer.
Derrick Rose didn’t have a horrible series as far as stats go, but the game goes beyond paper. While the rest of Chicago refuses to point fingers at their MVP, the rest of the NBA knows on whose shoulders this series will fall.
Let’s fast forward to the collapse by Chicago in the final minute of game five, the most important sixty seconds of the series. After choking away a Thunder-esque league, D-Rose turned the ball over to LeBron that led to the first Heat lead in the second half.
The train wreck didn’t end there for Rose, as he went on to miss his second free throw that would have tied the game up at 83. The icing on the cake came when Rose looked like a chicken with his head cut off during his final possession of the game, in which his desperation shot was blocked to end the game.
The 2011 NBA Playoffs quickly turned into the “How Can We Blame Russell Westbrook Show” whenever the Thunder took a loss. Sports shows and newspapers all over the nation took shots at his lack of passing, poor shooting, and even questioned his effort.
Probably the No. 1 reason Westbrook was thrown under the bus is the fact that he nearly took the same amount of shots as the best scorer in the league, Kevin Durant, and shot well under the team average. Over the last two games of the series, Westbrook attempted eight more shots than Durant, and OKC fans were not down with that. It was undoubtedly a rough series for Westbrook.
After the announcement that Carmelo Anthony was headed to NYC, some fans wanted them to start getting their fingers sized for championship rings. Unfortunately, with the superstar came a lack of defense and passing, causing the Knicks to go .500 following the pickup, and ultimately, to get embarrassed in a four game sweep to the Boston Celtics.
Mike D’Antoni will enter the next season on the hottest seat in basketball, but perhaps more than just the head coach needs to improve. With the possibility of Billups leaving next year, the Knicks will try to reel in a big name, such as Chris Paul. If that doesn’t work out, expect Spike Lee to bring a box of Kleenex to every game.
This postseason, I was tuning in to an NBA pregame show in which the topic was “Is Dirk Nowitzki a top ten player of all-time.” I thought that this must be the most ridiculous topic of all-time. However, after seeing Dirk go to work in the Thunder series, I began to realize, ‘If I never watched the NBA before, I would think Dirk is the best player ever to live.’
Dirk started off the conference finals by dropping a 48-point bomb on OKC, shooting 80 percent from the field and going 24-24 from the line. Putting up 161 points in the series may not automatically place you within the top ten of all-time, but it does make him arguably the best player in this year’s playoffs.
It may go unnoticed in the first 47 minutes of a game, but defense will definitely play a huge role in the path to getting a ring. No game displayed this as prevalently as the Heat-Bulls game last night, in which defense from the self-proclaimed “King” basically won the Heat the game.
Stealing the ball from D-Rose with just under a minute left to play, LeBron turned good defense into two points. The clinic didn’t end there, as with only a few tics left on the clock, LeBron contested Derrick Rose’s shot and blocked it to seal the Heat's bid for their first NBA as the “Big Three” a.k.a. the most hated trio in sports.
LeBron James entered this post-season as clutch as a bag of rocks, with skeptics tearing him apart for his failures to rise to the occasion. Needless to say, LeBron shut down every argument this post-season, hitting the final five points in game five against the Bulls.
Even this was not James’ first clutch game of the post-season; just ask Boston. With game five tied at 87, James took control and drained the last ten points of the game to send Boston back home.
Now, for any LeBron James haters who still think he isn’t clutch: please leave your comments below, thank you.
Do I really have to explain myself on this one?
Well, might as well just in case.
How many late-game comebacks did we see this postseason? How many times did we see a double-digit lead vanish in the game's last three minutes? How many times did we see a first half lead make no difference in the game? Exactly.
Eventually the NBA should just give everyone forty three extra minutes of shoot-around and just start the game in the fourth quarter; five minutes on the clock. This will save time and relieve fans of the agony they go through watching their teams choke away late-game leads.