10 Things I Loved About the 2011 NBA Playoffs

June 14, 2011 in Basketball, Indiana Pacers, NBA, Sport by pacejmiller

Ahh…it’s finally all over. The Dallas Mavericks just defeated the Miami Heat in 6 games to capture the 2011 NBA Championship in what has been the most enjoyable NBA Playoffs in recent memory. Dirk Nowitzki was named Finals MVP, elevating the big silky German to all-time great status and denying Miami’s much-maligned ‘Big Three’ of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh a chance at a title in their first year together. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Here are the 10 things that I thought made these Playoffs one of the best ever.

(to read on, click on ‘more…’)

10. Indiana Pacers make the playoffs!

This is a little self indulgent one, just for me. After five years in the lottery wilderness, my Indiana Pacers finally made the playoffs. Sure, they were eliminated 4-1 against the top-seeded Chicago Bulls, but that’s already so much more than Pacers fans have been given in recent years, especially considering they looked like they were going to miss out yet again midway through the season.

Thankfully, head coach Jim O’Brien was fired and his former assistant Frank Vogel led the Pacers to a 20-18 record to finish the regular season, then gave the Bulls all they could handle in five extremely tough games, four of which could have gone either way. In the end, Derrick Rose and the Bulls just had another gear which they could count on in crunch time, and that proved to be the difference. Nevertheless, a series Pacers fans ought to be proud of.

Oh, and Peja Stojakovic, former Pacer for one season, won the championship. Surely that counts for something?

9. Up-and-coming teams show glimpses of bright future

I was so sick of watching the same old teams playing in the same old series year after year, and it was fantastic this year for some of the young up-and-coming teams to show us a glimpse of their bright futures.

I’ve already discussed the Pacers above (okay, maybe their future is not so bright), but there are so many more teams that look like they will be serious challengers for years to come.

For starters, there’s the Chicago Bulls, led by this year’s regular season MVP Derrick Rose, who is not even 23 years old yet. Rose blitzed the Pacers and the Hawks in the first two rounds, but succumbed to the Heat in the Conference Finals as he was shut down by the Heat’s vaunted defense. Nonetheless, Rose will only get better and better, and if the Bulls surround him with more scoring talent then they could very well take that next step.

Then there’s the Oklahoma City Thunder, who lost to the eventual champions Dallas Mavericks in five games in the Western Conference Finals. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are not yet 23, and James Harden is not yet 22. Throw in new addition Kendrick Perkins (26), the Thunder have a very bright future ahead of them.

Speaking of bright futures, how about the Memphis Grizzlies, who upset the top seeded Spurs in the first round and gave the Thunder all they could handle? Zach Randolph revived his career and proved to be an unstoppable beast at times, and the rest of the Grizzlies played hard and structured. There’s not reason why they can’t also be in the mix next year and beyond.

Then there’s the new super powers, Miami (with its Big Three) and New York (combining Carmelo and Amare). Even though Miami lost in the Finals and New York in the first round, both teams are filled with young superstars and will only get better with time.

8. Lakers and Celtics lost!

Apologies, Lakers and Celtics fans. I’m just ecstatic that these two teams didn’t make the Finals this year despite being considered ‘favourites’ (especially the Lakers) by many analysts.

I loved the way these teams bowed out too. The Celtics bounced by the Heat in a trumph of the new ‘Big Three’ over the old one (for some reason Boston’s Big Three never got vilified like Miami’s did, even though they did something very similar) in five tough games where Lebron James buried them with a multitude of clutch play. Who knows how the series would have turned out if Rajon Rondo didn’t dislocate his elbow, but nonetheless the window is closing fast for the Celtics. Sucked in KG, one of the most arrogant tossers the league has ever seen. See videos below.

As for the equally arrogant Lakers? Their demise could not have been more sweet. Everyone, and I mean everyone (except Charles Barkley), expected the Lakers to make it back to the Finals and probably win it too, but they were swept (swept!) by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round. For all the talk about Lebron’s struggles in the Finals, Kobe struggled just as much so, if not more in the series against the Mavs. Same could be said for Paul Gasol. I loved watching JJ Barea tear up the Lakers defense and how the Lakers resorted to bush league tactics as they were blown out of the building in game four (flagrants to Odom and Bynum). Now the Lakers can finally stop taking the championship for granted. Kobe is slowing down, whether he likes to admit it or not.

7. Upsets galore

I can’t remember an NBA Playoffs that has had as many upsets as this one.

In the first round, the Atlanta Hawks stunned the Orlando Magic 4-2, a year after the Magic swept the Hawks in one of the most one-sided playoff series in history. Safe to say nobody saw it coming.

Similarly, few expected the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, and they not only did it, they did it in convincing fashion with a 4-2 victory.

Interestingly, many experts also predicted the Portland Trailblazers to beat the Dallas Mavericks in round one, but boy does that prediction look stupid now.

In the second round, of course there was the Mavs over the Lakers (and in a sweep, no less), and to some extent the Heat’s victory over the Celtics was also considered an upset by many considering the Celtics handled the Heat 3-1 in the regular season.

And then in the Conference Finals, lots of people also expected Chicago to beat Miami and Oklahoma City to beat Dallas, but as we saw, they were all wrong.

Lastly, the Finals. After taking care of the Celtics and the Bulls, most thought it was a foregone conclusion that the Heat were going to trounce the Mavs. How wrong they were.

That was one of the best things about this year: an unexpected champion. All the favourites (Lakers, Spurs, Celtics, Heat, Bulls) fell and the dark horse defied the odds.

6. Mark Cuban shuts up

In one of the biggest surprises of all-time, Mavs owner Mark Cuban hardly said a word throughout the entire playoffs. The same Mark Cuban that sounded off every chance he had in the past, the same Mark Cuban that got into various wars of words with NBA Commissioner David Stern, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and player Ron Artest. Oh yes, the same Mark Cuban that tried to procure Lebron James but wasn’t even given an introductory meeting.

Finally, Cuban let his players do the talking on the basketball court and he is rewarded with a championship. Even more surprisingly, Cuban was gracious in victory, staying (for the most part) out of the spotlight and dishing out praise to all his players, Coach Rick Carlisle (former Pacers coach, by the way), aka Jim Carrey, and the old dude that started the Mavs a thousand years ago.

Say what you want about Cuban but you can’t deny that unlike most NBA owners, he is at least interesting and good value, and he was a good boy this time.

5. Subplots galore

It was astonishing how many subplots there were for every single playoff team this year. Seriously.

Bulls — can MVP Derrick Rose lift the Bulls, who had the best record in the NBA, to a title at 22 years old? Will Carlos Boozer stop sucking (click below)?

Heat — no explanation necessary. Too many subplots to count.

Celtics — do the old farts have one last championship run in them, especially after they traded Kendrick Perkins away? And when Rondo got hurt, was he the reincarnate of Willis Reed?

Magic — is this Dwight Howard’s final year? Did they have another run to the Finals in them? Will Gilbert Arenas shoot everybody?

Hawks — will the Hawks forever be a mid-tier opponent? Can they bounce back after the humiliation against the Magic last year? (The answer: a resounding YES!)

Knicks — with Melo and Amare, are the Knicks relevant once again? Will their young legs and high octane offense stand a chance against the Celtics?

76ers — one of the more surprising teams this season; short on talent but strong on toughness, teamwork and coaching. Nobody expected them to beat the Heat in the first round, but we all wanted to see if they could give them a scare.

Pacers — first return to the postseason in five years behind a rookie coach and going up against the top seed. Plus Danny Granger stirred the pot when he said (quite honestly and correctly) that he preferred to play the Bulls than the Celtics.

Spurs — did the old legends have one last hurrah in them after finishing with the West’s best record? Did anyone know Manu Ginobili essentially played with a broken arm?

Lakers — three-peat? Phil Jackson’s final season? Favourites?

Mavs — the dark horse that no one gave a chance, even predicting they would lose in the first round to the Blazers? The guys that had no heart, no mental toughness, no ability to produce in the clutch? Wow.

Thunder — do the young guns Durant and Westbrook have what it takes to lead their team to the Finals way ahead of schedule? How will Kendrick Perkins fit in? The rise of James Harden against the Mavs?

Nuggets — despite losing Melo, they had one of the best second half records in the NBA — are they the real deal?

Trailblazers — the rise of LeMarcus Aldridge into a top power forward. The return of Brandon Roy and where he would fit in. The seemingly favourite matchup on paper against the Mavs in the first round.

Hornets — crap team, super duper point guard in Chris Paul.

Grizzlies — the rise of Z-Bo. The rise of the entire freaking team in general. Dominating the Spurs then pushing the Thunder in a classic shootout. The darlings of these playoffs (apart from the Mavs).

4. Magnificent Finals

What a sensational finals, huh? It had destiny written all over it. First of all, it was the good guys (Mavs) against the bad (Miami). It was Dirk and J-Kidd’s supposed last chance for a title and Lebron and Bosh’s first. It was a rematch of the 2006 Finals where the Mavs won the first two games, were up comfortably in the third, then lost everything.

A tough first game won by Miami. A tide-turning game two by Dallas, coming back from 15 points down in the 4th to snatch victory from certain defeat. Three games decided on the final shot. Dirk going out of his mind. Everybody wondering when Lebron will wake up. Last time the Heat won game six and the title on the Mav’s home court. This time the Mavs won game six and the title on the Heat’s home court. There was just a perfect symmetry to it all.

3. The rise of Dirk Nowitzki

I don’t care which team you support — you just have to feel good for Dirk Nowitzki, the ultimate good guy of the NBA. It was magnificent to see Dirk rise from the ashes and cement his stature as the best European player of all time and one of the best power forwards of all time. He now has a regular season MVP, a Finals MVP and an NBA title to his name. He’s done something other greats such as Karl Malone and Charles Barkley were never able to accomplish.

Dirk played like an absolute freak these playoffs. He averaged 27.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, shooting 48.5% from the field, 46% from three-point range, and an insane 94.1% from the free throw line. And that’s taking into account his shooting struggles in the Finals. Some of the games he had against Oklahoma City in particular were astonishing.

The best part about Dirk’s performance these playoffs was how he always delivered in the clutch, no matter how poorly he may have been playing all game. He was unstoppable when he needed to be, something Lebron and Wade could not match. He scored 62 points in the fourth quarters of the Finals, which is what Wade and Lebron scored combined. He had his own personal flu game. He did everything that could have possibly been done to exorcise the demons from the 2006 Finals and that first round loss to the Warriors the year after.

As I read somewhere this morning, if you replace Dirk with Lebron or Wade, do the Mavs make the Finals, let alone win it? I highly doubt it.

3. The fall of Lebron James

To me, even more compelling than the rise of Dirk in these playoffs was the fall of Lebron James. Well, more correctly, the rise and fall of Lebron James.

After this debacle

and this debacle

everyone outside Miami wanted to see the Heat fall and fall badly. And they stumbled out of the gate at 9-8, and everyone was laughing. But then they caught on fire and blitzed the rest of the NBA, and before we knew it they were slaying dragons in the Celtics and the Bulls.

And Lebron played a huge huge part in those series, hitting big shot after big shot, playing stifling D, orchestrating impossible comebacks. Scottie Pippen caused a storm in a teacup when he suggested that one day Lebron may be able to surpass Michael Jordan, but what it showed was that even great NBA players appreciated what Lebron had done up to that point.

Then everyone was waiting for Lebron to explode in the Finals and win his first ever championship AND capture the Finals MVP. The Mavs? No one respected them, not even after they swept the two-time defending champion Lakers.

But then, something bizarre happened. After a solid game one, Lebron retreated into his shell like a frightened turtle. He clanked shot after shot, lost his defensive assignment, and became the opposite of the aggressive player he was up to that point. He then stopped shooting altogether, passing up shots even I would have launched. It was baffling and disappointing and the most shocking thing in the Finals. Lebron was crap.

After that tragic 8 point performance in game four, Lebron said that the next game was the biggest in his life. Sure, he got a triple double (17, 10, 10) in game five, but it was the weakest triple double of all time, AND the Heat lost. I was expecting him to break out for 40.

Then of course, game six, which was an even bigger game, and again, Lebron stumbled and passed up open shots and was so passive that I barely even noticed he was on the court. And as it turned out, with a plus-minus of -24 for the game, the Heat were a much better team without him on the floor. For the Finals, Lebron averaged just 17.8 points despite averaging 28 and 25.8 against Boston and Chicago. No excuses.

I had never seen anything like it. A player rising to the ranks of Jordan in the first three series and then destroying his legacy in the Finals. It’s going to take at least two Finals MVPs to make up for the stigma that will be attached to Lebron James from this day forward.

Was it karma? Was he tired? Or was it, as most people are now suggesting, that Lebron James just doesn’t have it in him? Is Lebron going to announce that he is now taking his talents to Dallas next season?

The only good thing that can come out of all of this for Lebron is that he will go work on his game harder than ever to prove naysayers wrong, once again. He’s still young (26) and will have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself. Now if he can just work that dickish personality of his…

1. Good guys win, bad guys lose

These NBA Playoffs concluded with a fairytale ending. Good guys defeat bad guys in ultimate series of redemption. Really. You couldn’t have come up with a better script.

From day one, the Miami Heat were the most hated franchise in team sports, and they have no one to blame by themselves. I had nothing against Lebron leaving Cleveland to go chase a championship in Miami. That was his decision to make and like he said, he had to do what was best for him and his family.

But if anyone needs a reminder, they just have to scroll up to look at the video of ‘The Decision’ and the pre-season championship parade again to remember why everyone was rooting against the Heat. These were a bunch of punks that took the championship for granted before they even played a single game together. They talked of winning not 4, 5, 6, but 7 or more championships before they even captured one.

And when things got bad, they turned it into a self-serving sob story about how the whole world is against them, blah blah blah. And when they started succeeding, the dickish swagger and self-entitlement re-emerged. When they beat the Celtics, they celebrated like they had won the championship. When they beat the Bulls, Lebron told everyone to ‘Wait and see’ because he was so confident that they were going to beat Dallas. When Dirk got sick and played with a fever, they mocked him in front of the cameras.

And when they finally lost, Lebron couldn’t take it like a man. He blamed the loss on God (who wasn’t prepared to make it ‘his time’ this time around) and made the following ridiculous comment:

All the people that were rooting me on to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life they had before. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want with me and my family and be happy with that.

They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy that not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they’ll have to get back to the real world at some point.

Come on. I mean, after reading that, can you still seriously root for him? This is a quote that represented everything that’s warped about Lebron’s way of thinking and the type of person he is, or at least the type of person his cocooned world has allowed him to become.

There was a small part of me that wanted to see Lebron capture his first title. That small part has almost evaporated into nothing.

As for the Mavericks, what great story. They had to overcome the stigma of being soft (especially Dirk), having a loudmouth owner in Cuban, zero respect from other teams, injuries to key players in Caron Butler and Rodrigue Bauboies — and they overcame it all.

How wonderful it is to see Dirk capturing his first title. How amazing it is to see one of the all-time great point guards, Jason Kidd, capture his first title in 17 years after two previous failed attempts. For Rick Carlisle to get some respect at last as a head coach in the league. For Jason Terry, who trash-talked the most out of anyone in this series, to back up every word he said and deliver.

With the NBA heading into a likely lockout next season, at least these Playoffs have given fans something to savour for many years to come.

I’ll finish this post with one last video of Bosh crying.