I don’t know much, but the one thing I can say for sure is that when it comes to the 2011 NBA Playoffs, expect the unexpected. Whether it is the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers being swept by a team that has been classified as “chokers” in the past, the Dallas Mavericks, or unlikely heroes emerging to swing the momentum in their teams’ favor, these playoffs have left many, including yours truly, to scratch our collective heads.
I was floored when the Mavericks swept the Lakers in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, but that was before I was made aware of all of the “lack of trust” issues that permeated throughout the Los Angeles locker room. But that is not what has me scratching my head. Every time you think that you have grasped the direction of each series, someone flips the script.
After the Chicago Bulls took the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals, 103-82, we all were looking forward to a competitive series. Derrick Rose played the role of traditional point guard, finding his teammates, especially, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, who delivered when called upon. Before the series began, I said that Noah was the wild card and in Game 1, he made me look like Nostradamus. It was not about his stats. It was about the energy he brought to the table and I did not think that the Miami Heat had anyone to match his effort. That was until Udonis Haslem shook off the disabled-list rust and imposed his will in Game 2.
After missing most of the season, Haslem entered the contest midway through the second half and totally dominated the game. Once again it was not about his stats, it was about the energy he brought. Ironically, with the exception of that heckler behind their bench, we have not heard too much from Noah since Game 1.
Perhaps that is why the Bulls find themselves down three games to one. But what has to worry 2010-2011 NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau more than anything is the emergence of Chris Bosh. Bosh scored 34 points in his most impressive outing since donning a Heat uniform. Bosh’s performance allowed LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to become contentious observers on offense and focus more on defense. If Bosh can keep this up, you might as well hand Miami the Larry O’Brian Trophy now.
After Dallas defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, 121-112, in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, it was easy to assume that the grizzled veterans were going to make short work of the up and coming young guns. That was especially the overwhelming sentiment as the Thunder appeared to have no answer for Dirk Nowitzki, who torched them for 48 points in that contest. Nowitzki played like a man possessed, hitting shot after shot.
The two teams alternated wins in the next two contests. No surprise there. But then you have Game 4. After losing their first game at home, everybody expected the young guns to rebound in Game 4. Everything was going to script until late in the final period. With less than five minutes to go, the Thunder held a 15-point lead. That is when all of the wheels started come off the cart. James Harden fouled out with a little less than four minutes to go and the Thunder played as if they were a chicken with their head cut off. I know that the Thunder are one of the youngest teams in the League, but for most of the year, they played as if they were one of the League’s best.
They just uncharastically imploded in the final minutes, leading to a 112-105 overtime defeat. They were forcing outside shots. Kevin Durant did not score in the final 10 minutes and Russell Westbrook didn’t run the offense at all. I know many basketball fans went to bed on Monday night thinking that the Thunder had won that game and tied the series, only to wake up to find out that Dallas came back to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. Did you see how the Thunder looked on their bench during that final timeout? They looked as if they have already conceded the series.
The Heat found a way to neutralize MVP Derek Rose in Games 2 and 3, forcing his teammates to step up, which they have not done since Game 1. The Heat are playing defense as if they have 7-to-8 players on the court. Most have focused on the Heat’s offense, but I have said all along that if they were going to win it all, it would be because of their defense.
Yes, the Heat and the Big Three have found a way to slow down Rose. The Mavericks, with their old legs, caught up with the speeding Thunder in Game 4. Bosh emerged as an Alpha Male for the Heat. After his performance in this year’s post season, some are trying to make a case for Nowitzki being placed among the top 10 players in NBA history. Now if I would have told you this would be the case before the playoffs began, you would have asked me to buy you a bottle of what I was drinking. But this is what great playoff series are all about. Expect the unexpected.