NBA Playoffs Start Off with a Bang

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Bynum’s bush-league hit on the defenseless JJ Barea became the lasting image for many of the Lakers’ fall from grace after back-to-back NBA championships.

Connor, Volpe

Round 1

The first round of the 2011 NBA playoffs was almost as surprising as the NCAA tournament. Let’s set aside for the moment the eight over one upset and focus on revivals and boasts gone wrong.
First, the Atlanta Hawks beat the tar out of the Magic, and gave Superman (Dwight Howard) a reason to flee ASAP. The Magic were so convinced that they would have no troubles with Atlanta after the most lopsided playoff series in NBA history last year, that Jameer Nelson told Derrick Rose “I’ll catch you in the second round.” That didn’t work out too well for Nelson and Co., whose sloppy defense made Jamal Crawford look like one of the NBA’s top ten players.

The Trailblazers were so widely selected as an upset pick that they became the favorites. From ESPN analysts to casual fans, people picked the Blazers to take down the Mavericks who have a history of postseason shortcomings. But the Mavs handled the series, taking down Portland in six despite the revival of Brandon Roy who won game four all by himself.

Speaking of revivals, two years ago nobody saw Zach Randolph as the best player on a playoff squad, much less one that would upset the top overall seed. Randolph played out of his mind, leading the Memphis Grizzlies over the San Antonio Spurs in six games. Randolph’s best supporting players were Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, but that didn’t stop Z-bo from averaging over 22 points and nine boards while shooting over 50% from the field. He made Memphis a relevant basketball town, at least for the first round, and revitalized a floundering franchise. All this from a former member of the infamous Jailblazers… incredible.

Round 2

In a remarkable round two, both NBA finalists from the year before and two favorites to play again for the Larry O’Brien trophy, were easily ousted from the playoffs.

The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers were swept by the Dallas Mavericks and their own cool as ice closer Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki outdueled Bryant, as the Mavs rather than the Lakers shut the door on the Lakers in the final minutes of games one two and three. They then absolutely demolished the Lakers in game four, to send Dallas to the Conference Finals.

The Lakers’ game four loss marked the end of Phil Jackson’s illustrious career, sending the Zen master off with a bitter taste in his mouth. His Lakers were lackluster from the start, allowing Dallas to shoot over 60% from the field in a 36 point loss. But worst of all two Lakers lashed out in frustration, throwing cheap shots that warranted ejections in the final minutes of a game that was out of reach since half time. Lamar Odom threw a shoulder at Nowitzki that was dangerously close to his head. Then less than a minute later Andrew Bynum elbowed a defenseless and diminutive JJ Barea while he was going up for a lay-up in a disgraceful showing that earned him a five game suspension and $25,000 dollar fine. What should have been a celebration of one of the best coaches in professional sports history turned out to be a shameful display of poor sportsmanship and a black mark on the Lakers.

The Miami Heat, one of the most hated teams the NBA has seen, did away with the bruised and battered Boston Celtics in five games. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade ousted some demons by getting by the big three, who have been the class of the east for three years. With so many doubters heading into the series, this decisive win not only silenced any critics, but make LeBron’s boast of multiple championships for the Heat seems more plausible.

LeBron has a lot riding on these playoffs. His defection over the summer that is better known as “The Decision” incited anger and boos no matter where he went. If LeBron can go deep into the playoffs and compete for a title, his summer shenanigans will be criticized less in the future. Considering the Heat’s success this year, the scary thought is that this will be the least talented Heat team of the next couple years. Pat Riley, one of the league’s best recruiters, will surely be able to snag some solid free agents on bargain contracts looking to grab themselves some rings. Miami’s Big Three won’t be on their own for much longer, and if the league can’t beat them this year, next year will be even tougher.

The Cinderella Story had to end at some point, as the Memphis Grizzlies lost to the Thunder in a wildly entertaining seven game series. The matchup went back and forth, with two overtime games and heroics all around. Although Russell Westbrook became infamous as the only player in the league who can hold Kevin Durant under thirty, the Thunder co-star still grabbed a triple double and averaged close to 24 points, seven assists, and five boards per game in the series. Speaking of Durant, the superstar averaged almost thirty points a game on 46% shooting and slammed the door on any thoughts of another Grizzlies upset with a monster 39 point nine rebound game seven. Refocused, the Thunder have a lot to prove in the conference finals with a title on their mind.