What a great year of NBA basketball. It wasn't the same old teams doing well and it wasn't a completely new set of teams on top. There was the perfect mix of established teams and new blood. The Lakers, Spurs, Mavs, Celtics and Magic all won 52+ games and there was the addition of the Heat, Bulls, and Thunder to the top tier. Add in Amare and Carmelo going to the Knicks, Kevin Love's Double-Double streak, and Blake Griffin's endless highlight reel of dunks and there were so many intriguing teams and storylines to follow this year.
The regular season was very entertaining, and that would continue in the playoffs. Here's what I think are the highlights of the first three rounds:
Most Memorable Series Performance: Chris Paul
Chris Paul put on a clinic against the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. He averaged 22 points, 11.5 assists, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game, while shooting 55% from the field and 47% from beyond the arc. His performance was even more impressive, considering that almost all of his regular season numbers were down across the board after having knee surgery last season (he averaged just 15.8 points and 9.8 assists per game). It was great to see Paul return to form and hopefully he can carry that over to next year.
Honorable Mention: LeBron James. LeBron had a great series against the Bulls in the ECF. He averaged 25.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 2.4 steals and 2 blocks per game. And he did that while guarding the MVP of the league. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Rose's averages were 28.8 points, 8.2 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 42% from the field. With LeBron guarding him, he averaged 23.4 points, 6.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting just 35% from the field.
Most Memorable Game Performance: Brandon Roy
With less than 40 seconds to go in the 3rd quarter, the Blazers trailed Dallas 67-44. To that point, Roy had 3 points and zero assists. Then he took over. He finished the 3rd quarter with an assist to Aldridge and a 3 that bounced in at the buzzer. He followed that up with one of the greatest 4th quarters in playoff history, finishing with a game-high 24 points and a game-high 5 assists. In and of itself, it was an amazing performance. But like Chris Paul, it was made even more amazing considering that Roy was coming off of double knee surgery that caused him to miss almost half the season. Last year, Roy was arguably the third best shooting guard in the league. But after a knee surgery last year during the playoffs and double knee surgery this year (supposedly making his knees now inoperable), it's unknown how long he'll be able to play basketball and how good he'll be able to be.
Now Roy's performance wasn't the best of the first three rounds, that honor would have to go to Dirk's 48 point masterpiece against OKC (12 of 15 from the field and 24 of 24 from the line), but it was the most memorable for me. Part of that is because I unfortunately missed most of Dirk's amazing performance. But the other part of it is the circumstances surrounding Roy's performance. One of the best players in the league has career-threatening injuries and is relegated to the bench, then leads his team on one of the best comebacks in playoff history in front of one of the best crowds in the NBA and then delivers an excellent postgame interview. Words don't do it justice, so just watch this excellent recap of the game. And watch this video (at least the last two minutes) for the raw footage of his performance, to really get a feel for the atmosphere of the game. It's definitely a performance I'll never forget.
Most Memorable Game: Memphis vs. Oklahoma City- Triple OT
I think this is pretty obvious, seeing as it was triple OT. Big shot after big shot. Great crowd in Memphis. Just a fantastic game.
Most Memorable Series: Memphis vs. Oklahoma City
The only playoff series to go seven games. It included the best game of the playoffs, and a team (Memphis) on one of the most memorable playoff runs that I can remember. Most people knew Memphis was better than an eighth seed, so I wasn't shocked to see them beat San Antonio in the first round, but I was pleasantly surprised by how good they actually were. They were very impressive in the postseason and gave the Thunder a run for their money. It was just a great series with two young, energetic teams battling to advance in the playoffs. It had great offense, great defense, hot crowds, and stars in the making (Durant, Randolph, Westbrook, Mayo, Harden, Gasol, Conley). Would anyone complain if this was the WCF in the future? I know I wouldn't.
After a great regular season and a great start to the postseason, is it any wonder that the Finals was one of the best Finals of all-time? Other than going 7 games, could it have gone any better? Game 2 featured one of the greatest comebacks in Finals history and games 3 and 4 were decided by a total of 5 points. You had the most hated team in the league going against a team led by one of the easiest superstars to root for. Dirk Nowitzki is just incredible and so fun to watch. It was awesome to see him finally get a ring, and even better to see it come at the expense of the team that beat him five years ago. There was not a better team for Dirk to beat in the Finals. It was a storybook ending. Dallas got revenge on Miami and proved that it takes more than talent to win a championship.
Side note: It's stupid for anyone (*cough* Dan Le Batard) to say Miami would've won if LeBron just played like LeBron. You can't point that out and ignore that Dallas' second best player never suited up. Or that Brendan Haywood's injury limited him to three minutes total after game 2. Yes, LeBron didn't play up to his ability, but Dallas still won with Cardinal, Stojakovic, and Mahinmi playing instead of Butler and Haywood. Dallas deserved to win.
All in all, it was a fantastic series that was a fitting end to a fantastic season.
*stats provided by http://www.basketball-reference.com/
*Blazers-Mavs recap provided by http://espn.go.com/nba/playbyplay?gameId=310423022&period=0