The Road To the 2011 NBA Finals: A Season in Retrospect, A Finals Worth Watching
Miami and Dallas collide in a rematch of the ’06 Finals, after one of the most exciting seasons and playoffs in recent NBA history.
A lot of people called this year’s shift in the NBA elite a “changing of the guard.” Perennial powerhouses like Los Angeles and Boston, falling victim to the newly formed (Miami), and finally congealed (Dallas) teams of the NBA.
As we approach the start of the 2011 NBA Finals, it’s fitting to take a look back at an off-season that showed us just how ridiculous the “entertainment” arm of the NBA could get, a season that saw the emergence of the youngest MVP in history, and a playoffs that presumably left handicappers and spectators alike in disarray.
It was one hell of a ride. Let’s begin with last summer. Arguably the biggest free-agent situation in the history of the NBA ended with Lebron James taking his talents to South Beach, with the pageantry and self aggrandizing that left most fans with a bad taste in their mouth. But let’s be honest, when that deal was made, that squad looked pretty formidable, and, barring any injury or collapse, was positioned to run off with a few titles (they themselves predicted 7, right?)
Like Dennis Green so adamantly said about the ’06 Chicago Bears, “They are who we thought they were.” Even the biggest homers and basketball purists, citing character issues, incongruent team chemistry, and an inexperienced and overwhelmed coach couldn’t look past the seemingly gargantuan lineup that Pat Riley had put together.
Sprinkle all of that with a roller coaster defending champ Laker team, a trade that made the Knicks relevant in over a decade, and a breakup of the “Starting 5 that has never lost a series” in Boston, and you’ve got basketball alchemy that was poised to have us all at the edge of our seats.
Cue the playoffs, and the road of the western and eastern conference champions all the way to the finals.
Dallas’s first round matchup against the Blazers had an eerily familiar feeling to it. Giving up a double digit lead in the fourth quarter and losing, it looked like the Mavs were going to yet again give up a lead in a series, and not have the mental toughness to stave off the surging Roy and his Blazers. Much to everyone’s surprise, they closed Portland out. In the second round, Dallas had their hands full with the defending champion Lakers. LA had had their issues all season long, but it was that time again, the playoff Lakers are NOT the regular season Lakers…or so we thought.
It’s prescient to mention here that much of the Los Angeles sports media was picking the Lakers to win that series, and actually looking ahead to a match-up with what they had dubbed “the real threat to the Lakers”, a surging and young Thunder team.
It didn’t play out how anyone thought it would. Dallas came out and absolutely demolished the Lakers. They won the 4 straight games by climbing back from deficits, pounding the boards, and outplaying the Laker bench. The fourth and final game was a landslide victory for Dallas, as Phil Jackson’s career came to an end in an embarrassing display of a lack of sportsmanship from Laker players. Phil deserved better, as did Lakers like Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, who, unlike their teammates, kept their will and drive and didn’t give up.
After sweeping the Lakers, the Mavs matched up against what most people thought was the team that would come out of the west with the Lakers out of the running, the young OKC Thunder. It was a fun series to watch, juxtaposed alongside Dirk’s great play was the growing pains of a young team yet to fully solidify their identity. The Mavs, being the veterans they are, were able to adjust and take advantage of some late game collapses form the young Thunder team, and secure their place in the 2011 NBA Finals.
The Miami Heat has been the focal point of the NBA’s attention all season long. After the spectacle that was their off-season signing of James and Bosh, it seemed as though every single act of theirs was criticized and analyzed under the largest microscope imaginable. No team chemistry, a coach in over his head, no solid role players or bench, and winless against conference rivals Boston in the regular series. A bad start, an ok middle, and an expectedly solid end to their season left basketball fans drooling for their playoff run.
Doug Collins should be given a tremendous amount of credit for bringing a newfound life back to the Sixers. Unfortunately for them, their first post-season challenge was this super team Frankenstein with 3 all-stars and 2 of the top 5 players in the league. They couldn’t match the talent level, plain and simple.
Miami’s second round matchup drew headlines. The Boston Celtics had been Miami’s Achilles heal all season long. Boston, coming off of a thorough demolition of the newly revamped New York Knicks, seemed to be in hyper-drive, and the matchup looked like it would go down to the wire. Low and behold, Miami had other plans. Beating Boston in five was impressive. Granted Boston wasn’t their old selves, with a depleted bench, and a management team that thought it was a good idea to break up the “starting five that has never lost a series together”, Miami still impressed most everyone with the way they took care of Boston. They were even celebrating like they had won the title after they clinched the final victory, and even though the media and most everyone was critical of that reaction, in retrospect, Boston might have been the only team that had the psychological edge over Miami. Getting through Boston was no doubt the largest hurdle in that Miami locker room, and in doing so, it seemed a weight had been lifted off of them.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami met up with an unexpected number 1 seed in the Chicago Bulls. Boasting accolades like the youngest league MVP in history, a top defense in the league, and a rookie coach of the year, the young Bulls came out swinging, and after game 1, it looked as thought they would give Miami a real run for their money. Miami ran off 4 in a row after that game one loss, thanks to spectacular play from their big three in crunch time, and multiple collapses by the young Bulls towards the end of games.
Cue The Finals; The Dallas Mavericks vs. The Miami Heat, a matchup that the media is calling a “rematch” of the 06 finals. Make no mistake; these two teams are very different than the two that met 5 years ago. James, Bosh, and Wade were put together for strictly this reason, to win a championship. Anything less is a disappointment and a failure for their super-team of all-stars and roll players. After a season that began with constant scrutiny and criticism, this Heat team has kept it together, playing gritty basketball and winning, believe it or not, with stellar defense. With Pat Riley whispering in their ears, the old cliché of “defense wins championships” must be fresh in their minds constantly.
The Dallas Mavericks, on the other hand, look to be a veteran team that has finally congealed at the right time. They are clicking on all cylinders, and have plugged the holes that kept them from reaching the apex years prior. They have a former MVP in Dirk, who, throughout these playoffs, has played simply out of his mind. You’ve got the eccentric owner in Mark Cuban , who has been uncharacteristically quiet this post season (it’s the fear of realizing they actually have a shot at it this time).
So, who wins it all? Product-boy is picking the Miami Heat, only because of sheer, raw power and talent. This Miami team, when playing focused, is unbeatable. If this Miami team gives 100% on both ends of the floor, they will march straight to the Larry O’Brien trophy. That’s the question, though; can they guard arguably the most unorthodox scorer in NBA history in Dirk? Can their bench play keep up with Dallas? It all remains to be seen, and as much as it might irk some fans to admit, this might just be the beginning of King James’ reign over the NBA.
Whichever team you’re rooting for, this series is bound to make for some awesome basketball. The aggregate talent on the floor during these finals is astonishing. We. Can’t. Wait.
We’d also like to give a special shout out and thank you to everyone at r/nba (you know who you are), for being the most intelligent and fun group of basketball fans to share the entire season with. It has been a blast, and we can’t wait for next year. Until then, enjoy the 2011 NBA FINALS!