Things We’ve Learned From the NBA Playoffs
May 23, 2010 by Vito Curcuru • Print Story •
The NBA playoffs are usually generous when it comes to player meltdowns, tearing up age-old adages, and having certain teams rise to the top.
Some examples of this are Portland's team meltdown in their 2000 playoff Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the adage that teams can't win without a dominant big man was blown up by the Chicago Bulls, and the Lakers seem to be in the championship hunt every year. This year's playoffs are no different.
LeBron's Playoff Meltdown
LeBron James had a playoff meltdown on the court against the Celtics, but took it one step further giving Cleveland fans a chance to have one of their own off of the court. James' reputation has suffered as a result of his comments, but in retrospect, what he said is even more outrageous in the context of Cleveland sports history.
James told ESPN.com, "I spoil a lot of people with my play," after being asked about Cleveland fans booing him during the 120-88 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Cavaliers and Celtics series. James went on to say, "When you have a bad game here or there, you've had three bad games in a seven-year career, then it's easy to point that out."
Are Cleveland fans spoiled with regards to LeBron's greatness when compared to other eras of Cleveland teams, or has the ESPN/Nike/James marketing machine pulled one over on Cleveland? The way ESPN/Nike/James would have us understand it, we are "witnessing" not only the next one, but also the greatest one, and certainly the man who has saved Cleveland.
If LeBron leaves Cleveland, he will have contributed zero championships to a city's sports history that hasn't seen a championship since the 1964 Cleveland Browns. The NBA's supposed greatest player on the NBA's best regular season team in 2010 has as many rings as the 1965-2009 Cleveland Browns and 1949-2009 Cleveland Indians. It should be noted, his Cavalier teams have as many rings as every other Cavalier team to ever play. That magical number of rings is zero. Wow, he has spoiled Cleveland fans just like the Browns, Indians, and previous Cavaliers teams have for many years.
If a mere three bad games nets a franchise zero rings in seven years, then Cleveland fans may want to opt for the many bad games Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have had to go along with their multiple rings.
The Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James have a 61% winning percentage in the regular season and have made the playoffs five of his seven years, with one NBA Finals appearance. The Cleveland Indians from 1995 through 2001 (a seven-year period) made the playoffs six of seven years, with two World Series appearances. The Cleveland Browns from 1946 through 1955 won 83% of their games and seven championships. In the grand scheme of the Cleveland sports scene, LeBron really hasn't spoiled anyone.
If LeBron decides to leave Cleveland, his passage in Cleveland sports history will have the word spoiled in it, but it won't be for spoiling Cavaliers fans with championships.
Coaches Making a Difference
The age-old adage of coaching not making a difference has been blown up this year. Coaching in the NBA can make a difference. For years, it has been thought that the NBA was primarily a players' league. The play on the court just happened and the coaches took their seat and, like the fans, enjoyed the game. Many credited Phil Jackson's rings to having the best players in the league, namely Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and Michael Jordan.
The 2009-2010 NBA playoffs have taught fans otherwise. The Denver Nuggets were surging heading into the playoffs and many predicted they would challenge or overcome the Lakers. But George Karl tragically became ill and the Nuggets never recovered.
Gregg Popovich coached a San Antonio Spurs team that looked too old and too tired to compete to a first round win against the Dallas Mavericks. Popovich called his team "dogs" and the Spurs advanced.
The Spurs were then beaten by an Alvin Gentry-coached team. Alvin Gentry, at first glance, may not seem to be a coach who should be mentioned among the game's greats, but his resume says otherwise.
Gentry has been coaching for 30 years, including 21 seasons in the NBA. He was an assistant for 16 years. He spent nine years under Larry Brown, Kevin Loughery, and Doug Collins, who have combined for 1,800 NBA victories. Gentry has added defense to a potent offense and has brought balance to a Suns team that lacked it.
Meanwhile, Phil Jackson is once again going deep into the NBA Finals with a team that was not supposed to be able to overcome Kevin Durant's explosiveness, an aging superstar in Bryant, and a free agent in Ron Artest that hasn't dominated as many thought he might.
But Mike Brown is perhaps the best example of a coach making a difference. Unfortunately for Cleveland Cavaliers fans, he has been out-coached. The Cavaliers' second-round ouster seems to be credited to one of three happenings: LeBron not having a supporting cast, LeBron having one of his three bad games in seven years, or Mike Brown unable to make adjustments as the series progressed.
Business as Usual
Certain teams always seem to be in the playoff hunt. Boston and Los Angeles are once again the center of the basketball universe. Los Angeles was supposed to have a thin bench and Boston was too old. But as it turns out, the Lakers' bench is just fine and Boston is now not old, but a veteran team with championship experience. Boston not only has a little left in the tank, but Rajon Rondo is suddenly an endless supply of Celtic energy.
The Orlando Magic appeared dominant on their way to the conference finals, dispatching Charlotte and Atlanta while winning eight straight. Charlotte and Atlanta apparently weren't as good as they appeared, which doesn't say much, and having an easy path to the conference finals sometimes does more harm than good when trying to win an NBA championship.
The Magic are now down 3-0 after losing two games at home and one at the TD Garden. Paul Pierce has implied he is not making a return reservation to the greater Orlando area and Boston's big three are getting playoff contributions from the largely regular season absent Rasheed Wallace and the newest NBA "it" player, Rajon Rondo.
Phoenix, meanwhile, has had more luck battling Arizona immigration laws with its Los Suns uniforms and Phil Jackson comments about Steve Nash carrying the ball. The Suns wore their Los Suns uniforms to protest Arizona's immigration laws and were supported by many inside and outside the NBA family.
Jackson was asked if it was tough to prepare for Nash and Jackson said, "yeah, because you can't carry the ball like he does in practice." Steve Nash replied, "I've never heard anyone accuse me of carrying it. I mean, the best coach in the league Gregg Popovich (of San Antonio) didn't have a problem with it last week." While Steve Nash was applauded for taking on Phil Jackson, unfortunately Jackson isn't on the floor and, in retrospect, maybe Phil's mind games again worked.
If the Suns want to get back in the series, they will need to battle more on the court than off the court, because Celtics vs. Lakers suddenly looks inevitable. A Magic vs. Suns matchup or any other combination probably doesn't have as much appeal anyway.
The NBA playoffs have yielded many lessons to basketball fans this year. Boston and Los Angeles have franchises that know how to win, coaches can make a difference, and Cleveland sports fans may not be as spoiled as someone thinks they are.