Memory book: 2011 NBA postseason

Originally Published: June 15, 2011
ESPN.com

Nowitzki Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesDirk Nowitzki and the Mavs gave Dallas a bunch of lasting memories in the run to their first title.

It made us laugh, it made us cry. But most of all, the 2011 NBA playoffs left us with some memories that will last a lifetime.

Which teams left the biggest impact? Which players came out of nowhere to make their impression felt?

Our crew plays a little 5-on-5 to pinpoint some of the best moments of this postseason.

1. What was the one shining moment of the 2011 NBA playoffs?

Maurice Brooks, ESPN.com: Dirk Nowitzki in the Finals. From Dirk hurting his finger, to fighting through his cold, to establishing himself as the best player in the postseason, to rushing off the court to reflect by himself immediately after winning Game 6 and the title -- what I'll remember most about the Finals is that the best European scorer ever to play in the league finally got his title.

Ryan DeGama, CelticsHub: It's a single moment, but it happened again and again. Dirk Nowitzki taking a one-footed, off-balance, fadeaway jumper against a strong contest and somehow managing to find the bottom of the net. If that's too vague, you can safely assume the shot took place in the fourth quarter of a series-changing game. Probably during crunch time.

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Dirk Nowitzki running into the locker room to cry alone after the Game 6 clincher. The 7-footer with a pitch-perfect jumper had already shown he possesses skills unlike anyone who's ever played the game, and then he proved how much his personality differs from the stereotypical star, too. Rather than publicly celebrate in front of cameras and increase his exposure, he desired a private moment.

Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: There are at least a half-dozen standout Dirk Nowitzki moments, but the one that I'll never forget is the look on his face after the final buzzer sounded in Game 6 -- a perfect combination of shock, relief and exhilaration. It was no surprise that Nowitzki needed a moment to himself. After this amazing run, he earned it.

Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Thirteen-way tie: the Brandon Roy Game, DeShawn's 3-monocle, Zach Randolph's 3, Rose's game-winner(s), Mark Cuban's Finals press conference, Chris Paul's 27/15/13, LeBron's swing pass (pick one), the possession LeBron completely shut down Rose (pick one), Durant's dunk, the time Taj Gibson turned into Shawn Kemp for 10 minutes, Jared Jeffries, Dallas' 15-point comeback in Game 2 of the Finals, every Dirk jumper.


2. Biggest surprise: Who or what caught us off guard?

Maurice Brooks, ESPN.com: The Grizzlies were supposed to give the Spurs a difficult series, but who really thought the Griz would become just the fourth team in NBA history to knock off the 1-seed in a playoff series as the No. 8 seed? Making it even sweeter for Memphis fans was the fact that the Grizzlies won their first playoff series (and for that matter, first playoff game) in franchise history.

Ryan DeGama, CelticsHub: That ferocious Memphis team -- anchored by two old-school bigs and some fearless wing players -- taking down San Antonio and then nearly toppling OKC as an encore. No team was more fun to watch and less fun to play against.

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: The Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks looked like a regressed version of the same team that Orlando swept -- winning by more than 25 points per game -- last year. After being outscored during the regular season, Atlanta topped Orlando and at least bothered Chicago. I'm still not sure how the Hawks did it.

Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: How quietly the "old guard" faded into the twilight. San Antonio lost in the first round to a younger, faster Memphis team. Boston lasted only five games against Miami in the East semis. Los Angeles couldn't even muster one win against Dallas. A new chapter of the NBA is beginning.

Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Mavs. Memphis is a fun answer, but don't forget that many experts thought Portland would beat Dallas in the first round. After a miraculous Brandon Roy-led comeback, it looked dark. The following day, who foresaw the beginning of a march to the title that would culminate in NBA Finals contributors Brian Cardinal and J.J. Barea celebrating with the Larry O'Brien trophy at LIV in Miami with Lil Wayne?


3. Biggest disappointment: Playoffs' most memorable letdown?

Maurice Brooks, ESPN.com: The Los Angeles Lakers getting swept. Obviously, there is no shame in losing to the Mavericks, but the way it happened was shocking. Kobe and Co. got broomed while trying for a three-peat in Phil Jackson's last season as coach. That wasn't the Hollywood ending I expected.

Ryan DeGama, CelticsHub: No doubt it's LeBron, but his second annual meltdown comes with the silver lining of some sterling play in the earlier rounds and the knowledge that the spare parts he, Wade and Bosh held together will soon be upgraded by chief mechanic Pat Riley. It'd be nice if he got past whatever's keeping him from total engagement, though.

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: The Los Angeles Lakers. The back-to-back defending NBA champions didn't ever find their groove. Instead, they just lost. Pau Gasol lost his production. Kobe Bryant lost his penetrating ability. Phil Jackson lost his cloak of invincibility in the playoffs. And in the end, Andrew Bynum lost his cool.

Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: Without question, LeBron James' NBA Finals performance. I'm not saying this because I wish failure upon him. He's arguably the best basketball player in the world, and I want to see the best he has to offer every time out. In these Finals, we didn't see that LeBron once. The clock is ticking.

Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Obviously, LeBron in his last three Finals games. But I'll talk about something else for diversity's sake: the Spurs' early playoff dismissal. I thought they had another run. Zach Randolph obviously disagreed, and Tony Parker has since admitted this era is over. Coach Gregg Popovich retorted in typical Pop fashion, but he must know his fifth title likely isn't coming next year.


4. The Breakout Performance award goes to ...

Maurice Brooks, ESPN.com: It can be debated whether Derrick Rose deserved to be the league MVP this season, but his performance in Game 3 against the Hawks was the stuff of legend. He was in attack mode from the opening tip and his jump shot was falling, making him unguardable during his Michael Jordan-like 44-point performance.

Ryan DeGama, CelticsHub: Rick Carlisle. His impassioned post-championship speech in support of his team of low-flying basketball purists nearly edged out Dirk's jumpers for my single favorite moment of the postseason. Nobody thought the Mavs could do what they did. And then they went and did it anyway. Carlisle's schemes, rotations and steadying hand shouldn't go uncelebrated here.

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: Dirk Nowitzki. He broke out as an all-time great player. He has quietly, year in and year out, developed the résumé of a legend. By shining deep into the playoffs -- and most importantly, winning a title -- he no longer possesses any of the flaws that keep similar players from being recognized as great.

Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: The Memphis Grizzlies. They may not be championship contenders, but they're a lot closer than people think.

Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: Rick Carlisle. His coaching has long been hailed by NBA insiders. But now that the 51-year-old has beaten the team everyone wanted to lose on the biggest stage, his career jumps up a notch. When (if?) next season starts, he and Doc Rivers will be the next coaching generation's best hope to fill the void left by Phil, Sloan and, eventually, Pop.


5. What's the one storyline we'll remember about this postseason?

Maurice Brooks, ESPN.com: On three different occasions I woke up last week to a text-message joke making light of LeBron's inability to step up in the fourth quarter. Watching LeBron in the Finals was like watching a superhero trying to save the world without using his superpowers. The Heat needed Superman. Too often LeBron gave them Clark Kent.

Ryan DeGama, CelticsHub: The new kids (Chicago, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Miami) demanding their seats at the table. And the stern parent (Dallas) who told them dinner wouldn't be ready for at least another 12 months.

Dan Feldman, PistonPowered: The Heat have now. Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks have forever. To everyone complaining about the "Heat lost" storyline trumping "Mavericks won," don't worry. If Miami wins a title in the next few years, that, not this year's Finals loss, will be remembered. If the Big Three never win a title, history will eventually forget them.

Devin Kharpertian, Nets Are Scorching: I'll never forget how well Dallas came together as a team during this run. Dirk Nowitzki carried them when they needed him most, and then they carried him when he was struggling. The Mavs had an answer for everything thrown at them this postseason. It was one of the most complete team efforts the NBA has ever seen.

Jared Wade, 8 Points, 9 Seconds: The legacy of LeBron. Sweeping character judgments and pejorative exaggerations of his on-court play are not adequate answers for me, but several questions remain regarding why he was so ineffective and unwilling to dominate the ball in the last three games of his season. Until time reveals the results, these questions will be the league's marquee attraction.


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