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kriD
05-24-2006, 10:29 AM
NBA playoffs: It's a mad march in May

[By Kevin B. Blackistone / The Dallas Morning News]

We've witnessed buzzer-beaters, nail-biters and upsets.

We've seen the Cinderellas and near dynasties.

We've watched unheralded players stand out and, of course, superstars shine.

Come to think of it, the only thing these NBA playoffs haven't provided that March Madness does is an office pool. (The NBA's Dick Vitale? Charles Barkley. Less loquacious, yes, but who isn't compared to The Original Talking Head?)

Who would have thought the pros could rival the excitement of the 65-team (I hate counting that silly play-in game) NCAA Tournament? But that's exactly what has happened since the NBA playoffs commenced five weeks ago, leaping into its version of the Sweet 16.

"This whole series is one for ESPN Classics," Jason Terry exhaled late Monday night after his Mavericks survived an epic overtime Game 7 in San Antonio in what was an epic series against the defending NBA champions.

So what if the NBA playoffs don't employ a one-and-done format. This postseason is proof, for once, that the NBA's best-of-7series can be no less exhilarating.

I'd even say the NBA playoffs have been more gripping, can't-miss TV this go-round than what the college kids did. And there are few annual sporting events I enjoy more than college basketball's title tournament.

But by the middle of last week, after the NBA playoffs had given us one more game (65) than the college tournament provides, we'd been treated to eight overtime contests, including a double overtime thriller between the Suns and Clippers. The NCAA Tournament produced five overtimes, including one game decided after double overtime.

The NBA playoffs have given us seven games decided by a point. Just three NCAA Tournament games ended with a one-point margin.

And the Mavericks, who won the second-most games in the West, just dethroned the defending champions, who won the most games in the West. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers, the Cinderellas of the pro tournament, nearly toppled the Pistons, who won the most regular-season games of any club.

It was like watching two No. 1 seeds battling it out and George Mason going up against Connecticut. No wonder TV ratings are up for the NBA during these playoffs.

But wait, there's more!

David Stern didn't send me a check for this glowing review of his league's second season. It's just been so compelling that it's impossible to ignore.

In a sense, this is the way it should be. The pros are the best basketball players in the world. They should be serving up these extraordinary performances with some regularity now that the Larry O'Brien trophy is on the line, and they are.

Kobe Bryant almost carried his otherwise star-less team past Steve Nash's Suns in the only first-round series that required seven games. LeBron James and Gilbert Arenas staged a shootout as James dragged his Cavaliers past Arenas' Wizards, four wins to two. James went over 40 points twice, Arenas once. Both averaged well more than 30 points.

Then James continued his impersonation of the second coming of Michael Jordan. Plenty of prodigies fail to live up to the hyperbole. But how many exceed it?

That's one of the funny things about sports. We always say there will never be another so-and-so, and there always is. Never another O.J., then came Barry Sanders. Never another Tom Seaver, then came Roger Clemens.

Never another MJ, then LJ made a playoff game-winning basket and a playoff game-winning pass, just like Jordan did more than once.

There are those among us who'll argue that the NBA doesn't have the pageantry and passion that make the college tournament so great, what with the bands and fight songs and tears of sorrow as well as joy.

No pageantry? True. But that was passion the Cavaliers displayed after returning from a funeral for teammate Larry Hughes' brother and persevering without the grief-stricken guard. That was passion when the Cavaliers looked like a bunch of college kids, piling on Damon Jones after he hit the series-winning, last-second overtime shot against Washington.

That was passion when Jason Terry exulted in the Mavericks' first overtime win against the Spurs after he hit a shot that put his team ahead late in the fourth quarter. That was passion when the millionaire Mavericks and Spurs hit the floor for loose balls in Game 5's final seconds.

"This is the best series I've ever played in," Tim Duncan remarked Monday night in defeat. "Both teams gave it their all, it went down to the wire, it was about whether the ball bounced one way or another ..."

And we've got more games to go.

May Mayhem, let's call it, isn't bad.

kriD
05-24-2006, 10:30 AM
Edit: Double post.