What is biggest surprise of the NBA playoffs so far?

May 20, 2010

Doc's miracle work

Brian Schmitz

Orlando Sentinel

If you haven't heard or need confirmation, this just in: Doc Rivers is one hell of a basketball coach.

You can call what he's done with the Celtics the surprise of the playoffs, but it's another chapter in his body of work.

Rivers led the Celts to a championship in 2008. You don't fall into the lap of a title, even if you have Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

This season is Rivers' best coaching job, and it defines him.

The Celtics are doing the Benjamin Button thing, curmudgeons seemingly getting younger. But Rivers was patient as they took their lumps battling injuries before healing to oust the Cavs and rattle the Magic, who fired him in 2004.

George Karl once questioned Rivers' credentials, the ex-player leaping from TV booth to head coach.

"Doc is everything to us," Garnett said.

No other endorsement needed.

bschmitz@tribune.com

James' rep tarnished

K.C. Johnson

Chicago Tribune

The single biggest surprise of the NBA playoffs is the hit LeBron James' reputation took.

You'd think the league's reigning two-time most valuable player might have trouble making his local rec team with the way he's been criticized for not single-handedly leading the Cavaliers to the title.

Mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan entering, he's now routinely referred to as someone who needs the proper sidekick to seal the deal. And come to think of it, King James did seem happiest playing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics with deal-closers and cutthroat competitors like Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade.

Which leads to the second biggest surprise: That James is now widely assumed to be leaving Cleveland as a free agent, which few even considered entering the NBA's second season.

kcjohnson@tribune.com

Kudos to Thunder

Broderick Turner

Los Angeles Times

One of the biggest surprises was not that it took the top-seeded Lakers six tough games to get by the eight-seeded Thunder in the Western Conference first-round series. It was that the young Thunder didn't succumb to the pressure of being in the playoffs for the first time.

In fact, the Thunder were a rebound away from pushing the Lakers to a Game 7.

But when Pau Gasol rebounded Kobe Bryant's missed jumper in Game 6 and scored on a putback with precious few seconds remaining, the Lakers knew they had escaped.

To show how much respect the Lakers had for the Thunder, Bryant walked up to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the hallway after Game 6, hugged both players and said:

"Ya'll are two bad (dudes). I'm glad we're done with ya'll."

Watch out for the Thunder next season and for years to come — if they can keep that group together.

baturner@tribune.com

Howard's vanishing act

Ira Winderman

Sun Sentinel

Even before LeBron James took his early exit from the postseason, there were questions about the lack of respect for Dwight Howard in the MVP vote, with his fourth-place finish in the balloting.

Yet in these playoffs, how many games has the foul-plagued Magic center positively impacted, considering his 30-point effort Tuesday against the Celtics came in a loss?

Yes, there was a 29-17 performance against the Hawks, followed by a 21-16 against Atlanta, but the Magic won that second one by 30 and possibly could have survived without Howard against the capitulating Hawks.

When it comes to postseason game-changers, Howard has not been a top-three presence. The MVP voters got nothing wrong.

They merely saw what was coming, a center not even requiring a double team in the conference finals.

iwinderman@tribune.com

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