NBA Playoffs 2011 Memes: Miami Heat Vs. Boston Celtics Can Finally Begin

In this edition: the second-round series to end all second-round series' is finally set, Kevin Durant goes off, the Spurs refuse to die, the Grizzlies try to mentally recover and Russell Westbrook lets some criticism get in his head.

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Celtics Vs. Heat: NBA Playoffs Series For Ages Finally Arrives

The Miami Heat finished off the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, albeit not impressively. No matter. Finally, the basketball reality that we have anticipated for months is here. The Miami Heat will square off against the Boston Celtics in the 2011 NBA Playoffs.

Already, the superlatives have been given. In his pre-series column, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports went where everyone who cares about the history of the game was scared to go.

Finally, Miami disposed of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5, ending the opening-round series and clearing the way for the most anticipated, most intriguing conference semifinal in NBA history. In this information age, there's no match for the star power and storylines of this blood-war series.     

It's almost blasphemous to say something like that, and I'm sure a lot of legends feel slighted. But then, you look back at the history of the game, and you realize ... maybe Wojnarowski is right. The Celtics' four-game sweep of the Knicks re-established them as the ultimate team. Miami, with their uninspiring five-game series win over a pesky 76ers squad, has been re-established as a collection of stars that take turns. Good vs. Evil can now begin. Or, to put it another way, the Heat have finished breakfast, and now must move on to a very big lunch.

Truth be told, there's little snark I can add in here, because sometimes it's fun to sit back and enjoy the hype. Therefore, I leave you with this from John Krolik.

293 days after "The Decision," Miami's season begins.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

 

Let's get it on!

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Nuggets Vs. Thunder: Kevin Durant Goes Off, Order In Universe Restored

Finally, Kevin Durant got the ball in crunch time for the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Denver Nuggets. The result? Pure, unadulterated basketball nirvana. Durant scored 14 points in the final three and a half minutes and 41 for the game as the Thunder rallied from a nine-point deficit to beat the Nuggets and end that series in five games.

In a way, it's a sign that Durant needs to make all the late-game decisions every single game for the Thunder. Those who scoffed at Russell Westbrook's rogue act in Game 4 undoubtedly have more ammunition to bash the Thunder point guard now. See! Look what happens when Durant gets the ball! 

That's too easy for me, though. Honestly, I think Durant showed growth as a crunch-time performer on Wednesday. Part of the problem with Durant late in games is that he's become a little passive this season. Last year, when the starpower of Westbrook wasn't quite where it was now, Durant took it upon himself to demand the ball. This year, though, that hasn't happened. Durant has been stymied by aggressive, physical defense, and he's given up the ball too often at the slightest hint of pressure. 

Wednesday night's performance was a true joy, then, because we didn't see any of those negative characteristics. Sure, Durant shot all jumpers, and eventually, he'll need to be better at getting to the rim. But every shot he hit was as a result of a forceful decision. He didn't wait for the Nuggets to set up their defense on him; he attacked them before they could. When he does that, he's unstoppable, given his size and shooting ability. When he doesn't? He makes himself mortal.

Going forward, Durant will need that switch to be on permanently when his team needs it to be. No more deferring to Westbrook. It's time for the Durantula to strike.

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Grizzlies Vs. Spurs: Gary Neal, Manu Ginobili Play Hero, Spurs Realize They Got Lucky

Somehow, we've made it this far without mentioning easily the game of the playoffs: the Spurs' incredible comeback to beat the Grizzlies in Game 5 in San Antonio. To review: the Spurs trailed by three at the end of regulation. Manu Ginobili hit an insane shot off a broken play with 2.2 seconds left, only to find that his toe was on the line and it was a two-pointer. After two free throws, the Spurs had one final chance. They threw it into Gary Neal, who took one dribble right and knocked down the three at the top of the key to send the game into overtime, where the Spurs eventually won.

This all made for a perfect storyline. See, the Spurs executed down the stretch, and the Grizzlies didn't. This shows the Spurs just never die, and explains why they are so tough to beat. Nevermind that Ginobili's shot came off a broken play or that the Grizzlies probably should have beaten the Spurs in a must-win situation that plays right into the home team's strengths. No, now the Spurs are the ones playing like champions and the Grizzlies are the ones that are rattled.

Thankfully, Ginobili himself swatted that idea away. 

"I don't really think that we showed the heart of a champion. We got lucky, it's the truth," Ginobili said. "They played better in the second half, they executed down the stretch, and their defense is always tough.

In other words: nice job, Spurs, but if anyone thinks they can win this series playing like that in Memphis, they're in for a rude awakening. At least the Spurs realize it too.

In the meantime, let's pour one out for Neal, one of the league's best stories and someone well-deserving of his moment in the sun, given everything he's gone through.

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Grizzlies Vs. Spurs: Memphis Blows Chance To End Series, So Now What?

On the one hand, the Spurs' miracle comeback to win Game 5 against the Grizzlies shows that San Antonio will never die. Truth be told, given the shots Manu Ginobili and Gary Neal hit to tie the score in regulation, the whole thing says more about the Spurs' big-shot ability that any failure on the Grizzlies' part. However, there is another team in the game besides the Spurs, and therefore, the discussion will inevitably turn to how the Grizzlies can possibly recover from being so close to ending the series.

It's tempting to suggest there will be a mental carry-over effect, especially with a young team. Throw in the "SPURS NEVER DIE, THEY ARE COCKROACHES" angle, and you can easily think that the Grizzlies have suddenly shifted to being the underdogs, despite having a 3-2 lead and home-court advantage. 

To this, I say ... eh. In 2007, the No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors had a golden opportunity (pun intended) to close out the No. 1 seed Dallas Mavericks in Dallas. With just 3:20 remaining in the fourth quarter, Baron Davis hit one of his prayer three-pointers to give the Warriors a six-point lead. But then Dirk Nowitzki just took over, hitting insane shot and making huge plays to eventually give Dallas a six-point win. The Warriors weren't as close as the Grizzlies were, but they were pretty damn close. For a couple days, we all wondered about the mental effect of the Warriors coming so close to knocking out arguably the best team in the league?

What happened in Game 6? The Warriors blew the Mavericks out, taking a 21-point third quarter lead and winning by 18. So much for the carry-over effect.

I think there's a great chance we see something similar here. For one night, the Grizzlies will bemoan their missed opportunity. Then, they'll realize just how much the Spurs had to do on their home court to even put themselves in a position to win, and gain confidence from that. They're the better team, and mental voodoo is unlikely to change that.

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Nuggets Vs. Thunder: Russell Westbrook Struggles, New Theories On Why Invented

After his astonishing-but-not-really-astonishing shooting act in Game 4, everyone was curious to see how Russell Westbrook would come out and perform in Game 5 of the Thunder vs. Nuggets series. Would he hijack the offense like he did in Game 4, when he took 30 shots and came up short in crunch time? Would he actually defer to Kevin Durant, his more highly-regarded teammate? Would someone have to threaten to beat him up if he shot the ball with under four minutes left? Would he stunt the rise of our favorite small-market team and alter the career arc of Durant himself? (To that last question: I guess there's no harm in bringing up the issue for discussion, but it's a little early, don't you think?).

In the end, Westbrook struggled. He forced things most of the game, shooting just 3-15 and dropping just four assists. He did defer in crunch time, though, ending zero possessions in the final three minutes as Durant took over. So that's a positive, I guess. At least he recognized that he didn't have it this time. (Note: I'm not being sarcastic here. I really do think this was an example of growth and a sign that his issue is more inexperience than selfishness).

Theories flew about what was causing Westbrook to play so poorly. Charles Barkley speculated that he was pouting about the criticism that he shot too much, and decided to prove a point. Kenny Smith said he was listening to the negative press too much and allowing it to affect his game. Both thought Westbrook desperately needed a few days off to calm himself down. I think we're seeing a 22-year old converted point guard have a couple bad games in a high-pressure situation for the first time in his career. No more, no less.

Still, given what we did see, this issue will certainly show itself again. Let's just hope we have more patience for Westbrook to work through it than we had these last few days.

Honorable mention: Everyone loves the 76ers ... Zach Randolph, clutch performer ... Serge Ibaka with lots of I-Blockas.

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