2013 NBA playoffs: what we learned

Unfortunately the NBA season has to come to an end. It ended with the Miami Heat securing another championship banner and LeBron James putting forth a historically ascendant effort. James averaged 25.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game in the 2013 NBA playoffs, amassing a colossal efficiency rating of 29.17.

The end of the finals instantly sparked the tireless discussion of where James stacks up against the Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and the other greats, and also builds on the notion that in order to win in the NBA you need stars (plural).

But before the NBA Draft directs our attention towards 2013-2014, we should examine what we learned from another epic NBA playoffs.

1.) This was the best possible NBA Finals

I’m going to start the proceedings by heavily piggybacking the excellent column written by MSF’s Jon Washburn before Game 7 of the NBA Finals: This was basketball played right.

LeBron James

The series offered powerhouse names – James, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan – while also showing an average of 17.7 million viewers what modern basketball looks like: floor spacing, stingy defense, intelligent passing and fierce competitiveness. It also avoided pitfalls like poor officiating, fights and flagrant fouls.

LeBron James is endlessly compared to Michael Jordan, and while they’re both great, “LeBron James isn’t Michael Jordan, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” James is showing that while putting the ball in hole is the point of the game, he’s the best player in the world because he’s the best at just about every aspect of the game. He’s showing that the best player isn’t the one who takes all the shots, it’s the one that makes the all the right plays, which he does on nearly every possession.

A stigma and growing concern for professional basketball is the AAU-ification of the league. The “Gotta Get Mine” mindset. Despite the overwhelming amount of James narratives, the play in these finals helped emphasize the group over the individual. That the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That the Michael Jordan, isolation-style of basketball is the less entertaining than watching the ball zip around the perimeter down to a slashing cutter for an easy layup.That defense matters.

Sure, it’s fun to watch Carmelo Anthony jack up 30 shots and score 50 points, but that’s not how to win against the best teams. We can thank both the Spurs and the Heat for reminding us what they looked like at the highest possible level.

2.) Russell Westbrook’s knee didn’t hurt the playoffs

The Oklahoma City Thunder were obviously crippled by Russell Westbrook going down with a knee injury in the first round. It would be easy to think they would have bull rushed the Spurs with their athleticism like they did in 2012, therefore making the 2013 playoffs less entertaining and possibly tainted.

But the Thunder were just 2-2 in the regular season against a Spurs team with an improved Tony Parker, a revitalized Tim Duncan and a budding supporting cast in Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Gary Neal. It would have been a really fun series to watch, and either team would have made a great opponent for the Heat.

That said, we saw the most stimulating, scintillating basketball of the season in the NBA Finals. We saw a matchup of two coaches who were probably more deserving than George Karl of Coach of the Year honros. We saw James fulfill Tim Duncan’s prophecy. And we saw the NBA’s premiere dynasty against its most talented team, all while adding to the collection of hysterical Greg Popovich sideline interviews, this being my favorite.

Oklahoma City is still a great team, but time is on its side. The Thunder have plenty of time to win rings.

3.) Besides the Finals, Steph Curry was the best thing about this year’s playoffs

It’s no secret that Stephen Curry thrives in the limelight. His March Madness run at Davidson in 2008 reminded us why we cheer for Cinderella teams. It turns out he didn’t leave those theatrics behind.

Paired with the NBA’s most electrifying home playoff crowd, Curry exuded confidence in his shot from anywhere on the court, and the magical belief that he could make every shot spread like wildfire. Despite my love for the Spurs and their selfless brand of motion basketball, I wanted Curry to pull up from 28 feet every time down the court, and I know I wasn’t the only one.

Warriors’ games during the 2013 postseason appealed to March Madness lovers because of Curry. The crowd was raucous, Curry’s play was unbelievable, and the two fed off each other until every Warrior home playoff game had the atmosphere of a college rivalry. It’s in everyone’s interest that the Warriors keep getting better, because this is just too fun to watch.


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