Basketball is a game of constant momentum shifts and easily bursts bubbles. The playoffs are akin to a roller coaster ride, filled with ups, downs, wins, losses, and unless you’re the 2017 Golden State Warriors, 2001 Los Angeles Lakers, or the 1983 Philadelphia 76ers, your team will experience these hysterical peaks and valleys. The decade of 2010 is defined by LeBron James rising to the occasion and assuming the mantle as best player in the world. Finally vanquishing the hated Celtics and silencing all of his critics.
But all things are fickle and if one or two things went differently, LeBron easily becomes this generations Julius Erving. An awe inspiring talent who never figures out how to win as the best player on his team. This comparison works just for the two players in a vacuum. Until 2012, LeBron didn’t develop a jump shot, have sufficient post moves and was sketchy at the free throw line. Way back in 1983, a scout for the 76ers was explaining to Dr. J how good Michael Jordan was, describing him as “You [Dr.J], but with a jump shot.”
In 2010, Brian Windhorst went on an “emergency” podcast of the B.S Report to discuss the Cavaliers collapse against the underdog Celtics. It quickly sunk into conspiratorial territory. LeBron was dealing with an elbow injury and the pills he was taking to deal with the pain simultaneously was giving him depression. Out of all the crazy theories out there, this one is rarely talked about, I think there’s some truth to this. I mean, it makes sense right? Biggest series of his life, LeBron looks so passive. Yeah, he had one foot out the door, but Kevin Durant showed more fight in his final Thunder series than LeBron did.
The Celtics soldiered on, catching fire winning three straight over the 66-win Cavaliers, then stealing the first two from Dwight Howard and the Magic on the road en route to an improbable run to the finals nearly culminating in a championship.
Howard was the last great true center the league will ever see. His limited move set didn’t stop him from scoring nearly twenty a night, and playing other worldly lockdown defense. In his previous campaign, Howard transcended the Magic lackluster roster, combined with Stan Van Gundy reaching the apex of his coaching career, Orlando ran LeBron out of the building, robbing fans of their dream Kobe-Bron Finals.
The 2009-10 Magic reloaded by trading for Vince Carter and many pegged them to come out of the East. Absolutely nobody had the Celtics squeaking by Cleveland and Orlando. You’d be insane to believe otherwise.
So why didn’t Magic win? Boston sucker punched a complacent Magic squad in game one. Vince Carter missed two free throws down 3 with 31 seconds left and squandering a crucial two-for-one opportunity that hold have saved their season. The Celtics took advantage of two franchises in the middle of imploding. The Magic have never made a serious playoff run since, making it back only once and Howard never coming closer to capturing a championship – not that I think he cares.
Steve Nash vs Jameer Nelson
Jason Richardson vs Vince Carter
Grant Hill vs Matt Barnes
Channing Frye vs Rashad Lewis
Amar’e Stoudemire vs Dwight Howard
No better collection of talent in the history of basketball has been squandered because their owner was a cheap bastard who should have never owned a team. Despite wasting Steve Nash’s prime, the Suns had one more run left in them. Bowing out to Los Angeles in six. One play that sticks out is Ron Artest jumping over Jason Richardson for a putback off of a Kobe miss to win the game in its final seconds. That doesn’t happen, maybe the Suns Cinderella run doesn’t come to a screeching halt.
If the Magic won, it drastically alter Howard’s legacy from a unlikable, disingenuous, insecure individual to an unlikable, disingenuous, insecure individual with a ring. I can’t imagine someone of his caliber more undeserving of a championship.
If Phoenix won, Steve Nash will have finally climbed the mountain top, proving good guys don’t always finish last.
Personally, I think the Magic didn’t have it in them. Suns in 5.