We’re down to the Final Four in the NBA Playoffs — and what an exciting two-year postseason it has been.
In 2006, there were more games decided by one point than any season in NBA playoff history. Currently, we’ve seen the biggest upset in a 7-game series with No. 8 seed Golden State shocking the 67-win top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in 6.
It has been fascinating to see several unusual "clash of styles." The run-and-gun Denver Nuggets, with the offensive duo of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, ran smack into Tim Duncan and the defensive-Spurs in the first round. As is often the case this time of the season, defense prevailed as San Antonio smoked the Nuggets in 5. In fact, all five games went under the total.
The Warriors/Mavericks series was expected to be up-tempo because of Don Nelson’s breakneck pace and style. Yet, there was a lot more defense than fans (and oddsmakers) might have anticipated. The under cashed in four of the six games.
There’s been a mixture of up-tempo teams and slow-down defensive ones facing each other. The Bulls, Heat, Cavaliers, Rockets and Spurs certainly qualify as defensive-oriented. The old-school, fast-break style teams provided a refreshing change of pace with the Warriors, Mavs, Lakers, and Suns. The up-tempo teams are all in the West, which poses the question as to when the East will catch up with the trend and start running more? After all, the West has won six of the last eight NBA titles.
Defense is often the common ingredient in all sports when it comes to advancing in the postseason and winning a championship. There was no better example of this than the last three years. In 2004, the flashy, high profile Lakers opened as a 5/1 favorite over the blue-collar Pistons. The early money came in on LA. The public was enamored with the flashy team (as usual), and the Pistons were eventually +700 to win the title.
Detroit, the blue-collar team with unselfish play and slam-dunk defense won the title with ease in 5. Two years ago, the Spurs topped the Pistons in 7. Last year, Pat Riley’s Heat used defense and Dwyane Wade to come back from a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals.
Utah just used its superior defense and inside play to put an end to the Warriors’ Cinderella season. Denver averaged 104 points per game during the regular season and got 95 in Game 1 against San Antonio in an upset. However, the Spurs then turned on their defensive jets and held Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony to 88, 91, 89 and 78 points the last four games, all wins by San Antonio.
Naturally, coaches know the value of defense and often the better defensive teams advance and face each other. When the Pistons won the title three years ago they were 14-8-1 under the total in the postseason. When the Spurs won the title in 2005, six of their first eight playoff games sailed under the total. Last year, the under went 10-2 in Miami’s final 12 playoff games.
The last four seasons, the "under" is 42-27-1 combined in the NBA semifinals and finals. Defense doesn’t disappear this time of year, it often gets more intense.