Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Could you have asked for a better start than this? The Bulls pushed to the limit by the 8-seed Pacers. The Heat forced to grind one out after being pummeled early. The Hawks stunning the Magic at home in what will be one of many upsets throughout this post-season. And the Mavs looking comfortable at home, then choking slightly, then being dragged to victory by their senior citizens. No blow-outs, every game decided by 10 or less, and lots of big performances. The perfect start to our 2011 Playoff Diary.

For the new folk out there, each and every day throughout the playoffs we’ll be handing out votes for the best 3 players of the day. This year, at the bottom of each post, I’m also including a link to the same day in prior years – a chance for you to reminisce about playoff games you’ve no doubt forgotten. So settle in and enjoy. This is Day 1 of a long journey.

3 votes – Derrick Rose. A stunning performance, not because of the eye-popping numbers (39-6-6) or the highlight-reel plays he made. But because of the way he single-handedly took over this game late in the fourth. Clutch. That is the word that is starting to define Derrick Rose in this league. Fearless and clutch. What I love about him is that he’ll just as willingly attack the rim with ferocity as he will pass to find the open teammate. It’s more a Lebron version of clutch than Kobe, but Rose is doing it better than Lebron. He assisted on or scored the final 12 points of the game, starting from a 92-98 defitcit which ended in a 104-99 win. It was masterful. I’m in awe, as I have been most of this season. The MVP has started the post-season exactly where he left off.

2 votes – Dirk Nowitzki. Clutch might as well be the theme of the day, because that’s what gets Dirk 2 votes against the Blazers today. I watched the second half of this game. Halfway through the last quarter the Blazers made their move, the Mavs started looking marshmallowy, and Dirk was being passive. They were behind 6, and I fully expected them to cave. Then Dirk when nuts.  He turned this game, he really did. Because Dirk is a barometer for this team – not dictating whether they’ll win or lose, but dictating their mindset. When he puts on that superhero cape, starts draining impossible shots and barreling to the rim in the herky-jerky style only Dirk can, everyone around him – fans included – starts feeding off his energy. And when he starts deferring too much, looking to the refs to bail him out, settling for long contested jumpers and visibly re-living the nightmare that was 2006 and 2007, everyone around him starts feeding off that too. It’s what makes the Mavs so fragile and is the reason why so many of us are tipping an upset. Six minutes to go in this game was a turning point for this Dallas team – they could have gone either way. Dirk wouldn’t let them lose.

1 vote – Dwight Howard. Very rarely does someone from a losing team get a vote, and it was tough to omit Jason Kidd today. But you can’t ignore 46 points and 19 rebounds – not when it’s the first time since 1987 a player went 45-15 in the playoffs. Dwight was aggressive from the get-go, setting a franchise record for most points in a half with 31 (eclipsing T-Mac’s previous mark of 28). And he stayed aggressive the entire game. One of the things I loved watching was the Magic’s insistence to keep getting the ball to Dwight, even throughout the fourth quarter. That doesn’t always happen. Often they’ll settle into a three-point funk, especially if they’re trailing big, and Dwight will go 4-5 minutes without a touch (which gets him frustrated). But tonight they never stopped looking for him, and guess what happened? Dwight Howard had 46 points. The guy only took 23 shots but he scored 46 points. Guess how many times Dwight took 23+ shots during the regular season?

10 times? 5 times?

The answer is zero. I hope you realise how ridiculous that is. I hope you realise that Dwight can absolutely do this every single night.  It’s not rocket science Orlando. Make your threes, and keep getting the ball to Dwight. Atlanta won’t shoot 51% every game. Get the ball to Dwight. In games taking 23+ shots this season he’s averaging 46 points. Get the fucking ball to Dwight.

Playoff Retro Diary:
2010 Game 1 – Melo Goes Off
2009 Game 1 – Rose gets 3 votes in his playoff debut

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