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They say you always remember your first time -- especially your first time in the NBA Playoffs
LeBron James was the Rookie of the Year in 2004, was second team All-NBA in 2005, and was the 2006 All-Star Game MVP. Heís scored nearly 6,000 points in the NBA just a few months after his 21st birthday; but, until April 22, he had yet to crack a postseason box score. That quickly changed.
After earning his first ticket to the postseason party, James erupted onto the scene with a 32-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist triple-double in his playoff debut, joining Magic Johnson (1980) and Johnny McCarthy (1960) as the only players in history to bank a triple-dip in their first appearance on the NBA's big stage. He followed his Game 1 performance against the Wizards with 26 points and nine boards (albeit in a Cavaliers loss) in Game 2. Will King James continue to dominate the spring? Will he keep on carrying the Cavs on his back in the Eastern Conference playoffs? Only time will tell.
Letís see how other current superstars (non-centers) fared in their first playoff series.
Dwyane Wade in 2004: In 2004, the Miami Heat returned to the postseason after a two-year absence, led by the rookie guard. Wade, in his first postseason game, hit a running jumper with 1.3 seconds remaining to break a tie with the Hornets and give the Heat their first postseason victory in nearly four years. Wade had 21 points in his postseason debut, including 15 in the second half. Although the Heat would win that series in seven games, Wade shot only 5-for-8 from the floor in the seventh game, and averaged only 15.4 points on 42 percent shooting. In the next round, Wade would average 21 points per game on 49 percent shooting against the Indiana Pacers, but his Heat would lose that series in six games.
Tony Parker in 2002: Parkerís rookie campaign was 2002, and during the regular season he averaged 9.2 points in 15 minutes of action. But those numbers would increase in the postseason. In the first round, the Spurs handled the Sonics 3-2, winning the fifth and deciding game by 23 points. Parker averaged 17.2 points per game in his first playoff series.
The numbers donít do justice to Parkerís performance. Parker was matched against Gary Payton. Payton was selected on the All-Defensive Team for the ninth consecutive year. Parker turned the ball over only five times in five games against the relentless pressure of ďThe Glove.Ē The Spurs were eliminated in the second round by the Lakers (en route to their third consecutive NBA championship). Although Tim Duncan scored 26, 27, 28, 30 and 34 points in the five games, the Lakers took the series 4-1. In that series, Parker got his first taste of the big time. Kobe Bryant averaged 26.2 points per game in the series. In Game 3, Parker had 24 points and five assists, but Kobe scored 10 in the final quarter, including a putback with five seconds left to win Game 3 of the series. Parker averaged 13.8 points and 5.4 assists and shot 41 percent in the five games.
Tracy McGrady in 2000: Like James, McGrady went right from high school to the NBA. Like James, it took until year number three in the league to advance to the postseason. But unlike James, McGrady still came off the bench for most of the 2000 season with the Toronto Raptors, starting just 34 games.
McGradyís Raptors drew the defending East champion Knicks, a team that had won 50 games during the regular season. They had Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson and Marcus Camby. Toronto had one comparable star: Vince Carter. Although the Knicks swept that first-round series in three games, all three games were decided late. Carter made only 30 percent of his attempts (15-of-50) in his first playoff games, and averaged six points below his season average.
McGrady had 25 points in his first playoff game, a 92-88 Knicks victory. The Raptors began that series playing like they were in over their heads, scoring just 12 first-quarter points. McGrady then began playing like a superstar. In Game 2, an 84-83 Knicks win, there were 12 ties and 22 lead changes. McGrady averaged 16.7 points per game in the series, and people started saying that if Toronto had ran their offense through McGrady rather than Carter, the Knicks might have lost.
Allen Iverson in 1999: Iverson didnít make the postseason until his third year in the NBA. He was 23 years old in the spring of 1999, when his Sixers faced the Orlando Magic in the first round. The Sixers eliminated the Magic 3-1. With the teams even at 1-1, the series moved to Philadelphia. In that pivotal third game, Iverson set an NBA playoff record with 10 steals, a mark that still stands. A.I. scored at least 30 points in three of the four games in the series, and led Philly in scoring in all four games. In fact, he became the first Sixer with three 30-point games in a playoff series since Andrew Toney accomplished the feat against the Boston Celtics in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals. Although the Sixers would get swept 4-0 in the second round, Iversonís initial playoff season (8 games, 28.5 points per game) was just a sign of bigger things yet to come.
Kobe Bryant in 1997: Bryant was still 18 years old in the spring of 1997, when he made his first appearance in the NBA postseason. Bryant was the fourth guard on the Lakers, playing behind Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and Byron Scott. Kobeís first playoff series came against Portland. The Lakers won that series 3-1. After that, the Utah Jazz defeated the Lakers 4-1. But Kobe took the biggest shot of the Lakers season. With the Jazz leading 3-1, the Lakers were looking to win the fifth game in Salt Lake City and send the series back to the Forum. Shaquille O'Neal fouled out with 1:47 remaining. When John Stockton made a layup with 39 seconds left, it tied the score at 89-89. Rookie Bryant shot an airball over Bryon Russell from 17-feet away just before the buzzer sounded. The shot would have sent the series back to Los Angeles. Instead, Karl Malone (32 points, 20 rebounds) dominated the overtime and eliminated the Lakers.
Some all-time great non-centers and their first NBA playoff action:
Scottie Pippen in 1988: In Scottieís rookie season of 1988, he played fewer minutes than fellow rookie Horace Grant. Pippenís first playoff series came in his rookie year against the Cleveland Cavaliers. To this point in Michael Jordanís career, he had never won a playoff series, losing three straight series (and nine of 10 games). Chicago coach Doug Collins changed his starting lineup before the fifth and deciding game of the first-round series with Cleveland. He decided to start Pippen ahead of veteran Brad Sellars. Pippen came of age that day, scoring a (then) career-high 24 points (10 in the third quarter), to go along with six rebounds, five assists and three steals. He played 39 minutes in the 107-101 victory.
Jordan set playoff records in his first three years, but he never won a playoff series without Scottie Pippen. From the very beginning, Pippen contributed in a big way.
Michael Jordan in 1985: The Chicago Bulls drafted Jordan third overall in the 1984 draft, and he did not disappoint anyone in his rookie year of 1985. The Bulls had not made the playoffs in any of the previous three seasons, winning 28 and 27 games in the two years before Jordanís arrival. In 1985, the Bulls won 38 games which earned them a spot in the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks took the first two games in Milwaukee, and the Bulls went home staring elimination in the face. But Jordan scored 35 points, and the Bulls won their first playoff game in four years, 109-107. It was the Bulls first playoff victory under new management led by Jerry Reinsdorf. It would not be the last. Jordan, who averaged 28.2 points during his rookie season, averaged 29.3 points during that initial playoff series. Bulls head coach Kevin Loughery didnít spell Jordan much: He averaged nearly 43 minutes a game in the series, with 5.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists.
Larry Bird in 1980: ďLarry LegendĒ joined the Boston Celtics as the highest salaried rookie ever in any sport (five years for a total of $3.25 million dollars) and lifted them from a team that won 29 games to a team that won 61. Birdís first playoff series was against the Houston Rockets, a team that went 0-6 against the Celtics during the season. Boston swept the Rockets in four games, although Bird didnít break out offensively due to the fine defense played by Robert Reid. In the second round, the Celtics faced their familiar rival Philadelphia. The first two games were in Boston. After the Celtics lost the opener, Bird scored 36 points and pulled down 14 rebounds to help even the series. The Sixers took the next three games, as Boston needed a year of playoff experience and used the 1980 playoffs as a rite of passage. The Celtics said farewell to their great superstar John Havlicek following the 1979 season, and the 1980 playoffs would be the end for former greats Dave Cowens and Pete Maravich, as well.
Magic Johnson in 1980: ďThe Magic ManĒ had one of the greatest careers, and one of the greatest opening acts, in history. His rookie season started in bizarre fashion, as his coach Jack McKinney suffered a life-threatening injury just 13 games into the season when he fell off his bicycle. Magic went on to post terrific numbers in his rookie season (18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists). In the playoffs, he was even better. The Lakers defeated the Suns 4-1. They defeated the Sonics 4-1. They advanced to face the 76ers in the NBA Finals. The Lakers captured the NBA title in Game 6 at Philadelphia, as the magic rookie tallied 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists while playing every position. He was voted Finals MVP, the only rookie to ever be so honored. Remember, the Lakers won the final game without the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In Magicís first playoff season, he played 16 games and averaged 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.4 assists.
Oscar Robertson in 1962: It took until his second season, 1962, for Robertson to crash the NBA postseason. In that sophomore season, the Big O averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. He had 45 triple-doubles in that season alone. In the playoffs, his Cincinnati Royals drew the 37-45 Detroit Pistons. Detroit won the first game. The Royals -- behind a home crowd at the Cincinnati Gardens of 1,829 fans -- won the second game. The Pistons took the next two games to advance. Robertson averaged 28.8 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the four-game series. Oscar scored 115 points on only 81 shots (without benefit of a 3-point shot). The Royals were moved into the East (with the Boston Celtics) following the season, and that spelled further doom. Robertson would play in only 39 playoff games in his first 10 years in the league. He did play 47 postseason games in his last four years, however, with the Milwaukee Bucks (winning a championship in his 11th season). In Robertsonís final NBA game, he missed 11 of his 13 shots in Game 7 of the 1974 NBA Finals.
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