Take that, Dallas Cowboys! While the NFL lockout continues, the Dallas Mavericks have made their move, finally putting themselves into the Texas state of NBA champions: San Antonio, Houston, and now Dallas, all NBA World Champions from the great state of Texas.
s Charles Barkley was talking up Dallas all year, and in the end he was right. The Mavericks franchise won only 15 games back in 1980-81, the inaugural season. But after 11 straight years of 50+ wins, they ended a long run of playoff disappointments by beating the Miami Heat 105-95 in game six of the NBA Finals.
Hail to Dirk Nowitzki in his 13th season averaging 26 points and 10 rebounds in the Finals; he led the way and earned unanimous (Bill Russell Finals) MVP honors. “It feels amazing,” said Nowitzki, “to know that nobody can ever take this away from us again. For one year we’re the best team, and that feels amazing.”
If you believed the hype, this was supposed to be the year of the Miami Heat and the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. James, a two-time NBA MVP, said that he and the Miami Heat planned to win multiple world championships after he announced his decision that he was going to South Florida.
Miami navigated through the Eastern Conference winning 58 games as champions, securing the home-court advantage. Miami won game one of the Finals 92-84 and had control of game two, leading by 15 points (88-73) late in the fourth quarter, only to lose 95-93. Dallas made a habit of having great comebacks in the playoffs.
They also remembered what happened in 2006, leading 2-0 in the Finals and then losing four straight to the Heat. Only Nowitzki and Jason Terry were back with that bad taste from 2006; they understood full well that it’
s not how you start the Finals, but how you finish.
“We’re just a resilient, veteran team that always kept coming. We never stopped playing, and we kept believing in each other. That was phenomenal,”
Respect is something you must always have for your opponent. Dallas got a spark when, down 15 in game two in Miami, Wade drained a three-point shot from the right corner in front of the Mavericks’
bench. With still 7:15 to play, James and Wade celebrated in front of the Mavericks, then went on a 22-5 run to finish the game.
Nowitzki scored the game’
s final nine points, and the Mavericks pulled off one of the greatest NBA Finals comebacks, snatching the home court away. In Dallas for the next three games, the Heat won 88-86 in game three. Nowitzki, who tore the tendon on his left middle finger in game two, had a critical turnover and missed the game-tying shot. The Heat again led the Finals 2-1.
Miami lost game four 86-83 a game Nowitzki played with a 102-degree temperature, and game five 112-103 after Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle decided to start reserve point guard Jose Barea. Barea’s quickness and speed changed the series — he was able to keep his dribble and break down Miami’s vaunted defense with penetration. Dallas then started making three’s from the arc, playing inside-outside basketball, and the Heat’
s defense never recovered.
What happened to the Miami Heat and James? They celebrated too early. Remember, after beating Boston you thought they had won the title. After the Chicago series, the Heat were proclaimed to be “Hollywood as hell.”
Pressure became a burden on James, who scored just eight points in game four and struggled big offensively in the fourth quarter in the Finals, scoring no points and taking one shot in game four and scoring two points in the fourth quarters of games two and three. James, the so-called “Chosen One and The King,”
was tabbed by former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen, who proclaimed during the playoffs that James could be better than Michael Jordan. Please, are you kidding me?
Jordan never was known for disappearing in the fourth quarter or taking the big shot or celebrating early. He led the Bulls to six NBA titles and was MVP of the Finals six times. James is now 0-2 in the Finals with Cleveland and Miami and has lost a total of eight games in the Finals. Jordan was 6-0 in the Finals and lost a total of 11 games in the Finals.
Pressure can burst pipes, crack cement, and keep you from sleeping. Miami deserved what they got —
never disrespect your opponent by celebrating early, as they did in game four, or by joking and mocking Nowitzki by coughing and wheezing on camera, as Wade and James did.
Their performance was directed at Nowitzki with the 102-degree temperature, who scored 21 points. Nowitzki did not like it: “I thought it was a little childish, a little ignorant,” he said. “You know, I been in this league for 13 years. I’ve never faked an illness or injury before.”
Dallas did not need fuel to beat the Heat; they were motivated. It’
s been their focus as a team all year. Carlisle out-coached Eric Spoelstra of the Heat as the series moved on. The Barea move made the Heat defense work harder and move, and they were caught many times out of position for loose balls and rebounds.
The way Carlisle used his bench — DeShawn Stevenson, Ian Mahinmi, Brian Cardinal and Barea —
was key. Tyson Chandler dominated at center, and Shawn Marion did an exceptional job chasing James and making him defend. And 38-year-old Jason Kidd was outstanding. This NBA season was about the great young point-guard play of NBA MVP Derek Rose, Russell Westbrooke, Rojon Rondo and Tony Parker, but in the end Kidd got the ring.
Dallas kept attacking the middle of the Heat defense with Barea and by swinging the ball for open or uncontested three-point shots. It helped wear down the Heat mentally and physically. Dallas was a deeper, more physical team with three big centers; Miami had one who rarely played, and the Big Three of Wade, James and Bosh logged major minutes. It took its toll on James.
Dallas was much bigger and taller than Miami. Former Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey is defensive coordinator for the Mavericks. His 2-3 zone caused major problems for Miami as it did for Portland, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City on the road to the Finals.
“Defensively, we put a stamp on the game,” said Casey. “Everybody faults those guys [James and Wade] for what they did and didn’t do. But I thought our guys collectively came together defensively and imposed their will on Miami. And that’s something that’s a credit to Jason Kidd —
Jason, Terry, Dirk, and all those guys who bought into the system and stuck with it.
“People said you could not play zone defense in the NBA. We’re a testament that you can. Without our zone, we would not have beaten Portland, the Lakers and Oklahoma City. We also got the pass back into the NBA, and that’s a credit to Jason Kidd. He did a great job of establishing our offense with the pass,”
s leadership also rose to the occasion, calling out Jason Terry after struggling with his shot in the first three games and scoring 62 points in the forth quarter of the six games, always willing to take the big shot. His 62 points were the combined total of James, Wade and Bosh for the series in the fourth quarter.
“Well, you know, I think at the beginning I had some problems with the leadership role and talking,” Nowitzki said. “But over the last couple of years, I think I’ve been more comfortable. Obviously my English is a lot better than it was when I first got here. So it’s just being more experienced and more comfortable talking to guys, talking to the fellows, and the experience of seeing something on the court that you want to address.”
Terry scored 21 points in game five and 27 points in the game-six clincher while Nowitzki struggle with his shot. Dallas did to Miami in 2011 what Miami did to them in 2006 —
won three straight after falling behind 2-1. For that, James will feel the heat of this collapse all summer.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry -fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com. Insert: fitzbeat.nowitzki.46.jpg