Since the final horn sounded in Game 7 of last year’s NBA finals there have been a myriad of noteworthy storylines with regard to the current NBA season. Could Phil Jackson and Kobe lead the Lakers to another 3-peat? Would the new look Chicago Bulls dethrone the Celtics in the east? And finally, where on earth would Lebron James land?
James, in a media-event, like none of us had ever seen before, shocked everyone when he announced that he would be, “taking my talents to South Beach” to team up with Dwayne Wade, fellow free-agent signing Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat. The “Big 3,” then followed that with a self-aggrandizing welcome party in Miami and immediately become one of the most polarizing squads in professional sports history.
Oh, by the way, Tim Duncan and the Spurs were still really good. Superman was still manning the middle in Orlando. Oklahoma City had a dog in this fight too with their young and talented team led by Kevin Durant. Carmelo Anthony teamed up with Amare Stoudamire in New York as well.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, was talking about the Dallas Mavericks.
Dallas quietly went 57-25, good enough to tie the Lakers for 3rd in the Western Conference. They headed into the playoffs as an afterthought. We’d seen this Mavs team before, win a good chunk of games in the regular season, then fold in the playoffs. Dallas has been nearly universally thought of as soft by NBA media types for years.
Heading into the playoffs more pressing matters than the Mavericks were at hand.
This years playoffs were supposed to be all about the Lakers, and whoever would emerge as the beast from the east. MVP Derrick Rose* had led Chicago to the best record in the League and became the sexy new pick to advance out of the East. The new “Big 3,” in Miami and the older version in Boston were geared up for a finals run as well.
*Dirk was a distant 6th in the 2011 MVP voting despite leading Dallas to a 55-18 record in games that he played. The Mavericks were just 2-7 in games he missed due to injury.
Miami, Boston, and Chicago dominated first round opponents. Los Angeles had little trouble with New Orleans. Oh yeah, the Mavs advanced too, heading into a second round series against Kobe, Phil and the Lakers.
Then the Lakers tanked and were eliminated in 4 straight. Nevermind Dallas, the team who laid the beat down to the defending-champs. This was all about the collapse of LA. This was about the Lakers losing. At least that is how the media portrayed it.
On other side of the bracket Lebron James looked like the greatest player in the world as Miami dominated series’ against both Boston and Miami. All of a sudden the NBA playoffs became some sort of Miami Heat invitational. All the hoopla, all the fireworks from the off-season were paying off. Miami looked primed to kickoff their Dynasty in high-fashion. It was “Miami is going to win the NBA finals, and I’m not even sure who they are playing.”
Has there ever been a team (Dallas) who put on such a great playoff run and remained so under-the-radar?
After crushing the Mavericks in game 1, Miami took an 88-73 lead in game 2 with just 7:14 left to play. It came on a 3-pointer by Wade, right in front of the Dallas bench. As Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle called a timeout, Wade and James celebrated. Wade held up his shooting hand for a good 5 seconds after the shot hit, stared at the Dallas bench as James came over also scowling, and mock-punched Wade in the chest.
Dallas closed the game on a 22-5 run, spurred on by aging veterans Jason Terry and Jason Kid they closed the gap to just 4 points with just over 3 minutes to play. Dirk took it from there, scoring the Mavericks’ final 9 points of the game, and Dallas escaped with a 95-93 game 2 victory.
Still, after the game it wasn’t about the comeback. It was all about Miami and how they choked it away. Many in the media dismissed it as an event where Dallas just had nothing to lose, Miami took their foot off the gas. No way the Mavericks could stand toe-to-toe with Wade, Bosh and King James when the pressure was on.
Miami then took a hard-fought game 3, the first in Dallas, and claimed a 2-1 in the series. The question at that point wasn’t who is going to win the series, it was only a question of who (Wade or James) would emerge as the Finals MVP and best player on the Heat. Wade was looking like he did in the 2006 Finals in which he torched Dallas for over 30 points a game en route to the Championship and MVP trophies. James seemed to shrink in the 4th quarter. No mention of Dallas who came back time after time in the game on numerous spectacular plays by Dirk and was only a shot away from sending it into overtime in the closing seconds.
When Dallas took game 4 86-83 to even the series at 2-2 it wasn’t the Mavericks who were the story. Nor was it Nowitzki, who battled a 102 degree fever, en route to 21 crucial points including a driving lay in to put Dallas up by three with 15 seconds left to play. It was James, who scored just 8 points in the game, that gained the attention of the media.
Wade and James’ stole media attention again with their mocking of Nowitzki’s fever. Heading though the tunnel prior to game 5, both players covered their mouths with their shirts and began coughing and laughing. Nowitzki dismissed their act as, “childish.”
Still, not many really believed that Dallas could take the series. Lebron was sure to bounce back with a phenomenal game 5, right? Wrong.
Dallas took game 5, behind incredible, team-wide 3-point shooting. The Mavericks went 13-19 from deep for the game. Everyone chipped in. JJ Barrea, the waterbug-quick guard drove the lane as well as hit from deep, Dirk hit an incredible high-arching 3, Jason Kidd hit timely jumpers. Jason Terry, who had himself been non-existent in the fourth quarter of finals games but still found the confidence to call out James in between games 4 and 5 hit two nail in the coffin type threes to put the game out of reach. James notched maybe the least impressive triple-double in NBA history, fading once again in crunch time and while Wade was in the locker room getting treatment for injury.
Even with the 3-2 series lead many felt that the series was still Miami’s to lose. They still had both the remaining games at home. and if they could nab a win in game 6 history has been very kind to home teams in game 7s.
Jason Terry had other plans.
Dallas’ veteran guard again backed up his claims of Lebron James having trouble keeping up with him, scoring 19 first half points as the Mavericks took a 53-51 lead into halftime. From that point on it was a team effort, Kidd, the 17 year NBA vet, made timely jumpers, dished assists, and played uncanny positional defense. Barrea pestered the Heat with his quickness. Terry kept hitting. Even little-used big-man Mahimi got into the act with a key offensive rebound and buzzer-beating elbow jumper to close out the 3rd quarter.
But it was Nowitzki, the MVP, who stepped up in the 4th quarter after having an otherwise pedestrian game. Dirk scored 10 points in the final quarter, to close out the championship.
And with the final seconds winding down. With players untucking their jerseys. Heat players looking bewildered. Heat fans emptying the aisles. Mavericks players and fans rejoicing in the stands, on the court and via satellite in Germany and Dallas. Nowitzki walked of the court and into the tunnel in a manner quite synonymous to his team’s entire championship season, quietly, and under-the-radar.