The Mavericks finished a Finals for the ages last night with a 105-95 victory over the Miami Heat and won the series 4-2. The Finals gave fans across the NBA a lot to see and more importantly, proved ten things to everyone.
1. The Mavericks couldn’t spell quit, even if you spotted them Q, U & I, along with telling them that a T belonged somewhere in there. Game 2 was an instant classic and a massive game-changer for the series. Down 15 points with less than eight minutes remaining in the game, the Mavericks pulled off a magnificent victory. No one had seen such a comeback since the ’92 Bulls and Blazers series.
The Mavericks never let themselves forget a 23-point meltdown in the first round to Portland and found ways to come back to victories. They went 8-3 on the road through the entire playoffs and never surrendered, even when the odds seemed impossible.
2. A team of seasoned veterans beat a team of superstars. No shortcuts were made for the Mavs. They didn’t splurge in the off-season to buy MVPs or throw a giant pre-season party. They worked hour after hour in a gym and never gave up hope.
Donnie Nelson built a complete team where individuals provided a special something anywhere they went. They didn’t trust in a set of superstars to carry a team by themselves. They split the workload, let Dirk Nowitzki be a team leader and practiced humility. They won the old school way.
3. Age is just but a number. Dallas is an old team, this has been recognized. It meant absolutely nothing in their championship run.
Players like Tyson Chandler were playing 40+ minutes a night to bring Dallas to their victories. Players like Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd found the fountain of youth to keep themselves in competitive form against young and much-hyped All-Stars. They used experience to their advantage and won in the mental battle, along with the physical battle.
4. Strong post play from Tyson Chandler gave Dallas the final key they needed. For years, Dallas relied on a high-flying, high-octane offense to win. For 2011, Dallas used defense to break through their ceiling.
Who was the defensive captain? None other than center Tyson Chandler. The third-place finisher in the Defensive Player of the Year award, Chandler anchored a solid zone defense that kept players from driving to the lane. His Finals performance made him an unsung hero and a great companion to Dallas’ MVP, Dirk Nowitzki. More than anything else, Dirk used his skills to prove one major point:
5. Dirk Nowitzki is the most clutch closer in the NBA. Let’s shoot to the chase. Dirk scored a total of 62 points in the fourth quarters of the Finals. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James combined for 62 points. Dirk played with a sinus infection coupled with a 102-degree fever. He still was iffy from a finger tendon injury.
He still found a way to score clutch points night after night and deserve a Finals MVP award. His efforts completely dwarfed the much-hyped superstar from the Heat: LeBron James. His closing efforts proved one thing and one thing only.
6. LeBron James still has a long way to go. LeBron struggled through the entire series when it came down to closing out games. The trend continued in Game 6, when James hit only one field goal, made one assist and committed one turnover in the final five minutes of the game.
In a press conference after the Game 6 loss, James called himself a failure in the series, comparing his work to his work in the finals of 2007 against the San Antonio Spurs. When adding LeBron’s struggles against the Celtics last season, there is ample evidence to show that LeBron has a long way to go to prove himself as a clutch closer.
7. Rick Carlisle is a strategic genius. People began to wonder what Carlisle was thinking when he started JJ Barea in Game 4. DeShawn Stevenson was doing well for the Mavs through the playoffs and the Barea move seemed to be a reach to build offense.
Instead, allowing Stevenson to come off the bench became a brilliant move for the team. Barea rose to the occasion, dumping in finger rolls, floaters and three-point bombs like no one else’s business. Stevenson fit in perfectly into a revamped defensive rotation that gave Dallas the edge.
Speaking of defense, another great move that Carlisle doesn’t get enough credit for is creating a defensive strategy that kept LeBron James quiet. By rotating Kidd and Marion on James, LeBron never got great looks at the basket and struggled through the series. In fact, the Mavs made history by limiting James to incredibly low numbers.
In Game 4, LeBron scored eight points. It was the first time he hadn’t hit at least double-digits since 2007. The Mavs kept LeBron from scoring more than 20 points in three straight games. It was the first time since LeBron’s rookie season that had happened. If Carlisle hadn’t created a great defensive strategy, it never would have happened.
8. Brian Cardinal was the most effective defender against Dwyane Wade. Drawing offensive fouls, causing hard fouls and slowing Dwyane Wade down with a hip injury was all in a day’s work for Brian “The Custodian” Cardinal. He became a solid rotation player in the power forward position and found ways to be effective every night he played. His effectiveness helped relieve Dirk in minutes and helped cut down Chandler’s defensive stress.
9. Miami didn’t seem to notice or care that they were in the NBA Finals. Between Miami’s collapse in Game 2 to LeBron James’ struggles to the mocking of Nowitzki’s illness, the Heat never seemed to take the series seriously. It happened until then end, when LeBron publicly declared that Game 6 was Miami’s “final pop quiz of the season.”
A pop quiz is a test that comes up unexpectedly. A game in which a team faces elimination should never be a “pop quiz,” let alone a “final” pop quiz. Miami, at one point, had a 2-1 advantage over the Mavericks. They never seemed to put everything together to shut down Dallas and never seemed to play with the urgency that an average Finals team does.
10. The Dallas Mavericks would have been the most frightening playoff team in the past five years if they had a healthy Caron Butler. Shawn Marion did a fantastic job filling in as a starter for Butler, but think of the possibilities that the Mavs could have had with a healthy lockdown player like Butler.
Butler would have caused havoc for the stars of Miami every single game while contributing a ton of offense along the way. Shawn Marion would have played for the bench and made a great rotation at both forward positions.
The Dallas Mavericks completely deserved their championship season and they won in great fashion. They gave us a Finals for the ages and they took it with complete humility. It was a refreshing sight to see and gave the NBA a great cap-off of a season.