The New York Knicks came to town on Saturday night
The Dallas Mavericks won their first NBA Championship in franchise history yesterday with a 105-95 win in Miami. To paraphrase the majority of media outlets covering the NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks “took their talents to South Beach” in celebratory fashion. As the final game of the season wound down the images of surprise, shock, happiness and sadness began to emerge not only for the Dallas victory but also for Miami’s shocking loss. From the moment Dwyane Wade paused in front of the Dallas bench to longingly celebrate a crunch time three in Game 2, the Mavericks turned on a simply dominating performance to win this series. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more talked about figures from the 2011 NBA Finals.
One word: Amazing. Dirk Nowitzki exorcised the demons of 2006 in the most emphatic way, casting aside any lingering opinions of him being soft, lacking leadership or perhaps being non-committal to winning. The fact he was facing Miami again only made for good media romance as it didn’t matter to Dirk who the opponent was. His persistence, drive and will to win will leave his name etched in history as one of the greats of the game. Prior to this Finals series it was simply his amazing skill-set at seven-feet that propelled him into high esteem, not to mention his MVP trophy that in some circles was considered unjust to say the least.
Through injury, sickness and a poorly-timed shooting slump, Dirk continually picked himself up and kept charging toward the finish line. He had an excellent supporting cast that included a multitude of players that all brought “something” to the table on any given night. That is more than can be said for some other notable names in the Finals series but we’ll get to that a little later.
No matter which team you follow, (perhaps sans Miami) it is a feel-good story to see Nowitzki win a Championship. The seven-foot German who so awkwardly graces the hardwood has finally landed the Championship hardware that certifies his entire career and moves him into legend status as a winner, and a gracious, humble champion. The best kind.
If you had to consider one Basketball story from these Finals that could unseat Dirk’s triumph on the “romance scale”, it would have to be the story of Jason Kidd. This 10-time NBA All-Star and eventual Hall-of-Famer finally gets to call a Championship ring his own and he was able to come back to the team who originally drafted him in 1994 to do it. Although the road has not always been smooth off the court for Jason, on purely a Basketball level the journey is an amazing one. Having made two previous trips to the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003 with a combined win-loss record of 2-8, Kidd could be understood not taking anything for granted in this year’s finale.
With the Miami Heat leading 2-1 after three close games, a feeling of “here we go again” may have crossed his mind. If this was the case, Kidd certainly didn’t show it as he continued to make big shots and more importantly find others for big shots all through the series. His NBA Finals averages of 7.7 points, 6.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game just go to show that age is not a factor if you have the heart of a champion. A heart that is certified now with a Championship.
If anyone dares question Dwyane Wade’s heart, they are on the verge of lunacy. Wade played his tail off for the first five games of the Finals series, creating the possible out of impossible circumstances. Often called upon to perform when others seemed disinterested (LeBron, you’re up next) Wade led the team for hustle and determination by a country mile. The only other players for Miami that could say they worked even half as hard as Wade did in this series were Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers. (Honorable mention to Udonis Haslem)
It’s safe to say that even the ever-energetic Dwyane Wade ran out of gas in Game 6. This is in no way intended to be an insult to Wade, in fact quite the opposite. What happened to him could of happened to anyone in his position, left with such an under-performing supporting cast. His will and determination didn’t diminish until very late in the final game and his disappointment was evident. Regardless, he played one hell of a series and with a couple of lucky bounces going his way could have led his Heat to a 4-0 sweep of the Mavericks, collecting the Finals MVP along the way. There’s a lot to think about for the Heat over the next six months, however Wade’s conscience will be clear with regards to his effort.
Where to start on this subject? It’s been covered more than the Royal Wedding and “The Decision” combined and one has to feel sad about where this has got to. As it stands now, LeBron James cannot win. He is being widely criticized when defeated and will be denied any form of legend status if/when he claims his own Championship jewelry. The scrutiny James is under is unprecedented but some would say self-created. From his over-dramatized start to the misunderstood “back to the real world” finish to this NBA season, LeBron has simply fueled the critics collective fire beyond repair.
Just drink in the fact that the arguably the best raw Basketball talent in the world, may never be genuinely liked or applauded. It’s got to that crazy stage.
These facts are clear however when talking about LeBron James. The man is the most physically gifted Basketballer we have seen since Wilt Chamberlain, he captivates and polarizes the NBA community unlike any other before him and most notably is nothing remotely like Michael Jordan in any way when it comes to Basketball. LeBron hid from the big moments, moved the ball out of his hands like a hot potato during crunch time and showed almost no signs of the “eff you” attitude that got MJ to the heights he reached.
Those attributes just mentioned have the potential to make him a better teammate than Jordan, a more likeable “team-oriented” kinda guy than Jordan and a more successful leader, however none of these things have come close to being achieved. It seems while as fans and analysts we all want to see greatness from LeBron, the NBA community grows tired of the self-promotion, the arrogance and the talk of greatness when nothing of “championship calibre” has been achieved.
All throughout this Finals series we were waiting for LeBron to “flick the switch”, we were waiting for his eyes to glaze over and for him to take to the Mavericks like he did the Pistons in 2007. But there was no drive, there was no “wrecking ball” activity and there was seemingly no desire to step up in the big moment. His mentality was summed up when he drove the lane, got past Marion and then lightly handed the ball off under the basket to Juwan “Older than Yoda” Howard. On any other stage, that drive finished with a thunderous tomahawk dunk. Not during Game 6 however as there just wasn’t a plan followed by execution.
It’s the same reason James didn’t enter the Dunk Contest, he cannot seem to plan and implement anything. He is so good that he makes it all up as he goes and still reaches these dizzying heights. LeBron will get his Championship one day but he will need to define in his mind what he is to Basketball. Is he a go-getter or a front-runner? Only he can answer that.
The man affectionately known as “The Matrix” re-invigorated his reputation during this series. His averages of 13.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, a block and a steal per game provided much needed energy to Dallas’ cause. Marion played great defense, cutting off LeBron’s passage to the lane and contested what seemed like every rebound en route to his long awaited Championship glory. We all know his jump shot is ugly as hell but Marion didn’t need it as he made the jump hook his own private security blanket, and Miami’s nightmare.
This is all I need to say on Chandler: Rebounds, toughness, hustle, rebounds, intensity, rebounds and rebounds. That is all.
Jason Terry / DeShawn Stevenson
Terry and Stevenson while not necessarily having the right considering their CVs, led the Mavericks in “nut punching the bully” during these Finals. Jason Terry ran his mouth and backed it up with huge shots at critical times throughout. Stevenson continued to find himself in fortunate situations and did the job required of him while taking verbal shots at Wade and James along the way. It’s been proven over a long time that role player vs. superstar rivalries generally turn out poorly for the former. Just ask Gerald Wilkins, Xavier McDaniel and Raja Bell how it turned out for them. The difference here was not so much the calibre of the role player so much as the passiveness of the superstar. All in all a sensational series for these two Mavericks though who managed to balance the drama with actually putting the ball in the hoop, arrogance and all.
Erik Spoelstra / Rick Carlisle
Spoelstra was either out-coached or out-gunned in this series, depending on your point-of-view or which media outlet you’re reading. While Carlisle got the victory and therefore the spoils, it is clear that Spoelstra’s troops under-performed in a big way. The easy and foolish route is to blame “Junior Riley” and speculate on his future, however you would be silly to do this. Erik Spoelstra made adjustments throughout this series and pleaded with his team to stay mentally strong. He didn’t waver from his game plan that nearly landed Miami a 3-0 lead, he called timeouts when required and drew up plays for his team to succeed. If he had five Dwyane Wade’s he would have won 4-0 and hit the big time. Oh, to dream for Miami.
Rick Carlisle put a gag order on his outspoken owner, empowered even the Brian Cardinal’s of the world to contribute mightily and hand-picked an ego-less team that when pushed had the will and determination to succeed together. He rode his lone superstar to greatness while making no excuses, pulling no punches and not once buying into anything other than his game plan and his players collective development. Which coach would you rather be? Both driven, both capable, one Champion. For now.
It’s nice to see that teams still can’t buy a Championship and it’s nice to see a few gritty competitors in Nowitzki, Kidd and Marion get a Championship ring at last. It’s also intriguing to see where Miami goes from here, how they develop and more importantly how they respond to the adversity. It will be captivating to see what strategies the other 28 teams employ, thinking for a fleeting moment that they can once again stop the Miami juggernaut. And finally, it will be captivating if/when LeBron James develops a go-to move that he will unleash on the League next season en route to the Championship he believes the “man upstairs” has lined up for him.
All in all, bring on next season!
Thanks for reading.
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