The Dallas Mavericks, having been constantly reminded of their 2006 NBA Finals loss to the Miami Heat, were finally able to put that unpleasant history to rest by defeating Miami Sunday night, 105-95, and winning the 2011 Finals - the team's first title - four games to two.
After the final buzzer, in a post-game interview, Mavericks guard Jason Terry, who was part of that 2006 runner-up team, asserted “Tonight, we got vindication.” He then added that both he and teammate Dirk Nowitzki went to sleep every night thinking about five years ago, but the fact that this year's Mavericks team had a number of powerful, individual stories made it possible for Dallas to persevere and win as a team.
In the first half of Game 6, Dallas’s anchor Nowitzki was essentially a non-factor. In the first 24 minutes, he was 1-for-12 from the floor - one of his few points of the half being a foul shot which resulted from mutual team technical fouls, following a bench-clearing scuffle. But in the second half, he started to make significant adjustments, scoring 10 fourth-quarter points for a total of 21, to complement his 11 rebounds.
But as cold as Nowitzki was in the first half, his teammate Terry was scalding hot. He led all scorers by hitting 11 for 16 from the floor for 27 points. And guard J.J. Barea came in off the bench to add 15 points, while absolutely shredding Miami's defense in the paint in the process. Asked about his own performance, Nowitzki took responsibility, and credited his teammates for helping him, saying “they picked me up and carried me.”
Though Dallas, like Miami, had a mediocre night from the free throw line, what helped them was their clutch three-point shooting. Miami, having erased a 12-point Mavericks lead in the first half, were on a big run of their own.
But timely 3-pointers from DeShawn Stevenson and Terry helped keep the Mavericks close through Nowitzki’s shooting drought. In fact, the team as a whole went 11-26 from beyond the 3-point arc, which was only 4 points below Miami’s field goal percentage. And once again, forward Shawn Marion and center Tyson Chandler were Herculean in their efforts inside to keep Miami out of the paint. Chandler actually played much of the fourth quarter with five personal fouls, but seemed to ignore it completely as Miami repeatedly charged the rim in the waning minutes.
Lebron James said in a post-game press conference that Dallas was more effective in the paint - putting the extra man on him when he was driving and getting to the free-throw line. He called the Mavericks “… a very underrated defensive team.”
With 9 minutes left in the game, the Mavericks once again pulled out the 2-3 zone defense, which repeatedly threw Miami back on its heels. For instance, Dwyane Wade, distracted while seeking a teammate to pass to, bounced the ball off his foot out of bounds. And a couple of possessions later, James was forced to toss up a desperation shot that missed the rim by two feet.
Miami also didn’t help their own cause by committing 16 turnovers, from which Dallas scored 27 points. It was emblematic of the kind of opportunistic play Dallas has excelled at throughout the Finals. Miami also shot just 20 for 33 (a paltry 60%) from the foul line.
James came into Dallas series averaging 27 points per game. But during the Finals, his average dropped to just under 17. That's the largest drop ever for a player who came into the Finals scoring at least 25 points per game.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, when speaking after the game about his team’s mindset, said it was “not about what you can’t do; it’s about what you can do.” In addition to Nowitzki, who he said now must be included in the NBA’s greatest players, Carlisle also singled out Jason Kidd for praise, calling him “savant-like” in his poise and leadership.
And in asserting that he was particularly proud of the collective toughness of his team, he applauded the “major roles” his supporting cast, including center Ian Mahinmi, strong forward Brian Cardinal and ball-handler Barea played. All told, the Dallas bench outscored (while out-hustling) their Miami counterparts, 43-20.
Following the game, commentator Jeff Van Gundy, in admitting that he, like many others in the media perhaps didn’t give Dallas enough of a chance to win, suggested that the Mavericks’ title says a great deal about team perseverance, and what a great lesson it is for all of us.
[Editor's note: The original version of this story misstated the point total of the Maverick bench players.]