The bashing of LeBron James was surely an entertaining element of The Finals. His 9-point scoring drop-off was the biggest ever for a player who averaged 25 points or more during the regular season And whether you're a proponent of the plus/minus statistic or not, nobody can ignore his -24 in Game 6. He consistently passed up open jumpers and attacking opportunities.
But Sunday night was about the Dallas Mavericks and the incredible resiliency this team showed throughout the playoffs -- especially The Finals.
Dirk Nowitzki validated his spot in the pantheon of basketball greats. His subpar 9-27 shooting performance was but a minor blip on the radar of an MVP series and MVP-type of season, and by scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter, he became the anti-LeBron.
Jason Terry and his surprising trash-talk rebounded from a rough start to the series by completing the season with a flurry of timely jump shots and 3-point daggers. After Game 3, he challenged LeBron to guard him for seven straight games. As it turned out, he only needed six.
As great as Terry was, isn't it fair to suggest that Dirk's supporting cast (offs) was above-average at best? Jason Kidd is 38 and became the oldest point guard ever to start in The Finals. Nobody wanted Shawn Marion a year ago. DeShawn Stevenson was an afterthought. J.J. Barea is 5'8." Tyson Chandler was considered a high school bust by many and Brian Cardinal's nickname is 'The Custodian.' Not to mention, Caron Butler -- arguably the team's best perimeter defender and second best scorer -- never got out of street clothes. As a friend proclaimed to me last night; "these are all solid players, but look at who they went up against."
Marion parlayed whatever inner "Matrix" he had left, hitting his patented array of post-up floaters and playing superb defense. Stevenson three-goggled the crowd into a frenzy with clutch buckets and showed off stout defense as well. Kidd was vintage Kidd -- facilitating as only he can -- while Barea split about 327 double-teams and showed that even short guys can dominate in the paint. On the defensive end, Chandler -- acquired a season ago -- shut down the paint and controlled the glass, playing a crucial role in the Mavs' shedding of the 'soft' label that plagued this franchise for so long.
Say what you want about the normally boisterous (and suddenly uber-gracious) Mark Cuban, he has crafted a winner by assembling team-first guys and a head coach who employs a winning style even if it means employing controversial tactics. Rick Carlisle started Barea when he was shooting just 5-23 after three games, was the first coach to consistently use a zone defense in the playoffs and made opportune in-game adjustments and proper substitutions -- unlike Heat counterpart Erik Spoelstra.
As maligned as James has been, much of the blame for the Heat loss falls on coach Spoelstra.
As I noted before Game 6, his refusal to rest James in this series was vexing, as was his inability to incorporate Chris Bosh into the offense more. Bosh's capacity to hit high post jump shots was the one soft spot in the Dallas zone. In Game 6, he again provided a stellar effort, converting on 7 of 9 shots and clearly becoming the Heat's relief valve when it struggled to make perimeter jumpers. But nine shots for Bosh is a joke.
Honestly though, this is really about the Mavericks and what they did do, not about what the Heat didn't do.
Just think about some of the star power that this Dallas team overcame in the playoffs: LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and of course, LeBron. And, think of the pedigree of two all-time great power forwards who Dirk now has one more title than; Charles Barkley and Karl Malone. And don't forget about Kidd; another future Hall of Famer who no longer has to worry about being ringless.
With the 2011-12 NBA season in jeopardy, it's hard to know what exactly we should expect next fall. The new collective bargaining agreement is far from being solved and already, several players have hinted at going overseas while the league sorts out the ensuing mess. Sadly, if a lockout occurs, we may not see any more pro hoops until the new year.
For Mavericks fans everywhere though, that means they may be able to bask in the wake of championship glory a little longer. After a painful wait of 31 years, something tells me that would be just fine by them.
Plus, check out my brand new Huff Post sports blog, The Schultz Report, for a fresh and daily outlook on all things sports.
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