Monday, June 13, 2011

By Gil LeBreton


MIAMI -- Sometimes three isn't enough.

It takes a sixth man. And a seventh. And maybe even an eighth, just to play the role of custodian.

The Dallas Mavericks began the NBA playoffs as every team's favorite first-round opponent -- cursed, it was roundly assumed, to eternally chase the Lakers and Spurs.

But destiny tends to smile upon the best team, not necessarily the one with the fog machine and the incompatible superstars.

So Cleveland rocks, after all. Not nearly as much, though, as the home of the Mavericks will.

Sometimes three isn't enough. On the biggest night of his 12-year NBA career, Jason Terry -- the Mavericks' first man off the bench -- poured in 27 points and led the Mavs to a 105-95 victory over the Miami Heat.

After 31 seasons, the Larry O'Brien Trophy as NBA champions was theirs.

Surrounded by celebrating players on a makeshift stage at midcourt, NBA commissioner David Stern fittingly presented the championship trophy to the Dallas franchise's original owner, Donald Carter, and his wife, Linda.

The Carters quickly passed the golden trophy to Dirk Nowitzki, who held it high over his 7-foot frame.

Ironically, five years after his first trip to the NBA Finals ended in disappointment, Nowitzki had one of his poorest-shooting postseason nights. He was 1 for 12 shooting at one point before finishing 9 for 27 (1 for 7 from beyond the 3-point line).

Nowitzki also was shadowed by foul trouble for much of the night. But in a game where every Maverick who took the floor contributed, Nowitzki finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and did his part on defense till the end.

But what Nowitzki was unable to consistently contribute on this historic night, Terry and the other Mavericks who came off the bench were.

The non-starters for the new NBA champions outscored the Heat's bench 43-20.

What wasn't falling for Nowitzki was raining gold for Terry and DeShawn Stevenson. Add the solid, high-energy contributions of Ian Mahinmi and Brian Cardinal, and the Mavericks' non-starters shot 68 percent (17 of 25) from the field, including 7 of 13 on 3-pointers.

Cardinal, appropriately nicknamed "The Custodian," and Mahinmi were able to spell starter Tyson Chandler, who was burdened with five fouls.

Sometimes three isn't enough.

Down three games to two and with the mostly white-clad AmericanAirlines Arena crowd in their favor, the Heat's self-styled Big Three evaporated in the second half.

The body language of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh down the stretch told it all.

The Mavericks won with poise and maturity. Only in the final minute, when the verdict became obvious, did the happy relief begin to show on the faces of Nowitzki, Terry and veteran Jason Kidd.

Carter's presence at the trophy presentation seemed to bring the occasion full-circle.

Dick Motta. Norm Sonju. Brad Davis. Rolando Blackman. Mark Aguirre. Derek Harper.

They were part of the early Mavericks family -- an expansion outfit playing in a new basketball frontier where some actually wondered if the NBA would be embraced.

Detlef Schrempf. Uwe Blab. Roy Tarpley. Sam Perkins. Jim Jackson. Shawn Bradley. Popeye Jones. Jay Vincent. James Donaldson.

When the franchise squandered a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals five years ago, it was roundly assumed that the Mavericks' window of championship opportunity had passed.

But large hearts can achieve great dreams.

Nowitzki, Terry, Kidd and Shawn Marion -- their march through these playoffs proved to be as stunning as it was thorough.

Five years ago, the Great Parade Gaffe was roundly viewed as one of the things that foiled the Mavericks' title karma.

Now, let the parade and the good times roll.

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