Wednesday, June 15, 2011

D'Alessandro at the NBA Finals: Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks show LeBron James, Heat that teams win in the end

Published: Monday, June 13, 2011, 3:00 AM Updated: Monday, June 13, 2011, 3:21 AM
Dirk.jpegDirk Nowitzki celebrates a point Sunday night as he and the Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat to win the NBA Finals.

MIAMI — In the end, they did us all a favor.

You’re welcome, Rick Carlisle said.

Don’t mention it, Dirk Nowitzki added.

Glad you enjoyed the lesson, Jason Kidd crowed.

Perhaps some of us didn’t really see it until the scoreboard blinked Dallas 105 Miami 95, but the broader picture stretched beyond the miraculous events at AmericanAirlines Arena, beyond these NBA Finals, and even beyond the deep and shark-filled money trench that runs through the heart of the league and its hype machinery.

Here’s the lesson: Teams win.

Even the older ones, as long as they’re based on trust, selflessness and mutuality.

And, by implication, individuals — no matter how talented — do not win.

Don’t say it: We’ve heard this over and over since the Dr. Jack Trail Blazers stunned the Dr. J Sixers in 1977, but sometimes it’s a lesson that bears repeating, especially on occasions such as this one.

"This was a colossal statement — not just about our team, but about the way the game is played," said Carlisle, the Mavericks coach and the real MVP of this series, though there’s no quibble about the trophy landing in Nowitzki’s hands.

"Our team is not about individual ability, it’s about collective will, collective guts. Their game is in the air. Our game is on the ground. Fortunately we stayed on the ground enough to be able to win."

They’re grounded, he meant.

They’re not a team that looks like it is celebrating a title 10 months before it actually gets to play for one.

Carlisle could have kept it right there, he’s a smart guy with a lot on his mind. But he and the triumphant Mavs kept coming back to one thing: It was extremely appropriate that this team of 30-somethings — land-locked geezers, who nobody expected to get out of the second round — won the 2011 NBA Championship on the same night the great Nowitzki shot 9-for-27.

Yet in the end, Dirk nailed this shot: "This was a win for team basketball," he said.

Actually, the MVP of the series was 5-for-22 midway through the fourth period, while Kidd didn’t really put his imprint on the game until midway through the third. Yet the two future Hall of Famers did not have to be brilliant. For much of the night, the Mavs were dragged along to their first title by the likes of Jason Terry and J.J. Barea and Brian Cardinal and Ian Mahinmi.

In other words, on a night when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade spent most of the second half looking lost in space, the better team won.

Which compelled Carlisle to get something off his chest.

"This is one of the unique teams in NBA history," the coach said. "It wasn’t about high-flying star power. I mean, c’mon. how often do we have to hear about the LeBron James reality show — what he is or isn’t doing? People ought to talk about the purity of our game, and what we accomplished."

The lecture went on:

"I’ve played with Larry Bird and some of the all-time greats. And Dirk is right up there with the top echelon of all-time players," Carlisle said. "I’m just so proud of what our team stood for. I’m proud of people coming up and saying ‘billions of people rooting for you guys.’ And we could feel it."

Kidd felt it. He was scoreless at halftime, but it looked like some B-12 shot did its magic in the second half, as he hit huge shots, passed for profit, and made James stumble as he sought to find his lost rhythm.

Which just goes to show you, Kidd said: "No matter how old you are, we understood how to play the game."

After 17 seasons, he’s getting a ring.

Even if people in Jersey have stopped rooting for him, it’s pretty clear the Mavs know they couldn’t have pulled this off without their 38-year-old point guard.

"What a warrior he is," Nowitzki said of Kidd. "At 38, chasing the most athletic players in this league, doing a great job on him (James), and also leading our squad."

"I thought I had an opportunity to win in ’03, but didn’t," Kidd said, referring to the six-game defeat the Nets suffered against the Spurs. "But my teammates — their character and will to come every day and get better — they deserve all the credit. I’m just happy to be in the right place at the right time."

Indeed, it was a confluence of unpredictable events (remember Caron Butler going down in January?) and astonishing upsets (did anyone but Charles Barkley pick these guys to beat the Lakers?) that led them here, and somehow, Carlisle got them to peak in June.

Miami, meanwhile, had another rough night. They had one good quarter, the second, and that was only after they fell behind by 12. LeBron James gave another feather duster performance — floating along the surface of the game at both ends, not getting into it very deeply — and the Heat put on amateurish free-throw exhibition that included 13 misses.

And none of them were any match for Terry, who expunged the memory or 2006 by scoring 27 points.

The right team won.

The wrong team, as its reward, faces a summer of spitballs, for having the superior talent and failing to live up to the hype that the Mavs proved was misplaced.

For his part, James wishes the team had more national support, and will be motivated by this failure.

Dwyane Wade, who had one good half, said it’s not about individuals losing to the better team, but he conceded that "their pieces came together a little better than ours."

Now we all know. Thanks for the lesson, Dallas.

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