Monday, June 13, 2011

Mavs' Big Team sheds negative labels with team's first title

Posted Jun 13 2011 1:52AM

MIAMI -- All the smoke and glitter, laser shows and summertime hype generated in this building 11 months ago wasn't enough to overcome the unifying force of energy the Dallas Mavericks unleashed on this night and in this series.

In the end, the Miami Heat's Big 3 couldn't overcome the Mavericks' Big Team, from one through 12.

The old school bunch that fought off the demons that fuel its own collective history of coming up short, the missed opportunities from The Finals against the Heat in 2006 and all the other postseason missteps of the past five years, walked out AmericanAirlines Arena late Sunday night with that Larry O'Brien trophy they'd all dreamed of for years.

"It feels amazing now to know that nobody can ever take this way away from us again," Mavericks star and Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki said, "and for one year we're the best team that was out there. That feels amazing."

Nowitzki and Jason Terry avenged the that six-game loss in The Finals five years ago, closing the door on the Heat's championship hopes on their home floor this time, the same way Dwyane Wade and the Heat did back then.

"Dirk and Jet have had to live with those demons for five years," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "And as of tonight, those demons are officially destroyed."

Jason Kidd's 17-year (and counting) journey, which included two missed opportunities on this same stage in back-to-back seasons with New Jersey earlier in his career, will now include a championship.

Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Brian Cardinal, Ian Mahinmi and all the rest of the "misfits and cast offs," as Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson referred to them during their magical run through this postseason, will walk into the sunset of 2010-11 season as champions.

Even Carlisle, an assistant coach in Indiana when the Pacers lost to the Lakers in The Finals in 2000, finally walks off a winner. His team was resourceful, resilient and relentless in every way imaginable, rallying from large deficits to win three straight games to finish this series, the 105-95 score in Sunday night's Game 6 the largest winning margin in any game in the series.

"This is one of the really unique teams," Carlisle said after praising Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Nelson for putting together such an eclectic group of veterans. "This is my opinion now. This is one of the unique teams in NBA history, because it wasn't about high-flying star power.. Come on, how often do we hear about the LeBron James reality show and what he is or isn't doing? When are people going to talk about the purity of our game and what we accomplished? That's what's special."

Special is the group Carlisle drove to a championship against all odds, against a team in the Heat that many crowned 11 months ago after Wade convinced James and Bosh to join him on a championship quest that ultimately came up short against a group that proved to be a superior team in the end.

"They've made a statement, a colossal statement. Not just about our team but the game in the general," Carlisle said, continuing to stump for his team even as they paraded through the bowels of the building, taking turns hugging and kissing that Larry O'Brien trophy. "Playing it a certain way. Trusting the pass. Our team is not about individual ability, it's about collective will, collective grit, collective guts. We're skilled and talented, too. But our game is on the ground. And the guys we were playing, their game was in the air. Fortunately, as the series went on, we stayed on the ground enough to be able to win it."

Their path was improbable, given their recent postseason struggles, they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs in three of the past four seasons before this one. Their bond proved to be impenetrable, regardless of the situation, be it in Dallas or on the road.

No lead was safe. No team, no matter how much more athletic or how many more superstar names they possessed, could solve them. They finished Portland in six games in the first round, the two-time defending champion Lakers in a sweep in the Western Conference semifinals and upended Team Next, Oklahoma City, in five games in the conference finals.

Yet even with all that work done in the rugged Western Conference, the Mavericks' one-star group was supposed to be no match for the Heat's superstar trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

But it was Nowitzki, playing with a torn tendon in his left middle finger and battling a sinus infection and being clowned on camera by James and Wade about his fever along the way, that shined brightest.

"Man, this is what I obviously played for the last couple of years," Nowitzki said. "I think when you come in this league you want to establish yourself. All these All-Star Games and all those things are nice, in scoring, but when you get to a certain age, you've basically seen it all and all you play for is that ring. And I think that's the kind of energy we had from the beginning this season."

It's the kind of energy they brought to this series, as well. After they lost Game 1 here the naysayers started talking about a potential sweep. Yet the Mavericks persevered, refusing as always to dwell on the doubters. They were down 15 in Game 2 but battled their way back to win that game and even the series before heading home to Dallas, using their trademark balance from the starters and the bench and the big-short artistry of Nowitzki to turn the series around.

"Down 15, we all looked at each other and we continued to believe," Terry said. "We win that game and the rest is history."

Sunday's Game 6 win was a microcosm of this season, this playoff run and this series. The Mavericks trailed by nine points minutes in, trying to fend off the Heat's last-ditch effort to save their season. Minutes later that deficit morphed into a 12-point lead that was down to just two by halftime. Nine times the lead changed hands in the third quarter before the Mavericks did what they did the entire series, and that's rule the floor when it mattered most in the fourth quarter.

Terry carried the Mavericks early, scoring 19 of his game-high 27 points before halftime. Nowitzki shook off an early ugly 1-for-12 shooting night, pumping in 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to close the Heat out.

It was a fitting way to finish this series, for those two remaining members of the team that suffered the cruelest defeat five years ago in The Finals -- they led 2-0 and were six minutes away from a 3-0 lead before losing four straight games to Wade, Shaquille O'Neal and the Heat -- to be the two men to carry the Mavericks over the threshold of this moment.

They can shed the "one and done boys" label they've carried around the past few years, courtesy of those aforementioned early playoff flameouts.

They've wiped clean the stain of a 2007 first-round playoff disaster against Golden State, when the No. 1 seed Mavericks were upset by the No. 8 seed Warriors.

Gone are the painful memories of watching the rival Lakers and San Antonio Spurs hoist that championship trophy in the air on the final night of the season.

There's a permanent smile on Cuban's face. Nowitzki's soft label has been retired and Terry can finally sleep, now that the excruciating defeat from five years ago has been put to rest.

"Going in we never used it as a motivating factor," Terry said, wearing a champagne-soaked Mavericks championship T-shirt while admiring his reflection in the Larry O'Brien trophy as he and Kidd made their final podium appearance of the season. "Two totally different teams. You look at what we did along the way, along our journey, getting past Portland. Nobody said we could. Doing what we did to the Lakers. We continued to grind it out, believing in each other, and showed huge resiliency every time we stepped on the court ..."

Champions at last.

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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