“When are people going to talk about the purity of our game and what these guys accomplished. That’s what’s special.” – Rick Carlisle
“To realize that [getting revenge on Miami for 2006] today, right now, in this moment? Sweet vindication.” – Jason Terry
The NBA – where amazing happens.
There are a lot of reasons why I love basketball. When played right, there is no game on the planet that is nearly as beautiful. The artistry and grace with which literal giants play the game is unmatched in any other sport. The on-the-fly adjustments that impact every game make it a thinking man’s game.
And oh yes, there is that part about “team.”
Growing up in Indiana, you are practically brain-washed into believing that the better team always has a chance. In fact, the better team always DESERVES to win. You almost become antagonistic to great players, because you just assume that they aren’t team players.
It’s easy to forget that Jimmy Chitwood was a great passer.
When the Heatles teamed up last summer, a lot of us (myself included) thought we were seeing the death of basketball as we knew it and loved it. No matter how good and complete a team was, the Triumvirate of Power in Miami seemed like it would be too much to conquer.
As the year progressed, we all realized it was really more of a “Big 2 1/4,” and we tried talking ourselves into teams like Boston, Chicago, LA, and OKC. But once LeBron started raining in shots that he literally had NEVER made before (or since for that matter) against Boston and Chicago, we all saw the writing on the wall.
It was “inevitable.” Miami would win, and basketball would be changed forever.
As the NBA Finals started, I tried to talk myself into a Dallas victory. I looked back and tried to dig up every bit of basketball knowledge I had ever learned.
I looked at the coaching matchups, an obvious mismatch in my opinion. I saw that Dallas had an opportunity to force a mismatch that Miami couldn’t counter. I HOPED that Coach Carlisle would see it too and give either Terry or Barea big time minutes in the starting lineup.
I looked at the benches, an even clearer mismatch on paper. Miami didn’t even have a very good 4th player, much less a 6th, 7th, and 8th man. Dallas could legitimately go ten deep, play tough down low, keep throwing athletes at LeBron and Wade and possibly wear them down.
I looked at the defenses, and saw the possibility of Miami’s overaggressiveness being exploited. If there was any team in the NBA that would knock down open jump shots, it was Dallas.
And yet, even though I picked the Mavericks to win in six, I would be lying to you if I said I was confident about it.
In the back of my mind, I remembered Jordan beating a more complete and superior Phoenix Suns team in 1993. I bitterly recalled his greatness in 1998, when he beat a team with 2 (possibly 3) future Hall of Famers and 6 all stars in the Eastern Conference Finals.
I recalled Kobe heroically beating the Phoenix Suns by himself last year, and willing his team to victory over the tough Celtics.
LeBron and Wade had me scared to death.
Of course, I didn’t realize that Dallas would have the best player on the floor for the entire series.
To say that what Dirk accomplished this postseason was amazing would be an understatement. In fact, I would go so far as to say that what the Mavericks accomplished this year was UNPRECEDENTED.
If you look at the past 30 years of NBA basketball, there have been exactly two recipes that have worked to win a championship (we are throwing out 2004 because any and all footage of basketball from that season should be destroyed immediately).
Option One: Accumulate at least two IF NOT THREE of the best players in the NBA, and surround those players with great coaching and good role players.
- Boston – 1981, 1984, 1986, and 2008. For the first three, Bird, McHale, and Parish were leading the show. Obviously, the more recent Big Three accomplished it in 2008.
- LA Lakers – 1980, 1985, 1987-1988, 1999-2002, 2008-2009. Magic, Kareem, and Worthy were part of the first five before Kobe took turns with Shaq and then Pau Gasol more recently.
- Chicago – 1991-1993, 1996-1998. Michael, Scottie, and Phil. Enough said.
- Philadelphia – 1983. The Fo-Fo-Fo Sixers were a juggernaut with Moses, Dr. J, Andrew Toney, and others.
- Detroit – 1989-1990. Isiah and Joe Dumars ran the show as Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer, and the Microwave perfectly filled their roles.
- San Antonio – 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007. Duncan replaced David Robinson with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli.
Option Two: Have a transcendent star dominate a very weak year.
- Houston – 1994-1995. The Dream Shake was in full force…but Jordan was gone, and the league was flooded with lots of guys that were not yet in their prime yet.
- Miami – 2006. Wade (and the officials) played one of the greatest Finals’ of all time…but there really weren’t any other good teams this year. Plus, the Heat also had Shaq, so they could technically fit into the previous group.
If it happens once, it’s an aberration. If it happens twice, it’s a coincidence. But when it happens over and over for 30 straight years, there’s a pretty good chance that we can say it will happen again because it’s the RULE.
Looking at the previous lists, you can see why it was so hard for me to believe that Dallas had a chance.
How could a team with only one great player, a great coach, a hot scorer off the bench, and FIVE guys that were past their prime possibly beat the Heatles?
Again, what Dallas did in 2011 was unprecedented.
Rick Carlisle is right. It’s about time that we started talking about the purity of their game and what they accomplished. How did they beat the mighty Heat? Awesomely enough, it came back to three things basketball players are taught in elementary school.
1. They listened to their coach.
A lot of people started freaking out when JJ Barea entered the starting lineup in Game 4. How could Coach Carlisle possibly change things up at this point? Isn’t this a panic move? Barea is shorter than I am!
For all of these objections, I was only worried about one thing: How would it affect DeShawn Stevenson?
I really thought that Barea would play well. I love how the Mavericks flow with him on the court, and he really seems to add energy to every minute of the game that he plays. But would Stevenson start pouting after playing pretty well in the first three games and still getting pulled? Would there be any behind the scenes drama that would undermine the team?
Stevenson shot 7 for 14 the rest of the series from three-point range. He played great defense on both LeBron AND Wade. He transitioned seamlessly.
My favorite part about basketball is how one player can affect the entire team. Just like passing can rub off on your teammates, almost like osmosis, so can a good or bad attitude. DeShawn Stevenson set the tone for his team in Game 4, and Dallas was off and running.
2. They played as a team.
After Miami won game three, there were a lot of people that thought the series was over. But believe it or not, it was after this tough loss for Dallas that I was sure they were going to win.
I wrote a quick column documenting all of the wide-open looks Dallas was getting but simply missing. In my mind, Dallas was playing almost perfectly on offense. They were moving the ball around beautifully, forcing the Heat to scramble on every single possession.
Unbelievably, they missed more than ten WIDE OPEN jump shots, yet they still just barely lost the game.
Of course, my inbox was flooded by Miami fans calling me a hater and criticizing me for trying to make up a story. It didn’t matter that I included a video of every shot – hard core evidence that it was NOT Miami’s defense that was winning the game but rather poor shooting by Dallas.
In my mind, it was clear: Dallas was playing as a team. Miami was relying on stellar individual play by Dwyane Wade. I thought that more often than not, Dallas’ team would beat Wade’s individual play. All they needed to do was start knocking down shots that they had been hitting all year.
3. They executed the fundamentals.
For all of you middle-aged white people who have fallen out of love with the NBA and failed to watch the Finals this year, I have to say that you missed out. I understand the NBA was in a bad place after Jordan retired, but anyone that has watched the League this year knows that it’s back.
People who watched Dallas for the past few weeks got to witness a spectacular rebirth of fundamental basketball.
Tyson Chandler dominated the paint on both ends.
Jason Kidd, Dirk, Terry, Barea, and Chandler practically put on a clinic for any kid wanting to learn how to run a pick and roll.
Kidd’s passing and court vision rubbed off on everybody else. We saw every single player make the right pass at the right time, sometimes passing up a good shot, and a great shot, for the BEST shot.
They even did the little things perfectly. JJ Barea would keep his dribble alive every time he came off the screen. A little thing, but nobody does that anymore. Dirk’s footwork should be put on tape and be made mandatory for every young post up player to watch.
The Mavericks straight up went old school on Miami. It’s about time we started talking about the purity of their game because we might never see it again.
Look, I love the NBA for a lot of reasons. One of the things I love THE MOST is the play of great individuals. I loved it when Michael Jordan single-handedly beat teams by putting his own team on his shoulders. I love it when Kobe, Dirk, Carmelo, and Durant take over down the stretch of games and put on a show.
The NBA is only as strong as its superstars, and the league is in a great place right now.
But for me, this Dallas Mavericks’ team will always be special. Dirk IS one of the all-time greats, and he was the best player on the floor for the entire playoffs. But the Mavericks won because of their fantastic teamwork. They won because they stuck to the fundamentals. They won because they trusted their coach.
Jimmy Chitwood would be proud.
* – Rick Carlisle and Tyson Chandler photo credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip via Google News