MIAMI – Moments before Game 6 began, it became self-evident the NBA Finals would soon conclude in a “Dead Heat.” No performer with any pride would dare try to follow Marc Anthony’s unparalleled interpretation of the national anthem.
So, who do you think was happier about the Mavericks becoming the first team in league history to win a championship without being credited for actually winning a game . . . Mark Cuban or Dan Gilbert?
No matter how the Mavs won each of the four, the airwaves and national opinion pieces centered on the opposition’s flaws vs. Dallas’ virtues.
LeBron James’ fabled fade before a huge TV audience, of course, made everyone forget how Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs’ habitually shifting defense demoralized Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, downed the Lakers in four, stunted the Thunders’ growth and blunted the Blazers in the wake of their momentous 23-point Game 4 comeback spearheaded by Brandon Roy.
“Now, the Heat have blown every game and should have been swept,” column contributor Jack Kirkpatrick derisively emphasizes. “Do the Mavs really get to keep the Larry O’Brien trophy or will it be held in abeyance in some sort of BCS-type black hole until LeBron James gets his swagger back?”
While the Heat were getting harpooned and getting sand kicked in their faces, ABC’s analysts and just about everyone outside of Texas, presented countless reasons, except the most obvious one:
The Mavs are the better team.
Mark Jackson might be right, they might not be a great team. It’s his unwavering belief there’s no excuse for an outfit flaunting two of the three paramount players in the game today losing to Dallas.
“It shouldn’t happen.”
Neglectfully overlooked, I amiably submit, is that teamwork often trumps supreme skills, whether in a single encounter or a seven-game sumo series. As I recall, Bill Walton’s ’77 Blazers (OK, Maurice Lucas, too) out-harmonized, out-maneuvered and out-slicked the 76ers of Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Doug Collins, World B. Free and Darryl Dawkins.
These fixated Mavs passed fast, thought quick, called each other out, refused to stay down, boasted seven big shot-making players, exposed Erik Spoelstra’s failure to adjust, made Chris Bosh cry and unnerved LeBron and Wade with zones that pushed James toward the periphery, which he seemed to accept almost willingly; though, I must say, he has become an excellently rapid swinger of the ball.
From where I was sitting (where vendors fear to roam) it looked like a perfectly executed home invasion.
It occurs to me, nobody hogs the headlines and dominates the globe commercially quite like LeBron and Wade. I’ll grant them that. Also, they’ll always be remembered for belittling Dirk’s Game 4 illness by coughing as they strolled by the Mavs locker room; that’s nothing to sneeze about.
However, should LeBron and Dwyane hope someday to match sling shots with Nowitzki, they might want to spend five or six or seven summers in the gym shooting jumpers.
No disrespect to Derrick Rose, but after what we witnessed throughout the playoffs there are probably more than a few of us who wished we voted differently in April.
Without Nowitzki for any length of time — same as the Blazers minus Walton — the Mavs clearly would be a lottery team. This does not conflict with my “Mavs are a better team” declaration or diminish it because the complementary pieces showed sheer competence during the Finals, defense being a constant. But particularly when Dirk misfired on 11 of 12 field-goal attempts and were up, 40-28, with 9:49 left in Sunday’s second stanza.
Recognizing a minor role would not be enough to get them through the night, Jason Terry’s unflustered presence emerged supreme.
Jason Kidd unperturbedly orchestrated the offense and managed the clock. Then again, I’m unsure whether Kidd played under control or was the old man in the park.
Tyson Chandler covered everyone’s assets underneath.
Shawn Marion played like he did when the Suns were competing for titles.
J.J. Barea infiltrated at will and flushed one amazing shot after another.
DeShawn Stevenson supplied a surplus of attitude and outpost accuracy.
Even Brian Cardinal, customarily a concealed weapon, nailed a 3.
That brings us to Rick Carlisle, the brains behind the NBA’s best team. His steadiness was a big factor in his ability to instill calm and confidence in the closing minutes of tight games. This was evidenced throughout the playoffs, but especially under the Finals’ microscope.
After having played for such mercurial coaches as Don Nelson and Avery Johnson, it had to be a positive for Nowitzki and Terry to huddle with Carlisle. Provided the information transferred is of equal value, a self-assured calm in a crisis creates a far better stage for a confident result than does semi-controlled chaos.
Undeniably, I suggest, Carlisle has moved into the top echelon of coaches — the top three or four. Gregg Popovich and George Karl stand above, then perhaps Doc Rivers.
After that, he’s above the stack – Nate McMillian by a little; Scott Skiles, Doug Collins, ?
At this point you have hit the line of demarcation. The rest are seriously suspect, not at it long enough to be judged or are just not very good.
Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.