On May 23, the Dallas Mavericks pulled off one of the most improbable victories in team history. They rallied from 15 points behind in the final 5 minutes of a game that was completely dominated by the opponent and the loss seem assured. The next morning I threw out some pretty bold claims that;
What followed was some of the most unexplainable, historic, and chaotic basketball most have ever witnessed.
Years from now, this was the type of game that those who weren't at the arena will claim they were and those who went to sleep when the lead was 15 will always deny it.
This was the win that you had to see to believe. And really, it still is not easy to comprehend.
You can watch 1,000 NBA Games and never see that. The Dallas Mavericks did something so unlikely in Game 4 in Oklahoma City after a night of such disappointing results, that one can easily summarize the moments late last night under the heading of, "It might just be their year".
1,000 games? Was that writer-hyperbole? Given that 3 games later, they did it again - this time in the NBA Finals - either says I was guilty of a gross exaggeration or we just witnessed the 2nd basketball miracle in 10 days.
This time the 15 point lead was with 7:14 to play, but a comeback seemed all the more unlikely given the architects of this lead were veteran superstars who had almost no peers on the planet when it comes to measuring their abilities.
There had been one demoralizing moment after another. One monster dunk after another. One ridiculous shot made from great distance after another. One thunderous celebration after another. The Mavs looked beaten. Demoralized. Even a little whiny about the way they were being bullied and pushed around on the court.
This 2011 NBA Finals was Dallas' shot at redemption. They finally could get critics off their back by showing up huge in these Finals. They are a team loaded with different stories, but they all have one big thing in common - no trophies (Save for the one tattooed on Jason Terry). They are veterans unified in the "close, but no cigar" club.
And here, in their moment of need in Game 2, those who wanted and needed this the most were the ones having the worst night. Dirk Nowitzki was having a very tough shooting night. He was 3-10 at the half and appeared to be struggling. Jason Terry looked awful yet again offensively for most of the first 3 1/2 quarters. And very unexpectedly, their veteran point guard, Jason Kidd looked his age of 38. Kidd committed many turnovers and his always dominant assist to turnover split was a very average 4 to 4.
During breaks in play, observers were allowed to jump to conclusions. And when Dwyane Wade hit a 3 in front of the Mavericks bench to make it 88-73 with 7 minutes left, almost everyone watching across the world felt that was the dagger in the heart of Game 2 and maybe the entire series. The Heat were too strong. They were too good. And the Mavericks veterans, led by Dirk, Jet, and Kidd, were a nice story, but there would be no fairy tale ending.
But, I keep coming back to the Mavericks marketing slogan for these playoffs; "This Year is Different". Trust me, the trash bins are full of cheesy and pointless playoff slogans from all of the local teams over the years that didn't connect. But, this one is so perfect that I want to personally congratulate who every came up with it. Because, that is the issue with the Mavericks and their fandom and it captures the vibe so perfectly. Every time something goes wrong, the emails and tweets come pouring in that "it is the same old Mavericks" and "why don't we ever learn from these guys?" I am as guilty of this feeling as anyone. When you watch a team that seems in reasonable position to contend for a title for almost a decade - but something always goes wrong - you are conditioned to expect the same results. Perhaps it is a defense mechanism in many of us to soften the death blow when it inevitably arrives.
Regardless, despite seeing a similar miracle 10 days prior, I believe all precincts reporting last night around the time of the Wade 3 (followed by an elongated Wade/Lebron celebration right in front of the Mavericks bench) showed that there was no optimism to be found. This team was being dismantled in Miami; a sports city that has also given Dallas disappointment as the sites of Super Bowl V, Super Bowl X, Super Bowl XIII, and the 2006 NBA Finals. Miami is not where Dallas miracles occur.
And then, slowly, the game started getting back in range. Granted, at the time, nobody knew what we were looking at, but Jason Terry started hitting a few shots. The defense started looking able. And perhaps most importantly, the Miami Heat took their foot off the gas.
Anytime there is a historic comeback, there are certainly two sides to every story. Just ask fans of Oklahoma City. What Dallas sees as an amazing rally in their city is categorized there as more of a showing of immaturity from their young studs. The Thunder allowed the rally because of poor shots, poor composure, and inexperience.
Well, last night, as wonderful an effort it was from the Mavericks to pull this victory from the jaws of defeat, it is easy to find those who wonder if the rally last night told us more about Miami than it did about Dallas. You see, last night revealed the biggest weakness on a Miami team that appears to be without weaknesses. They play an extremely arrogant brand of basketball. It is amazing and unmatched for all of its excellence, but they also have all of the symptoms of a team that falls victim to believing they are invincible.
And the Miami arrogance struck them right between the eyes last night. Credit the Mavericks for taking full advantage, because that was not easy, but when forced to tell the story of Game 2, I feel compelled to lay this one right at the feet of those stars that were willing to have a "Yes, We Did" rally before they ever played a game.
It is arrogance that launches 30 3-pointers. As we suggested in Game 1, even if they hit those long perimeter shots, they are still playing into the Mavericks hands. The Mavs have a very hard time dealing with teams that drive the ball to the rim. And it seems when the Heat are aggressive, they can get to the rim with ease - especially against the zone. But, the cheese in the mousetrap is so inviting. Especially when the first few go in and the crowd goes nuts. They average 16 attempted 3-point shots a game, but in the NBA Finals, they are taking 27 per game. More of those shots mean fewer trips to the line and the rim. Advantage Mavericks.
It is arrogance that causes the team to stop running offense when the game got tight. Lebron on one possession with less than 2 minutes to play dribbled the ball 20 times outside the 3-point arc before launching a 25-foot heave as the shot clock went down. Why run plays when you can just make a 3 anytime you want, right? Well, the shot missed and the rally door was left open. And what is more arrogant that one star ignoring his star-teammate who had 36 points for much of the final few minutes?
And yes, it is arrogance that causes you to not use a foul or a double team on the last possession of the game. Dirk had the ball up high and he knew that the foul was coming because Miami still had a foul to give. Pretty much any team in that situation would foul Dirk and make the Mavericks use some of those last precious seconds. Also, pretty much any team would double-team Dirk in those final seconds rather than risk getting beat by an opponent's best player. But, Miami was sure they could just play him straight up and swat whatever he attempts into the 2nd deck.
And in the post game, the players on Miami pretty much admitted that they were supposed to foul him. Just like they admitted they were supposed to run their offense instead of dribble the ball into the ground 20 times. Eric Spoelstra told his players what to do. But, they made evidently made decisions on the floor that seemed to dismiss what they were asked to do by their coach.
But, regardless of the reasons that both Oklahoma City (youth and inexperience) and Miami (arrogance and carelessness) left the doors open for Dallas, this Dallas team had to hit a very high amount of clutch shots to take full advantage. And make them they did. They also scrambled for loose balls and were able to steal the ball away. 5 players were on the court during this stretch (Dirk, Jet, Kidd, Shawn Marion, and Tyson Chandler) and every single one of them had moments of greatness down the stretch.
Dirk Nowitzki, however, stole the show late. A player who has much of the basketball world finally recognizing as the dominant player that he is, took over late in the game - like he did in that miracle in OKC - and scored the team's final 9 points. A largely forgettable performance from the big German for much of the night ended in our memories as one of his most heroic efforts. Using the left hand that was much discussed over the last few days for the game's final drive was just another brick in the wall of his legend. So clutch. So sure. He had to make Miami pay for that disrespect of not double-teaming one of the league's most "unguardable" scorers on the final possession. And make them pay he did with a finishing drive to the basket that will be long remembered.
It was a comeback that seemed to be stolen from the famous fable, "The Tortoise and the Hare", the Mavericks might have saved their chance at a World Title. Somehow, they survived one of the more absurd dunking exhibitions ever seen in a NBA Finals game and left with the only thing that truly matters; the victory. There is no doubt that Miami has a multitude of match-up advantages up and down the rosters, but after two games, this series is all squared at 1-1. This seemed like the ultimate "smash and grab" heist, but it doesn't matter how a team achieves a victory.
What happens from here will be very interesting. The Heat are so powerful that this might be the wake-up call that makes them understand that games are not won until they are over. On the other hand, the drama in their room could spark up if adversity continues in Dallas.
Meanwhile, for Dallas, they had to work very hard to get their road split. But, now, they are quite sure that they can play with Miami. They won a game in Miami and were only trailing by 4 in the other game with 3 minutes to play. They fully understand that the most amazing dunk in basketball history was still only worth 2 points. The fans can go crazy and the networks can show the highlights over and over, but in the end, it is still just 2 points. Now, they have 3 straight home games and even get an extra day of rest for their old legs before the battle resumes.
The Mavericks have shown us that they do not give in. They came back huge on the Lakers at the Staples Center, on the Thunder in Oklahoma City, and now this in Miami. They have calm in the storm and often survive to get the last laugh. This is a veteran team that makes veteran plays at just the right time to survive. They are going to need better performances across the board - take care of the ball better, shoot better, and get performances from more players (Peja!) to have a chance to beat this Miami team 4 times.
But, again, just when people on both sides of this series were getting ready to ponder the possibility of a sweep, the series took a real turn with one Dirk finger-roll. Apparently, the series has only just begun.