MIAMI -- The Dallas Mavericks are the 2011 NBA champions because their team is a real team, and because their superstar is a real superstar. And if I have to connect the dots for you, fine: The Heat have neither. Neither a real team, nor a real superstar. Not on this night. Not in this whole series.
Real teams react to adversity like Dallas reacted in Game 6, and real superstars do the heaviest lifting in the fourth quarter. That was Dallas, and that was Dirk Nowitzki, during a 105-95 title-clinching victory in Game 6. And here are some more dots for you: It wasn't Miami or its superstars, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who were mediocre before leading the Heat's late fold in a 10-point loss at home.
The Mavericks' adversity Sunday centered on their superstar. It's all connected in a cool kind of way, because Nowitzki was awful for most of the game, but he was great late -- and his teammates didn't fall apart when he was 1-for-12 in the first half, and 4-for-21 early in the fourth quarter.
Miami? That team looked into the abyss and blinked. Then collapsed. With James shrinking throughout the series -- first in the fourth quarter in the first three games, then for all of Game 4, then for large portions of Games 5 and 6 -- the Heat crumbled. They had one Plan B, and only one. Give the ball to Wade and hope he can do what LeBron had done against Boston and Chicago: Hope that D-Wade could be enough of a one-man team to mask the fact that Miami wasn't a team at all. Just a collection of talent with no cohesion, no clue.
No mental stamina.
Dallas? It was cohesive like an adhesive. This team stuck together through the hard parts of this series, never more impressively than in Game 6, when its best player was terrible and the rest of the team ... just ... didn't ... care.
Off the bench, Jason Terry scored 27 points -- including the Mavericks' last nine of the first half. In the starting lineup, the best of several mid-series adjustments by Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, J.J. Barea scored 15 points. Shawn Marion went for 12 points and eight boards. Jason Kidd had eight assists. Brian Cardinal buried a 3-pointer, had an assist and blasted James to the ground with a message-sending screen.
There's more. When Nowitzki went to the bench with two fouls in the first quarter, the Heat led 22-15. James was off to a hot start from the floor -- he made his first four shots -- and the crowd at American Airlines Arena was loving it.
But then it happened.
Dallas, the best team in this series, showed it. The Mavs got five points from Terry, a bucket from Marion, four more from Terry, and then a 3-pointer from DeShawn Stevenson near the end of the quarter. With Nowitzki still on the bench to start the second, Stevenson made two more 3-pointers -- and Dallas led 40-28.
That's a 25-6 run. Without Nowitzki.
"This is as mentally tough a team as I've ever been around, and I was fortunate enough to play in the '80s with those great Boston teams," Carlisle said. "And that team had four Hall of Famers. What this team was able to do with guys like Cardinal, Mahinmi, Barea -- those guys played major, major roles in a championship game."
Mahinmi might have hit the biggest shot of Game 6, a 14-footer at the third-quarter buzzer that gave the Mavs an 81-72 lead.
After that, Miami got no closer than four points -- and only once. Because the Heat folded, mentally. In the fourth quarter, when superstars are superstars, Wade dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds. James had two of his six turnovers in the fourth, scoring seven window-dressing points after the Heat were down 12, the game over. In the final minutes Dallas grabbed offensive rebound after offensive rebound because the Heat ... just ... didn't ... care.
The Heat broke in the fourth quarter because the Mavericks broke them. Barea hit a 3-pointer and got into the lane for another of his infuriating baskets from point-blank range. Terry scored six in the quarter. Together, they were an accumulation of body blows to the Miami midsection. By the final minutes -- the championship rounds -- the Heat were ready to go.
Nowitzki landed the haymaker.
After that 4-of-21 start, Nowitzki had a 5-of-6 finish. He muscled for baskets. He popped jumpers. He muscled for jumpers. He was making most everything he was shooting, because that's what superstars do in the final minutes of a game like this, and a series like this, and that's what Nowitzki did throughout this series.
Here's a statistic about Nowitzki, and shame on me for not writing this earlier. This should have been the headline. This is the story of the 2011 NBA Finals. Here you go:
|While Erik Spoelstra struggles to keep his team composed, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs thrive under pressure. (Getty Images)|
Do you understand that? Nowitzki had the five best fourth quarters in this series. For the postseason he led all players, in both conferences, with a 10-point scoring average in the fourth quarter, and he hit that average in Game 6.
So if you're wondering why Nowitzki gets a free pass after going 9-for-27 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, that's why. Because NBA games are decided in the fourth quarter, and that's when Nowitzki was the best player -- far and away -- in a series featuring some spectacular individual talent.
Afterward, the fractured Heat couldn't agree even on what had just happened on international television. Coach Erik Spoelstra had the nerve to say, "Neither team deserved this championship more than the other."
Heat forward Chris Bosh conceded that "hands down they deserve it. They were the better team in this series."
Bosh, the most likeable member of the Heat's Big Three, went on to say: "There's no hiding in the NBA. Play a series, best of seven games, usually the better team is going to win. They had that whole collective effort. Timely shots, timely rebounds. They kept their composure and kept coming in waves."
The Mavs came in waves. The Heat crumbed like the Mr. Potato-Head they are. Terry knocked off their Potato-Head eyeballs. Barea took their shoes. Nowitzki deposited the whole thing into the trash can, because this wasn't child's play. This was man's work.
One team had it. And the other team? Wasn't much of a team, really. Some famous players, though.