Mavs could get chance at retribution
Nothing would be sweeter for Mavericks than avenging loss to Heat in 2006 Finals
Predictably, they did not care to publicly state their favored opponent in the 2011 NBA Finals. So, after watching the Mavs rally yet again for a crunch-time 100-96 Game 5 victory over the youthful and resourceful Oklahoma City Thunder, the 21,092 chanting fans in royal blue shirts that read "The Time is Now" said it for them.
"Beat the Heat!" rained down as the Mavs raised the silver Western Conference trophy. "Beat the Heat! Beat the Heat!"
It doesn't matter that Dirk Nowitzki -- interestingly the first to exit the postgame celebration because, as he would say afterward, "I was already thinking about the Finals" -- and Jason Terry are the only survivors of the wretched 2006 Finals.
Every Mavericks player grasps the spiral of disappointment that has dogged this franchise ever since and how it shaped, even came to define, Nowitzki's otherwise brilliant career.
Terry, who had the Larry O'Brien Trophy tattooed to his right biceps during the preseason, has never wavered from the belief that the Heat's '06 championship trophy rightfully belongs in Dallas. They'll never get that one back, but they finally, remarkably and even unfathomably have another shot at redemption.
Is there any juicier storyline than for the Mavs to come full circle? They've stared down every ghost of playoffs past in this dominant postseason run, from their road woes to mental meltdowns to referee hexes.
Only one remains.
It doesn't matter that only Wade and Udonis Haslem remain on the Heat's roster or that Pat Riley now lords over the operation from his center court seat. Or that LeBron James took his talents to South Beach in search of his first title. It's still the Heat, and what went down five years ago still burns.
"It doesn't matter who we play," Terry said adamantly. "Whoever shows up in those uniforms they know they're going to have a fight on their hands because we're going to go out and we're going to leave it all out on the floor. We know what happened last time, and it's our job to seal the deal."
2011 NBA Finals: Champion Mavericks
Game 1: Heat 92, Mavericks 84
Game 2: Mavericks 95, Heat 93
Game 3: Heat 88, Mavericks 86
Game 4: Mavericks 86, Heat 83
Game 5: Mavericks 112, Heat 103
Game 6: Mavericks 105, Heat 95
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Then Terry thought about it for a moment and added: "I always said it though, every time we played the Heat it's always been something special, even in the regular season those five years."
Apologies to Derrick Rose and the Bulls. The Eastern Conference final is not over. The Miami Super Friends, perceived not as NBA superheroes but as the evil villain, still have one more win to go. Game 5 is in Chicago on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, the Dallas super friends, a wholly accurate description of this group of mostly thirty-something veterans that set a championship goal during training camp, persevered through injury and adversity, never strayed from the selfless bond they committed to back in October, at about the time the Texas Rangers were making their own improbable run to the World Series.
The Mavs won the West finals the same way they swept the two-time champion Los Angeles Lakers, by clamping down on defense and near-flawless crunch-time execution on offense. Since the Game 4 collapse at the Rose Garden in Portland, the ultimate here-we-go-again moment, Dallas is a dominating 10-1.
The Mavs rallied from 16 down in Game 1 at L.A. The historic comeback in Game 4 at Oklahoma City was another shining moment in this team's toughened resolve. And in Game 5, with the Thunder leaving every ounce of energy on the floor and threatening to send the series north of the Red River, Nowitzki hits the go-ahead 3-pointer, yet never felt the desperation of past years that he had to do it all himself.
Shawn Marion matched Nowitzki with 26 points and more superb defense on Kevin Durant. Jason Kidd engineered the offense with 10 assists and one turnover. J.J. Barea provided a significant spark off the bench with 11 first-half points.
"Psychologically there was stuff that could have gotten us down, but our guys stayed with it," said coach Rick Carlisle, who will coach in his first NBA Finals. "And their [the Thunder] time will come, but it's not now. We feel like now is our time to move on."
Each series has seen different heroes step forward at different times.
Yet, never was the selfless nature and camaraderie of this team more apparent than after it donned championship caps and gathered around the trophy for the presentation. Team owner Mark Cuban had to literally yank Nowitzki to the front. Kidd subtly slipped behind Barea and Terry, allowing them to stand next to Nowitzki behind the trophy, standing together as the three longest-tenured Mavs.
One of the newest members, emotional center Tyson Chandler -- who engaged the standing crowd by holding four fingers high in the air and yelling "Four more! Four more!" -- said he believed from the moment he arrived in Dallas via a ho-hum offseason trade that the Mavs could climb the mountain.
"The amount of talent that we have in this locker room from top to bottom, and then I felt like when I came here I would bring a certain edge to the team," said Chandler, whose offensive rebound led to Nowitzki's second-chance 3-pointer for the lead with 1:14 to go. "A mixture of that edge and all the firepower that already existed here, it would be perfect."
As Nowitzki pointed out more than once, this postseason is not yet perfect.
"It's been a long stretch here," said Nowitzki, arguably the most valuable player in all the playoffs averaging 28.4 points a game. "After the year we lost in the Finals, we came back, won nearly 70 games, had a great season and lost in the first round. Been trying to get back to this stage ever since and fell short a bunch of times."
Nowitzki and the Mavs are back. Wouldn't it be something if the Heat are, too?
"Hopefully this time," Nowitzki said, "we can finish the job."
Finishing is what this Mavs team has been all about.
Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.