Greatest season in Mavs' history ends in heartbreak

Updated: June 21, 2006, 8:34 AM ET
Associated Press

DALLAS -- The greatest season in Dallas Mavericks history is over -- except for lamenting the what ifs.

What if they hadn't blown that 13-point lead with 6:34 left in Game 3?

What if the refs had called things differently at the end of Game 5?

Teams trailing 3-2 at in NBA Finals
At home, since 1985
Year Team Opponent Result
2006 Mavericks Heat Lost
1998 Jazz Bulls Lost
1994 Rockets Knicks Won**
1993 Suns Bulls Lost
1988 Lakers Pistons Won**
1985 Celtics Lakers Lost
** Also won Game 7 and NBA Title

And what if they'd been able to sustain all their early energy in Game 6, when they were playing like a team that didn't want to see its season end?

After letting a 14-point first quarter lead turn into a one-point deficit at halftime, the Mavericks opened the second half by missing 14 of 16 shots and couldn't recover. Although Dallas tied it at 79, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat again found answers when the Mavs couldn't, pulling out a 95-92 victory and the NBA championship.

"I'm sure as more time goes by, we can be more proud of what we did," said Dirk Nowitzki, who scored only two of his 29 points in the final quarter. "We had a heck of a year. Nobody expected us to come out of the West. But right now, the frustration is high."

The Mavericks cut it to 91-90 on a jumper by Josh Howard with 42.4 seconds left. They had one last possession with 9.1 seconds left, but Jason Terry missed a 3-pointer. He missed 18 of his last 21 shots after making his first four.

"We had our chances, time and time again," Terry said, referring to the series. "It's going to eat at us."

More agony: The Mavs endured losses by 1, 2 and 3 points.

"A bounce here and a bounce there and we're having a completely different conversation," team owner Mark Cuban said. "It was a great try."

That parade route mapped out by city officials nearly two weeks ago can be shredded. So can all those record books showing that teams that win the first two games at home always win the finals.

"I would say a great season is actually winning it, but whatever the step below that is, that's what we've done," said coach Avery Johnson, who has been talking about winning a championship since Day 1. "This was a tremendous learning experience for our players and coaches."

After winning three playoff series on someone else's court, the Mavs were the ones watching someone celebrate on their floor. That's a tough price to pay for a team's first four-game losing streak of the season.

As the Miami players began hugging and the ceremony stage was being set up, the PA announcer urged the crowd to "Give your team a round of applause for an awesome season." A lukewarm reaction followed as players headed to the locker room, Dirk Nowitzki walking out looking down, hands clasped behind his head, and Josh Howard leaving without his jersey.

Even when Heat owner Micky Arison opened his comments by congratulating the Mavericks, fans were still booing commissioner David Stern.

Inside the locker room, Johnson addressed the entire team, then Cuban went around hugging and thanking players individually.

"[Johnson] just said he wanted us to stay together as a team," guard Devin Harris said. "Let it hurt so bad that you want to come back next year and step it up to another level."

Cuban said he's committed to keeping the team together. That includes Terry, a free agent who said he hopes to stay in Dallas.

The Mavericks won 60 regular-season games, tying the best mark in club history. They swept Memphis in the first round, then outlasted nemesis San Antonio in the second. They beat Phoenix in the conference finals, avenging last year's second-round ousting and keeping former teammate Steve Nash from making the finals.

Johnson was selected coach of the year for the regular season. Coming into the finals, people were comparing him to Miami's Pat Riley.

Nowitzki was third in the MVP voting for the regular season. His status was soaring coming into the finals, giving him a chance to really establish himself among the NBA's best players.

Dallas won the first two games and was leading late in the third. In retrospect, that was the beginning of the end.

"That Game 3 was big," Nowitzki said when asked about the what-ifs. "We had the game under control. If we win that, the series was pretty much over.

"Maybe we were starting to celebrate too early. I don't know what happened. We didn't execute. You have to play for 48 minutes, not 43 or 44. That really changed the momentum of the series. They got confidence and played better after that. ... I think we were confident enough to win it. We just didn't."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press