Dallas extinguishes Heat for first title
Nowitzki and Terry lead Game 6 rout
MIAMI Nestled in North Texas, away from the hype, the "Decision", and those who considered them a soft afterthought in the Western Conference, the Dallas Mavericks worked feverishly to reach this pinnacle with a bunch of over-the-hill stars, led by an oft-criticized German superstar starving for a title.
With stellar shooting, strong defense, and execution to make up for a poor offensive
night from Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks overcame Miami's Big Three and won their first championship with a 105-95 victory over the Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh came together last July in hopes of winning multiple NBA titles, but came up two wins short in their first try. And they will not go without criticism after this one. James ended a poor series with 21 points -- many without impact -- and six turnovers. On several occasions, James looked lost and intimidated by the moment. Meanwhile, a tired and ragged Wade, slowed by a hip injury, contributed just 17 points.
Nowitzki, the series MVP, scored 21 points on 9-for-27 shooting but the rest of the Mavericks were dominant, going 32 of 55 from the field, with Jason Terry scoring 27 points.
Nowitzki, in his 13th season, briefly celebrated before going to the locker room to gather himself. He had been labeled soft and unable to win the big one after countless playoff failures, including 2006, when the Mavericks lost the Finals to Miami despite leading two games to none.
"Just this feeling to be on the best team of the world is just indescribable," he said. "If you're in this league for 13 years of just battling and playoffs last basically 10 years, 11 years, and always coming up a little short, that's why this is extra special. If I would have won one early in my career, maybe I would have never put all the work and the time that I have over the last 13 years. So this feels amazing."
After falling behind in the first six minutes, 20-11, the Mavericks responded with 29-8 run and led most of the game. They pulled away early in the fourth quarter with an 8-0 run to go ahead, 89-77, with 8:12 to play and the Heat had nothing left to offer.
The Heat cut the deficit to 94-87 with 5:52 left and Mario Chalmers followed with a steal that could have pulled Miami closer, but in a play that typified the series, Chalmers forced the play and charged into Jason Kidd, causing a critical turnover.
Down the stretch the Heat looked confused, especially James, who on several occasions passed the ball when he had opportunities to drive to the basket. He finished the series averaging 17.8 points and attempted just 20 free throws. But he had a strong message for his critics.
"Oh, it hurts, but I am not going to hang my head low," he said. "I understand that this is a huge stage and you want to perform well for nobody else besides your teammates."
When asked if he was bothered that many people root against him because of the manner in which he signed with Miami, James said: "Absolutely not. Because at the end of the day, all the people that was rooting on me to fail, they got to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today, same personal problems that they had today. And I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and do the things that I want to do. They get a few days of being happy about the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they got to get back to the real world at some point."
The No. 1 priority for the Mavericks in the second half was to get Nowitzki untracked, and Rick Carlisle called the opening play for his superstar, resulting in a made 15-footer. That sparked a 10-5 run to begin the quarter and Dallas was beginning to gain control. As for James, he simply looked lost at times. After his early 9-point spurt, he scored 2 points the rest of the first half and 3 in the third quarter. On one play, he was called for an offensive foul for using his off arm to push 5-foot-10-inch J.J. Barea, who was guarding him in the post.
Dallas maintained the lead for almost the entire third period and used a Nowitzki 3-pointer to create some distance (71-65) as the Mavericks played with supreme confidence. James scored his first basket since the 3:56 mark of the second quarter, a driving layup to reduce the deficit to 74-71, but Dallas countered with yet another run. Kidd canned a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock and little-used Ian Mahinmi ended the quarter with a fadeaway 15-footer for an 81-72 lead. Kidd, a 17-year veteran, added his first NBA title to his many accomplishments.
DeShawn Stevenson made an impact on this series with his mouth, which has been working overtime. But he has converted some impact 3-pointers, and early in the second period he drilled consecutive threes as the Mavericks silenced the arena, completing
a 29-8 run for a 40-28 lead. Helped by former Celtic Eddie House, the Heat responded with a 14-0 run. House began and ended the surge with 3-pointers as Miami regained the lead at 42-40.
After Carlisle called a timeout, Stevenson and Udonis Haslem bumped into each other walking toward the benches and a shoving match ensued. Chalmers raced from 20 feet away to get involved but was held back and pushed away by Bosh before the altercation could get ugly. The Mavericks gained time to recover while the referees sorted things out, and they ended the half with a 53-51 lead, their last 10 points coming from Terry.
Nowitzki was a nonfactor in the first half as he missed 11 of 12 shots and scored 3 points. The rest of the Mavericks compensated by hitting 20 of 31 shots. Terry was the catalyst with 19 points. In the second half it become apparent that Dallas, despite lacking the Heats athleticism and power, was the better team. The Mavericks came together as a bunch of standouts who couldn't get it done in other places and collectively overcame the much ballyhooed Heat.
"It's a team that when you view it from afar, it doesn't look like a physically bruising type team," Carlisle said. "So a lot of people don't think we have the grit and the guts and the mental toughness. This is as mentally tough team I've been around. I was fortunate to play in the '80s with Boston teams. They were mentally tough."
Mavericks backup center Brendan Haywood, who was inactive for Game 5 because of a strained hip flexor, dressed for last night's game. Haywood is not much of an offensive player but his defensive presence was important early in the series . . . Neither James nor Wade would comment on Nowitzki calling them "a little childish, a little ignorant" for mocking Nowitzki's illness while being videotaped prior to Game 5 . . . The Celtics worked out five draft prospects Saturday in Waltham, including former Indiana guard Jeremiah Rivers, the son of coach Doc Rivers.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.