By John Schmeelk
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In the NBA these days, so much focus is paid to the individual at the expense of the team. The trend began with Michael Jordan, continued with Kobe Bryant and now carries on with LeBron James.
Jordan’s greatness blinded Americans to this simple fact: the best player doesn’t always win the NBA championship, the best team does. The Mavericks proved that on Sunday.
This was a great series for the NBA for a lot of reasons, and most people will focus on what it means for the Miami Heat. But it’s not fair to ignore Dallas — and that won’t happen here. In a league known for spectacular dunks, ankle-breaking jukes and breakneck speed, the team that just won the championship does none of that. It’s full of guys that are old, slow and wise. They won games using their savvy, smarts and teamwork.
Dirk Nowitzki won the Finals MVP. He’s someone that can’t jump, has no lateral quickness and isn’t fast. He was the best player in this series because of an unbelievable shooting stroke, clever moves, a great understanding of angles, pump fakes, length and an unstoppable fadeaway jumper. Dirk and the rest of his teammates played basketball the right way in this series and that’s why they won the title. They played beautiful basketball.
Commentators droned on about how the shooting of Dallas’ role-players in Games 5 and 6 was amazing and put them over the top. The truth is that those shots were wide open and should have been falling earlier in the series. The Mavericks shot terribly, but once they got rolling and gained confidence, the Heat’s fate was sealed. The Mavericks got those shots with great ball movement and some of the smartest and best coaching the league has seen in a long time.
Even more impressive, it was done against one of the best defenses in the NBA.
Credit Dallas’ defense as well. LeBron is getting a ton of criticism (and he deserves it) for his play in his series, but some of it has to do with the Mavericks defense. Their man-to-man, help and zone defenses made it impossible for James to get a clear path to the basket. Every time LeBron took a dribble, Dallas’ defense would collapse and cut off his path. He went to the line only twenty times in a six game series, an average of just over three a game. That’s almost beyond belief. Some credit has to be given to Dallas’ defense for that. Also, credit the Mavericks for their transition defense, keeping the Heat away from their strength in the halfcourt.
Also give credit to Rick Carlisle. He was always a good coach, but was often accused of overdoing it. He kept the hand on the bicycle seat too much, calling out a play on every possession. That lesson was learned. He trusted his veteran team led by Jason Kidd, one of the best point guards of all time, to play their way. He let them make decisions and trusted them to be the right ones. Whether it was his starting lineup change with JJ Barea, his defensive schemes or substitution patterns, everything he did was right. Even more on the mark, was what he didn’t do, be too active and get in the way.
Finally, this series might make people re-think what the new championship formula is in the NBA. Perhaps three stars with a limited supporting cast isn’t the best way to win a championship. Maybe one is enough, if surrounded by the right players. As great as \Nowitzki was in this series, it was the Mavericks’ depth and his supporting cast that put them over the top in Games 5 and 6.
This is something NBA executives will be thinking about in the following months.
It was a great NBA Finals that will do nothing but help the sport. It expanded the drama surrounding the Heat and LeBron, a drama that if nothing else will attract more attention to the league. It brought another superstar to the nation’s attention in Nowitzki. The NBA could be well on its way to peak popularity again.
A lockout could derail all that. As great as this series was, I hope it isn’t the last NBA game we’ll see in 2011.
Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at what this series means for Miami and their trio of superstars.
You can follow me on twitter through the NBA Draft at http://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk.