NBA

NBA Finals was not a morality play

FOX Sports MITCH LAWRENCE
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NEW YORK, N.Y.

If you're still celebrating the Mavs' win over the Heat, do it for the right reasons.

Do it because you think it's still cool for a big-time superstar like Dirk Nowitzki to stick it out with his original team and finally get his NBA ring. Do it because you love the way the Dallas Mavericks never gave up and came back in the fourth quarter in three of their four Finals wins to get their first championship. Do it because you rooted for one of the game's great senior citizens, Jason Kidd, to at last win his title at the ripe, old age of 38.

But don't celebrate it because you think the hoops world would have gone to hell on an express train if the Heat had won.

That's a crock.

So is all of this anti-Heat rhetoric that has come spilling out of the Finals.

Here's a bulletin: This was not a morality play, with good scoring a big win over evil. That's not only simplistic — it just happens to be totally wrong.

There are a lot of people who are convinced that if the Heat had won the series, it would have been a victory for all the wrong values we see from AAU teams.

Nonsense. As much as Dallas played a team game, so did Miami. And as well as they played in Games 5 and 6, the Mavs easily could have been swept. They were superior in only one area, but the most critical one: Closing out games. Their fourth quarters in three comeback victories were better than anything LeBron James and Dwyane Wade managed to put together.

But it's not because Miami did not play team-oriented basketball. Does anyone really believe that the Heat won 58 games in the regular season because James, Wade and Chris Bosh took turns going one-on-one? Seriously?

In the playoffs, the Heat used the same formula they did when they recovered from a disastrous, but not surprising, 9-8 start to finish second in the East. They shared the ball, found the open man and went to their stars when they needed them in crunch time. That's not the way they do it in AAU ball, by the way.

Oh, and the Heat emphasized defense, emerging as one of the better units in the entire NBA. Just ask Celtics coach Doc Rivers or Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, whose teams could not generate a lick of offense against the Heat in key points of the playoffs.

For all of you down on the Heat, answer this: How does one of the NBA's best defensive teams send a bad message to kids about how to play the game?

Think about it.

When a team reels off 62 wins in 81 games — which is what Miami did after it opened 9-8, through Game 1 of the Finals — they don't do it because they're just throwing down dunks and playing one-on-one basketball. In fact, the Heat became known as a “hard-hat, lunch-pail’’ team, in the words of Erik Spoelstra, who deserves to come back to coach this team.

“We just play the game of basketball — Miami Heat basketball,’’ James said on the eve of the Finals. “That's defending at a high level, with speed and athleticism, and then sharing the ball and being a team offensively.’’

Amen.

And it all got lost because of the way the Heat were put together and how they acted at points, especially in the Finals.

America hated Miami because their top three players conspired and colluded last July. They didn't like it that the Big Three staged a big celebration before they ever played a game. But the fact is, James, Wade and Bosh all took less money than they could have gotten as free agents.

America glossed right over that major fact, and in the Finals, the Heat gave them a reason to root for Nowitzki. Wade and James acted like real jerks after the Mavs' star gutted out one of the great Finals wins with a sinus infection and 101-degree fever. What James and Wade did in front of TV cameras, mocking him, was classless.

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WHAT A RIDE

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America wanted Nowitzki at the start because he did what James did not do. He decided to stick it out while LeBron bailed on the Cleveland Cavaliers after seven seasons, one trip to the Finals and no rings.

And it almost worked for LeBron in year one in Miami.

The Heat were only seven minutes from going up 2-0 in the Finals.

Then, inexplicably, James answered America's prayers. He decided to become a wallflower. If the guy had never taken over a playoff game, that would be one thing. But in the lead-up to the Finals, he had delivered in the clutch in two monumental close-out wins over Boston and Chicago.

You want to talk about the current sorry state of AAU basketball, where players are glorified for all the wrong reasons? If anything, James was too unselfish in the Finals. He passed too much. He got rid of the ball like it was a live grenade, before double-teams even found him. He didn't look for his shot enough. Put it this way: If AAU ball is based on a lot of one-on-one play, then the Heat could have used more of that, at times, from James in the final stretches of their losses in Games 4, 5 and 6. If LeBron had any kind of low-post game in his arsenal and been adept at scoring in the paint, the Heat could have won the series easily.

But that's where Wade enters the picture, too. He failed to put his stamp on a game in the Finals, and he's the Heat's best closer. He also had easier matchups than James, drawing Kidd, and still couldn't produce big in the games' final minutes. It was more than strange, considering he's an even better player than he was in 2006, when he won the Finals MVP against Dallas.

The most perplexing question is how the Heat solved two better defensive teams than Dallas in Boston and Chicago. Wade's inability to get Miami a win after Game 3 is one of the great unanswered questions, but it's hardly even being asked in South Florida because the entire focus is on James. Unfairly so, we might add.

Not that America complained one bit about the final result, but it's one thing when ignorant Joe Six-Pack goes off on Miami and roots to see them fail. You expect that.

But it still amazes us that Rick Carlisle would make some comments that fed into the growing misconception that a Heat win would have been bad for the NBA.

After he had secured his first title, Carlisle vented about the Heat while praising his team.

“They have made a statement that's a colossal statement,’’ he said of his players. “Not just about our team, but the game in general. Playing it a certain way. Trusting the pass. Playing collectively. Believing in each other.’’

Allow us to ask: When the Heat took Game 1 of the Finals, did anyone think watching on TV they didn't “trust the pass’’ or were not “playing collectively’’ or were guilty of not “believing in each other?”

Of course not. From the looks of it, they were playing the kind of basketball that wins championships.

Then Carlisle went on: “This is one of the unique teams in NBA history, because it wasn't about high-flying star power. Come on, how often do we have to hear about the LeBron James reality show and what he is or isn't doing? When are people going to talk about the purity of our game and what these guys accomplished? That's what's special.’’

Carlisle went overboard there. Yes, LeBron still looks like a jerk for “The Decision’’ and how he mistreated Dan Gilbert and the Cavs when he left Cleveland. And when LeBron tweets “Now or Never!!’’ before Game 5, he looks like an idiot since it wasn't even an elimination game. The mocking of Nowitzki didn't help his cause.

But please, coach, spare us this “purity of the game’’ bull. The Mavs don't have two of the game's top stars, but they have one of the top payrolls in the NBA. They've got talent galore. Jason Terry would start for 29 other teams. Nowitzki is one of the great one-way talents who ever played power forward. Kidd is a lock Hall of Famer. Tyson Chandler gave them a defensive backbone, the last piece of their puzzle.

What the Mavs did was special, we'll agree, but if you're trying to tell me Mark Cuban's team saved the NBA from going to hell, you're wasting your breath.

Tagged: Mavericks, Heat, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade

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