Teamwork trumps talent in NBA Finals

Why the Dallas Mavericks topped the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals

Perfect justice prevailed in the championship series, because the Dallas Mavericks got what they deserved, and so did the Miami Heat.


Even though Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem played exceptional deny defense and chest-to-chest defense against him, Dirk Nowitzki made all of the shots he had to make.

Up until now, Nowitzki had been denounced for his clutch-time failures in big games. Remember how he was ridiculed when he was named MVP in 2007 and then played so miserably (38.3 percent from the field including 21.1 from 3-point territory) as the top-seeded Mavs were humbled by the bottom-seeded Warriors?

Against the Heat, however, Nowitzki totally redeemed himself and won the only award that means anything — Finals MVP.

Jason Terry was likewise reputed to be a big-time choker, but he, too, proved to be simply a big-timer. Hitting spot-ups, pull-ups, and even making astute passes. How many times, though, did his inept defenders allow Terry to dribble right?

Jason Kidd maintained order when the Mavs had the ball. If he lacks the foot speed and the lateral quickness of years past, his fast hands and great anticipation made him an effective defender.

Shawn Marion made some of his patented spinners and missed some, but he never stopped hustling. In Game 5, he abused LeBron James' vaunted defense, and, throughout the series, he made James exert himself to the max just to get good looks.

Tyson Chandler snatched several tough rebounds and, not having to pay much defensive attention to either Anthony or Haslem, was able to rotate and plug any holes in the Mavs’ defense.

J.J. Barea overcame his jitters and injected some non-Nowitzki pizzazz into the offense.

DeShawn Stevenson drained several timely 3-pointers and was always a nuisance on defense.

Brian Cardinal delivered the requisite hard fouls, dropped some triples and raised the intensity level of the defense.

As a team, Dallas demonstrated enormous poise even when faced with double-digit deficits late in games. They stuck to their game plan, never lost faith in themselves and, except for numerous iso-adventures by their go-to scorer, distributed the shots and the offensive responsibilities in such a way that nobody could afford to take a play off.

The Mavs also surprised Miami by pushing the ball at every opportunity. Indeed, the Heat thought that the quicker the tempo, the easier they would dominate. But running teams don’t like to run backward.

Dallas’ frequent zone defenses disrupted Miami's offensive sets and prevented the Heat from establishing much of a rhythm.

When LBJ attacked the rim from the top of the key, his handle was repeatedly sniped at. He rarely was in total control of the ball when the Mavs’ bigs converged on him in the shadow of the basket.

There was no celebrating until Game 6 was in the bag, no adolescent yowling to stoke up their own chops after dunks, and no disrespect shown to the Heat. Also no excuses and no faux bravado.

What was the primary reason why habitual losers like Terry and Nowitzki emerged as winners?

Rick Carlisle.

His players fed off the Dallas coach's diligence and his toughness. And, as far as providing motivation, between and in-game adjustments, and favorable matchups, Carlisle thoroughly out-coached Erik Spoelstra.

As always, the best team won and it won by playing team basketball.


LeBron’s constant public blathering put more pressure on him and his team than was necessary. From "The Decision" to the boasting that Miami would win “not five, not six, not seven” championships. From LBJ’s announcement that his move from Cleveland to Miami was “all about commitment” to his identifying himself to fellow players as “King James,” LeBron became a magnet for almost universal bad energy that, no matter what he said in public, had to affect his game. Feeding off of hatred seldom results in anything positive.

Blame him for repeatedly coming up empty when he absolutely needed to fill the basket with points, and for being responsible for most of Miami’s self-inflicted humiliation. It wasn’t accidental that Miami got better ball movement throughout the series when LeBron was on the bench.

It also says here that LBJ’s arrogance is merely a mask for the lack of self-confidence that he really feels deep in his soul. In his perpetual pontifications, LeBron is desperately trying to convince himself that he’s as great as he presumably thinks he is. For sure, he’s the most talented player in the NBA. Too bad his talents are bigger than his heart.

In addition, the Heat were slicing up the Mavs' defense with high screen-rolls — with the rollers routinely winding up with layups. Why, then, did they abandon this tactic when games were on the line?

And why did Mike Miller get such diminished playing time in Game 6?

All told, the Heat never quite solved the Mavs' scheme of pushing ball-penetrators to help spots. There were precious few off-the-ball cuts, and most of Miami’s assists came on kick-outs. Moreover, while Dwyane Wade was always quick with the ball, LeBron was too often overly deliberate before initiating his own forays on offense.

More basic than any question of talent or of Xs and Os, however, the Heat lost because their collective belief in themselves was tenuous. When the Mavs refused to be intimidated by Miami’s superior overall talent, the Heat began to doubt themselves. Their resulting team-wide panic led to the disintegration of all traces of team cohesion.


Where does Dallas go from here? Ah, where does the NBA go from here?

If the lockout does occur, the likelihood is that the ensuing season will begin late and feature a dense schedule that will negatively impact teams that depend on older players: Nowitzki turns 33 next week, and Marion is already there. Terry will be 34 in the offseason, and J-Kidd is 38.

So it’s highly probable that the Mavs will be a one-shot wonder.

And what might be in store for Miami?

How about LeBron demanding a trade so that he can take his talents to Dallas?

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