FoxSportsSouthWest shared this before Game 6 of the NBA Finals:
Before Game 6 against the Blazers, when the team was returning to the scene of one of their worst defeats ever, the team decided to hold a players only dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. They traded stories, just like any group of friends. What they discovered was profound. All of them had stories about getting close to winning the finals, and just falling short. Peja spoke about being cheated out of the 2002 playoffs, the Tim Donaghy series, Jason Kidd talked about the 2001 finals, Dirk and Jet talked about 2006 and how close they were, Shawn Marion talked about the 2007 series with the Spurs when Amare Stoudemire's suspension kept them from advancing to the finals. Every player had a story, and every player, to a man, made a commitment that night. That commitment has followed this team. Terry has mentioned it several times. They became more than a group of friends that night.
They became a team.
I went through the stats of every single round and it is astonishing how every member of this years Mavericks responded to their shortcomings of their respectable careers against certain opponents.
Round 1 against the Trail Blazers
Dirk Nowitzki, who couldn't carry his team out of the first round in 3 of the past 4 years, almost single-handedly took over the series. He scored 61 points in 4th quarters on 50.00% shooting and went to the line 35 times. This performance remained unmatched throughout the playoffs until Dirk scored 62 points in 4th quarters in the Finals series. He also showed his best shooting performance in the Clutch in this years playoffs, scoring 15 points on 101.35 TS% and 83.33 eFG%.
Semis against the Lakers
Jason Kidd fell short in two straight Finals appearances. In 2002 the New Jersey Nets got swept by the Lakers in the Finals. In 2011 he took on the responsibility to guard Kobe Bryant late in the game. Bryant scored 17 points in 4th quarters on 6-for-19 shooting and went to the line only 4 times. In the Clutch Kobe shot 3-for-8 and went to the line not once. This truly was one of the all-time great defensive performances by Jason Kidd against the best player of his generation.
Peja Stojakovic meanwhile has an even bigger past with the Lakers. From 2000-2002 the Sacramento Kings were eliminated by the Lakers three consecutive times. Peja shot only 38.10% in these 3 series and 11-for-40 from Three (27.50%). And then here's the quote from Wikipedia on the 2002 Western Conference Finals:
The 2002 Western Conference Finals is widely regarded as one of the classic series in NBA history, with the final four games coming down to the final seconds. Two games were decided on game winning shots and Game 7 was decided in overtime. It was, however, marred by corruption allegations. On June 10, 2008, convicted NBA referee Tim Donaghy's attorney filed a court document alleging, among other things, that Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings was fixed by two referees. The letter states that Donaghy "learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew Referees A and F to be 'company men', always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA's interest to add another game to the series." The Lakers won Game 6, attempting 18 more free throws than the Kings in the fourth quarter, and went on to win the 2002 NBA Finals. The referees were not named, but the Western Conference Finals was the only seven-game series that year.
Think that one hurt? I do. In both Game 6 and Game 7 of the Western Concerence Finals, Peja was held to 1-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc.
In 2011 he was key in sweeping the Lakers out of the second round. He averaged 12.5 Points per Game, his highest average in any series this year on 52.38% from Three (11-for-21). He also played surprisingly well on the defensive end. Most memorable was his Game 3 Clutch defense on Lamar Odom. Simply amazing. And well deserved for the "Serbian Sniper" (thanks Mark Followill for that nickname).
Conference Finals against the Thunder
Let's start with Tyson Chandler here. On February, 18th in 2009, Tyson Chandler was traded from the New Orleans Hornets to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Only one day later, the Thunder rescinded the trade because Dr. Carlan Yates determined that the risk of a reinjury of Chandler's foot was too high. Chandler commented:
"This is absolutely crazy," Chandler said in a telephone conversation Wednesday night. "I'm super shocked. This is nuts."
Oklahoma City then went on and signed Kendrick Perkins this year as their new key piece in the frontcourt rotation. Chandler absolutely dominated Perkins during that series. Mentally and physically. While Perkins tried to get into Chandler's head in declaring them to arch-enemies, Chandler kept his cool and responded on the court. His 10.6 rebound average per game was the highest in any series for him this year. In terms of rebounding percentage he was the best rebounder in 4 of the 5 games of both teams.
And then there's Shawn Marion, who has never been to the NBA Finals in his career. He fell short with Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns in 2005 and 2006 in the Conference Finals. You think he wanted to change that? He scored 14.2 Points per Game on 50.00% shooting in that series. He also averaged 3.2 Free Throw Attempts, 1.4 Blocks and 1.6 Steals. All series-highs for him in this years playoffs. If that wouldn't be enough, he also helped defending Kevin Durant who was held to 2-for-7 (28.57%) in the Clutch during that series. He blocked the potential game-winning shot by Kevin Durant in Game 4 that sent the game into Overtime and helped the Mavs overcome a 15-point 4th quarter deficit.
NBA Finals against the Heat
Washington Wizards vs. Cleveland Cavaliers from 2006-2008. DeShawn Stevenson joined the Wizards in 2007 when this rivalry started to unfold. He called LeBron James overrated and set up a personal competition between the two players. Washington got knocked out of the first round in every single year. His revenge would come. He scored 7.2 Points per Game in the Finals on 56.52% shooting from Three (13-23) and defended both James and Wade. While the rivalry seemed to be over because both players had changed teams, Stevenson called out James and the Heat after Game 3 and the T-Shirt he wore at the arrival in Dallas says it all (pic via @BallinWithBryan).
And then of course Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki. How much did they suffer since that loss in 2006 against the Miami Heat. Wade publicly questioned the leadership mentality of Dirk after those Finals and he went on in mocking Dirk's illness right before Game 5. Those two guys just don't like each other. Wade unfortunately had a sidekick that wasn't worth much this year and Dirk had Terry. Both outscored the Big 3 in the 4th quarters and the Clutch: 92-85 and 34-21 on a higher efficiency (61 and 19 compared to 69 and 19 FGA). In Game 6 Jason Terry scored 27 points on 11-for-16 shooting (68.75%) when Dirk had a rare off night in the first half and clinched the very first title for them, the franchise, the fans and all their teammates.
Before Game 6 against the Blazers I'm pretty sure they also shared some, if not all, of these stories. And then they went out there and kicked some butts. They did it as a team of friends and fought for each other and in each series especially those players that wanted to negate a personal disappointment of the past came up big.
Looking at that picture at the left (again via @BallinWithBryan) I have to fight my tears every time. Once again right now while writing the last paragraph of this piece. It's not only about these two but it stands for this unique set of friends and their unique set of stories.
I don't know if there ever has been a comparable team in the history of the NBA but I'm pretty sure there never will be again.
One song that now for the rest of my life will be associated with these Finals is "From Heads Unworthy" by Rise Against. I heard it over and over again:
We watch them fall.
The crown slips from heads unworthy,
As we gain control."
Thank you for a season that I won't forget. Not only because it was great sport but about great personalities. The past has gone. And every single one of them deserves it.