I lived the Mavericks’ magical 2011 run in realtime. I remember how unbelievable it all felt as the playoffs progressed, and the team just kept winning. The world of Mavericks’ basketball pre-2011 was one of professional talking heads repeating ad nauseum on national television that the Mavericks just didn’t have what it took. Dirk didn’t have the “killer instinct.” Just look at 2007, after all. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” they would say.
But then the Mavericks did it. And no one said those kinds of things about Dirk anymore.
One of the things I remember most vividly about the 2011 title run was that the Mavs never, ever gave up. I watched every game to the end, fully believing that they could find a way to win until that buzzer sounded. That never-say-die approach the team had led to some truly remarkable comebacks. It’s true; mention the word “comeback” and “2011” to any fan of Dallas Basketball, and game 2 of the finals jumps to the forefront of their minds. To be down 1-0 to Miami in the series, trailing by 15 with only 7 minutes to go, and the roar back to win was astonishing, but that kind of performance didn’t just materialize out of thin air.
In retrospect, the “comeback kid” DNA was apparent in that Mavericks team as early as their first round tilt against Portland. Dallas was favored as the 3 seed, but were also a popular pick to get upset in the first round. It’s hard to stress just how few people thought that 2011 squad would see any post-season success. And, if we’re being honest, they didn’t necessarily look like NBA Champion material early on.
In the first game of the series against Portland, the Trailblazers, behind most of the game, turned it on in the 4th quarter and took a 6 point lead with 6 minutes to go in the 4th. The Mavericks won by 8. In game 2, a back and forth affair through 3 quarters, ended with Dallas coasting to a 12-point win, outscoring Portland 28-17 in the 4th.
Going into game 4 with a 2-1 series lead, the Mavs had proven incapable of being truly knocked out of a game — always having an answer to Portland’s scoring runs. Even in a losing effort in game 3, Dallas pulled to within 3 with under 13 seconds to go at the end of the game after being down by as many as 13 earlier in the frame.
On the flip side, Dallas was also a team for whom no lead was safe. In what has become known as “The Brandon Roy Game,” Dallas, with a chance to put their foot on the neck of the Blazers by taking a 3-1 series lead, saw Brandon Roy score 24 points in 24 minutes off the bench and rally Portland all the way back from a 23 point hole with under 2 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter. You could never count Dallas out, but you also couldn’t pencil in any wins until the game was well and truly over.
While the series was tied at 2-2 with the Mavericks still holding home court advantage, that game 4 collapse caused a familiar pit to form in the stomachs of many a Mavericks’ fan who had watched the squad come up short in years prior. That reputation the team had amongst the aforementioned talking heads wasn’t necessarily entirely unearned.
Following that horrific game 4 collapse, the Mavericks put together a pair of solid back-to-back wins in games 5 and 6, winning by 11 and 7 points respectively. It could be said that Dallas proved as much or more to themselves in that series as they did to league watchers across the nation. They could truthfully say that they were never really out of a game, but at the same time, just not good enough to take nights off, either. They seemed just as prone to give up a miraculous comeback as they were to unleash one on an opposing team.
Luckily for them, and especially for fans of the franchise, they managed to do more come-from-behind winning than heartbreaking losing. In each series after that opening round against Portland, Dallas was able to manufacture some truly astounding moments and comebacks, so that when we got to game 2 of the finals, sure it was exciting, it was fantastic, it was a crucial win, but it was nothing that the team hadn’t already proven they were capable of.