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The Mavericks defense was the under-discussed key to the 2011 championship and Game 4 against the Heat showed it

As time passes, the 2011 team is remembered for their firepower and three point shooting. The defense was equally crucial.

Dwayne Wade (L) of the Miami Heat is def Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

As I re-watched Game 4 of the 2011 Finals, just one thought kept crossing through my mind.

How the hell are the Mavericks in this?

Dallas just could not buy a bucket. Rick Carlisle made the move to put J.J. Barea in the starting lineup and still, the offense couldn’t get much done. The Mavericks were under 40 percent from the field for the game and only 4-of-19 from three. They were down nine in the fourth quarter, with absolutely zero offense. Yet, they won. They won!

The only way how was defense. Not an overwhelming, unruly defense that cheated passing lanes or stuffed shots at the rim. Just solid as hell, five-men-on-a-string, talking like hell, moving your feet defense. The Mavericks defense from 2011 isn’t as talked about now as the years pass us by, because remember Dirk? Remember them being the first real three point shooting champion that spurred on the modern era we’re in? Those are more fun to talk about, but really, their defense saved their asses. It definitely did in Game 4.

Tyson Chandler, Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, DeShawn Stevenson — the Mavericks were loaded with smart, great defenders. Just guys that knew where to be at the right time, with veterans that maybe weren’t defensive stalwarts (Dirk, Jason Terry) buying in and getting into position when needed. It helped that the Mavericks were so versatile on defense. Chandler guarded the rim, but was quick on his feet to get out to ball handlers and shooters. Marion could guard one through four and Kidd was able to guard LeBron James. There just weren’t a lot of glaring weak spots for the Heat or any team in 2011 to attack. Even Dirk held his own, especially when teams still played two bigs at the same time for most of the game.

Dallas got just enough offense in the fourth quarter for the defense to matter. It was a special group that trusted the man behind them to go to the right spot. Miami scored 14 points in the fourth quarter. What an effort.

Onto the notes.

  • The big shift in this series from a coaching standpoint happened in this game, with Rick Carlisle starting J.J. Barea and bringing DeShawn Stevenson off the bench. We all love Barea and our memories conjure up images of Barea’s feisty drives helping turn the tide. In reality that’s...sorta true. Barea finished just 3-of-9 from the floor with eight points and four assists. He didn’t make as much of an impact like he did in the Los Angeles series and the Mavericks still deeply struggled on offense in this game. Yet, he still helped! He set up Dirk well in the first quarter and his penetration was useful in the third, even when he missed a couple of layups, he had Tyson Chandler follow them up. Perhaps the biggest advantage of Barea’s insertion to the lineup wasn’t even about Barea, but about Stevenson coming off the bench. The Mavericks had poor wing depth with Caron Butler’s injury and Peja Stojakovic could not play against the Heat’s death machine of their big three. With Barea starting and able to hide on one of the Heat’s point guards, that meant Stevenson could take Peja’s place in the rotation and give the Mavericks a much-needed boost in those bench minutes. Stevenson made three 3-pointers, scored 11 points and was a plus-6 in his 26 minutes.
  • OK so I’ve made it almost 500 words without talking about Dirk so let’s go. The most famous aspect of this game is Dirk’s ability to play through a 102-degree fever. On the re-watch, it jogged my memory about just how much misery he was going through. Dirk looked awful and I’m sort of shocked he finished the game. Well, not actually shocked, because it’s Dirk, but you know what I mean. To think about how off Dirk was: He made his first three shots in the first 1:25 of the game — he finished 6-of-19 from the floor. So when you consider he made the final clinching layup with 15 seconds left in the game, Dirk went the majority of the game from the first quarter to the end of the game by making only two shots. It’s pretty crazy the Mavs were able to overcome that, credit to that defense again. The final shot from Dirk is still great — Dirk looking at the clock at the other backboard, the swift move past Udonis Haslem (who guarded him well to prevent him from tying Game 3 at the buzzer) to get to the rim and finish. Just classic Dirk.
  • Another fun wrinkle the Mavs added in this game: Jason Kidd guarding LeBron James. Shawn Marion mostly guarded LeBron all series but in Game 4, Carlisle switched things up, knowing he could switch Marion onto LeBron when LeBron and Wade ran pick and rolls. Marion had a great game, but Wade was unbelievable. James, famously, was terrible. Only eight points on 3-of-11 shooting. It’s pretty cool to have a 6’5 point guard who’s great at defense, even at almost 40 years old.
  • With Dirk having an off-night and sick, it was clear the Mavericks couldn’t just give him the ball, get out of the way and let him go to work. So smartly, Carlisle and the Mavericks, especially in the second half, used Dirk almost as a decoy. It was a lot of Jason Terry/Chandler pick and rolls and with Dirk out past the three point line, there was plenty of room for Chandler’s rim runs. Dallas got an open look almost every time they ran it and it was a huge factor to overcome Dirk’s illness. Chandler finished with 13 points and Terry had 17, including four straight when the Heat went up nine at the beginning of the fourth quarter. That little spurt might have saved the game. Oh and Chandler had 16 rebounds too. Man, that guy should have played another five years in Dallas, huh?