The Dallas Mavericks are one of those fun anomaly teams that work despite failing to fit any of the popular trends or assumed truths of the NBA as it currently exists. Today, they also happen to be champions.
In a point guard-driven league, Dallas trots out 38-year old Jason Kidd, whose 1994 NBA debut coincided with Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook entering grade school.
The team’s regular starting swingman duo in the Finals – J.J. Barea and Shawn Marion – combined for 22 points per game in the regular season and 20.8 per game during the playoffs, compared to 52.2 and 48.2, respectively, from their Finals counterparts, the Heat’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Up front, the Mavs spent the championship series leaning on Dirk Nowitzki and hoping that an injury or foul trouble for Tyson Chandler didn’t give way to extended minutes for Ian Mahinmi or Brian Cardinal.
But it all somehow worked.
An aging, un-explosive unit with key contributors (Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood) lost to injury grinded out a playoff run for the ages in the face of superstar talent (James, Wade, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant) and impossible deficits (15 points down with 5:00 to go in Game 4 of the Thunder series) while being overshadowed at every turn.
The Mavs’ postseason journey saw them targeted by many prognosticators (myself included) as potential round one upset victims against Portland.
Then, they hardly played their expected role as supporting players as they swept a stunned Lakers’ fan base that was in ‘title or bust’ mode after two consecutive championships.
In the Conference Finals, they interrupted a coronation of Durant, Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder as a new Western power.
Finally, it was James, Wade and the Heat that took center stage as Dallas simply did what they had been doing all playoffs long: win.
Yes, the Mavericks are about as surprising a champion as any 57-win team could be. And you have to wonder if they even surprised themselves a bit, given the emotional response of the MVP Nowitzki on Sunday night, as he quickly retreated to the locker room with his face covered after the final buzzer sounded for what was clearly a much-needed moment to privately absorb what he had just achieved.
Emotions were on a high for just about every member of the Mavs – and with good reason. Despite featuring nine players with 10 or more seasons of NBA experience, not a single member of the organization – right up to head coach Rick Carlisle and outspoken owner Mark Cuban – boasted a championship ring prior to Sunday’s win. Now, a title solidifies Kidd’s Hall of Fame career, places Nowitzki firmly in the discussion of the all-time greats, establishes Carlisle among the active coaching elite and adds a new franchise to the ever-so-short list of clubs with NBA championships. While this may not have marked the most exciting, well-played Finals in recent memory, the coronation of Dallas puts it among the most important.
How about those other guys? While Nowitzki was presumably getting choked up back in the Mavericks’ locker room, Miami’s Chris Bosh was shedding tears of a decidedly different nature out on the court.
However, even in light of the Heat’s crushing loss and another high-profile disappointment for (or, more accurately, from) James, there is reason for optimism in South Beach.
Given their regular season slumps and continued struggle with how to play together, Miami’s Finals appearance was an accomplishment in itself. Now, they have a full season (and then some) of experience playing with one another and, thanks to the back-ended nature of the contracts for the Big Three, some salary cap flexibility to add some complementary pieces. Assuming there is a 2011-12 NBA season, the Heat could be in prime position for not just a title run, but also a shot at the Bulls’ 72-win mark.
But that all can wait. For now, the spotlight finally belongs to Dallas.