It wasn’t just a series of 4th quarter meltdowns by LeBron James that doomed the Miami Heat, though many would like to believe that. The Dallas Mavericks didn’t just win the 2011 NBA Finals, they shattered a trend. They proved that team thought matter just as much as team talent.
Through the first round of the NBA Playoffs, things were shaping up as expected. The Lakers were cruising into the divisional round. The Miami Heat dispatched the annoying 76ers. The Mavericks? Typical of them, they were having all sorts of problems with the upstart Portland Trailblazers. But if anybody can ever claim they feel a vibe coming off the playoffs in basketball, then NBA fans felt that vibe take a titanic shift when the Memphis Grizzlies knocked out the San Antonio Spurs. It happened like dominoes. The Heat dumped the Boston Celtics in five. The Atlanta Hawks booted out the Orlando Magic. Finally, and most incredibly, the defending champion Lakers were unceremoniously swept out of the playoffs by Dallas.
Suddenly, the guard was changing. The Mavericks had claimed a place that teams relish in playoff sports. They were the hot team that nobody paid attention to. The press focused on the Miami Heat. The Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were ready to prove themselves correct when they joined forces in South Beach to make sure a championship came to them. It looked like that might come true when they overwhelmed MVP Derrick Rose and his Chicago Bulls in five games.
The Heat were taking all the talent and all the hype into the NBA Finals. If they had been truly perceptive of the task at hand, then they would’ve seen the gliding shark headed their way. The Dallas Mavericks were a team built to beat Miami. They weren’t soft as in years past. No controversies were there to hinder them from owner Mark Cuban. They had experience and momentum on their side. Best of all, they had added incentive from losing to the Heat five years earlier in the 2006 Finals.
You throw all those things against LeBron James, who’d already lost the championship in 2007, along with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and it’s a shining example of what happens when a professional sports star takes on a battle against karma. According to NBA.com, LeBron James played twenty-five more minutes than any other player on Miami. The effort was there. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh played their parts. The Heat had home court advantage. What did the Mavericks do different?
They played hard for 48 minutes. They stayed mentally tough when they got down and saved their best shots for the 4th quarter, when ‘great’ teams like Miami tend to let their foot off the gas, thinking their sheer ability will carry to victory. They were creative. They switched up the starting lineup when something wasn’t working. The Mavericks played with fear and resolve. The Heat played with talent and expectations. Millions saw what happens when those two forces meet. Fear and resolve in six. The Mavericks wanted it, and they took it.
Basketball fans around the country were anxious to compare this Heat team to the all-time great teams like the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, or the Bulls of the ’90s. They wanted to put LeBron on the same tier as Michael Jordan. Well, that tier just rose a bit higher in case those same fans are keeping score. Michael Jordan was 6-0 in the NBA Finals. “King” James is now 0-2. He may have had an excuse four years ago. Not anymore.