Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The longest 6:30 . . . the Mavs and what might have been

Congratulations to the Miami Heat, champions of the NBA. Dw(ay)ne Wade proved himself as the next great player, vaulting himself into the Kobe/LeBron/Duncan/T-Mac level of basketball superstar by putting together a Jordanesque stat line in the Finals: 34.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 3.8 apg. The Heat did what only two other teams in the NBA had ever accomplished in NBA history: winning the title after losing the first two games of the Finals. Only the 1969 Celtics (0-2 down, won 4-3) and the '77 TrailBlazers (0-2 down, swept away the Sixers 4-2) had previously won the title after dropping the first two games of the Finals.

Here now, the good, the bad and the ugly of the NBA Finals.

The Good: Wade. Man he can play.

More good: Jason Terry for the Mavs, Miami's rebounding (Dallas had not been outrebounded in the playoffs until the Heat turned the trick five times in the six games), Udonis Haslem's defense on Nowitzki, Mourning's shot-blocking and interior relief of Shaq, Antoine Walker's grit (yeah, you read that right)

The Bad: Howard and Stackhouse's consistency, Nowitzki's late-game decisionmaking, Jason Williams running the team for the Heat, Walker's shot selection,

The Ugly: Howard's game 5 free-throw honks, Devin Harris' layups, Shaq's free throw chucks.

Ultimately, this series came down to two things. First, Riley's coaching. In 1994, the Riley-coached Knicks took a Houston Rockets team to seven games in the Finals and probably should have won; but that Knicks team didn't belong on the same court as the Rockets during the regular season, Olajuwon completely outplayed Ewing, and the Knicks were otherwise outmanned up front. In this series, the Heat lacked speed, depth, shooting touch and seasoning (compare the Eastern Conference to the Western). But they had Wade.

Second, the Game 3 collapse. From down by double digits, the Mavs swung around and led 89-76 with 6:30 or so left in the fourth quarter. Fourteen Wade points later, and the Mavs had unraveled in the face of a 22-7 run that won Miami game 3 and started them on the way to a title. The goat: Jerry Stackhouse. His poor shot selection, bad shots, sloppy ballhandling, and cluelessness during that Heat run helped turn the series around.

So congrats to Riles, the Heat, and especially Alonzo Mourning (if you can, catch his inspiring discussion of what the title means to him for working back to become a solid role player after suffering massive kidney problems that cut short the apex of his career six years ago).

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