Posts Tagged ‘LeBron James’

One of the greatest NBA Finals is in the books, and the Dallas Mavericks finished up business in a manner that belies how competitive of a series it began as. By the second half of game 6, the Mavs were in sync so well that it seemed like the everything that left their hands was dropping straight in, “Pleasantville” style. There was so much to this series that it can’t possibly be summed in just a few sections here.

But here you have it, the CHEAP SEAT’S final word on what all took place between the Mavericks and Miami Heat, and why the name with the brightest lights means nothing if it doesn’t have something behind it.

In the end, the numbers game was too much to deny the Mavericks their first world title.

TRUTH #1-ALL FOR ONE, PLUS ONE: From the outset of these Finals, my word has been that the Mavericks where the better team, however overcoming the high ceiling All-Stars on Miami would be too much of a task. Well the last two games of the Finals proved the greatest truth of the NBA: superstars shine, but the better team always wins. In the course of this series both elements proved true on repeat, with the names on the marquee taking their time shining, but it took the total team K.O. that the Mavs gathered up that in the end made the series look like a major mismatch. This was the best total team win for the ring since the Detroit Pistons took out the Lakers in 2004. Simply put, 10 determined players with a mission will always beat out three high ceiling players every time. When you combine that with an amazing run by Dirk Nowitzki, they had every element needed to take the series. Most importantly, they And while nobody picked the Mavericks coming into the season, and even headed into this series, in the end it makes all the sense in the world why they are where they are now.

 

TRUTH #2-MIND OF MATTER, MATTERS: Outside of failures to protect leads or close out, the Heat on repeat defeated themselves in another way as well: they continued to feed the Mavericks with more and more reasons to want to beat them. There has been no team that has had a bigger target on its back this season, even the formerly defending champs in L.A. But what became increasingly evident and just became laughable in the end is that the Mavericks not only were not scared of the Heat, they were driven into not even respecting them. What’s the worst part about this is that it was created by the “team leaders” of the Heat in LeBron and Wade. The Mavericks stayed in their ears while they gave them their best shot, and took the slaps across the face like Hulk Hogan going into manic mode. It just made them stronger. Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson basically told LeBron he wasn’t going to beat them, and in the end, it seemed like they convinced him of just that.

Nowitzki used fewer words than his opponents, but turned theirs into his advantage.

And that plays into exactly what happened in the end: one half talked the walk…and then got walked all over. On the flipside, Dirk Nowitzki, the target of much of the antics and shenanigans around the series said little to nothing and just went to work. He followed that model all the way to the end of his work year and walked right off the floor after washing his hands of LeBron, Wade and their sideshow antics…and didn’t extend a hand to either after defeating them. The example for everything the Heat need to learn was right in their face the whole time, until he was done with them. Then he had no words for them, just a few more trophies and a winner’s legacy to redefine his career. Pay attention kids.

 

TRUTH #3-WHAT ARE WE WITNESSING? Inevitably, in the end it all comes back to LeBron. Such is his place in the game that he even takes the spotlight from one of the great Playoff performances ever from Dirk and one of the most impressive runs ever to a title by the Mavericks. What was proven without a doubt is that LeBron James is not ready to win right now. His debut trip to the Finals with a team designed from the floor up around him will be characterized by perfect non-attendance in the fourth quarter, a playing up off-court rumors and the largest overall fall off in points production from regular season to the Finals in NBA history (-8.9 points difference). He looked out of it, like he couldn’t bring together all of the skills that have twice made him the best player of the first 82, and worse…it looked like he didn’t know how nor want to even.

This series made me thinking about the part in Superman II when Superman lost all of his powers and got his lunch handed to him in the bar by some trucker guy. Even saw himself bleed for the first time. That’s what we just saw here with LeBron, he got put out on front street, tried to dig down and become the guy he thought he was, only to find out in a hurry he didn’t have it in him…and got flowed for six games in a very aggressive fashion, leaving all questions and no answers.

However, that same situation can play true to what could become, on a few different levels. LeBron can let this series give him the Clark Kent, or worse…Christopher Reeves treatment, and be beaten to crippled by the beating. Or he can gut down, learn something, realize what his potential is and grow up for the final time behind this loss. Superman went back, regained his poise and confidence in his skills and then and handled the guy that knocked him down before. He either will make folks “Witnesses” or continue to be one to everybody else making the name for themselves that he is supposed to be creating for himself.

LeBron has to learn from his many mistakes in the last two weeks to make the final jump to what he is supposed to be.

 

Sincerely,

A guy that wakes up and has his own set of problems, but doesn’t get folded in by them, Clark.

 

Follow me on Twitter for more on the NBA (maybe…if this isn’t the last game for a while) and more at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

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The most common prediction for this series I ran across was Heat in six. The way the Mavericks played last night, that may be the right prediction, with the wrong team attached. Coming into this series, no total team had played better in the Playoffs than Dallas, yet that form hadn’t found them in the Finals until last night. Every single element of the Mavs was clicking and when combined with Dirk Nowitzki continuing his tear through the nets, it buried the Heat consistently all night.

However, the biggest story line was the rebound of LeBron James from his drought the previous game. He did bounce back in an impressive overall fashion, however in the end he still wasn’t there to fend off the onslaught the Mavericks closed out with to put them ahead going into the final phase of these amazing Finals. Today in 3 Truths, what happened to revive the Mavericks and put them in place to pull off one of the most impressive team runs in NBA history, and why once again the Heat are left with way more unanswered questions than should even be able to be asked.

 

TRUTH #1-SOAP OPERA STARS: For as great of a series as this has been on the court, it’s been just as petty off the court. A very definition of a role player, DeShawn Stevenson, has been the biggest mouth in the series, discussing the actions of players that are at least three levels above whatever it is he stands for in the NBA. That never sets right with me, because it’s like children getting involved in grown folks business. Go sit in the other room and wait for Dirk to call you for dinner; you aren’t even capable of feeding yourself, so get out the kitchen.

Instead of doing the mocking, Wade and James are one game short of being on the receiving end now.

On the other hand, the exact opposite is happening on the other bench. The leaders of the Heat, in LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, are as focused on making a mockery of Dirk Nowitzki’s injury and the coverage it has received. Is this what they should really be focused on, while Wade is giving 1000% yet still barely winning when he does and LeBron coming off a tragically impotent performance? Also, yet again rumors of LeBron’s womenfolk going under (literally perhaps) and taking him along with it? All the Heat has in the end are these two, and since they already can’t get it together on the floor, making fun of a guy that’s having one of the greatest Playoff runs ever shouldn’t be on their list of things to do. Maybe one of them should step up like Chris Bosh or Udonis Haslem has in the final 20 seconds and to attempt to stop him. That would be a role more fitting of who they fancy themselves as instead of being court jesters…that are a win away from being the laughingstock of the NBA themselves.

 

TRUTH #2-ALL TOGETHER NOW: On the floor, something that was no laughing matter in Miami happened: Dallas owned every area of the floor. The Mavericks played their game completely for the first time in the series, and the results were clear. They walked away with the biggest win of any game thus far in the series, with every element of the team coming together. Dirk led the way as usual, but this time the scoring load was from just his responsibility. Jason Terry hit 20 points for the first time, but most importantly, his accuracy improved, especially from deep.

Terry's revival capped the Mavericks getting back to the form that landed them here.

Overall, 5 Mavs hit double figures, with Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler and JJ Barea finally breaking out of a series long slump and regaining the form that made him a major x-factor in the Thunder series. This led the top scoring performance of the series, and when combined with superb defense all night, the Mavs played the best game either team has mustered the entire series. They used their last home game of the season as best as they possibly could and gained much needed momentum as they attempt to finish the series on the road.

 

TRUTH #3-DO FOR SELF: LeBron got numbers, as a triple-double is a triple-double, either way you slice it. But what still didn’t return was his assertiveness in getting them, especially while Dwyane Wade spent much of the second and third quarter in the locker room. The Heat needed him in attack mode, going after the rim like a pit bull after a crippled mailman. It never came; not when Wade was out, nor in during the fourth quarter where he was still but a “Witness” to the action himself.

LeBron's overall numbers improved, yet the song remains the same when the spotlight was at its brightest.

His great talent has always been that he can impact virtually every aspect of the game, however what is needed now is his to narrow that focus and put up serious points. Not on three pointers and fade aways, rather flying at the rim and getting to the emphasis points and/or free throws. He seems to think the flow of the series will come to him over time and he’ll find his way. Well in the course of waiting for that to find him, the Mavericks have taken control of it for themselves and now are on the verge of keeping it. LeBron would be best served by thinking of the “I” if he really wants to help the team…before it’s too late.

(LeBron got numbers…but they came on the outskirts…Wade came back…but it was awkward and too late….the Heat need LeBron to go against his focus on enabling some and going for the rim….Wade’s health needs it, he’s not that guy anymore)

When you look back at this series in a few years, or maybe even next week, Game 4 will stand out as the defining game of the series, one way or another. From a team perspective, if Dallas doesn’t win you can chalk it up. If Miami wins, they show their fortitude by coming into Dallas snatching two quick road wins. On the other hand, there are the performances of the top billed stars. Dwyane Wade keeps hammering the Mavs like a hurricane, but fumbles away his chance at a historic closing chance. Dirk Nowitzki’s heroics now beat the clock…and illness. Chris Bosh keep reasserting himself. And LeBron James has a funeral in the middle of the game…for himself (but I’m not even sure if he showed up for that).

That last part is major and tells the whole story of everything else that went on, has been debated and will paint the picture of everything going forward. But for now it frames why this series is tied up and is headed to what could be a race to the finish. Will the Heat’s co-star regain top billing, or did he doe irreparable damage to his standing (and legacy)? Has the Mavericks confidence and home support been repaired to the point that, as a unit, they now know they can win this thing again? There’s a lot that Game 4 told…and opens up a Pandora’s Box of scenarios. Today in 3 TRUTHS I’m taking on all of the major plot lines that showed their faces, varying from ugly to promising to downright horrible on Tuesday.

TRUTH #1-LeLOST: Where do you start? The numbers are clear and were already beaten Washington Generals-level dead before the game even ended, so let’s go beyond that. I’m going at exactly how it happened. LeBron stood around at the top of the key and dribbled back and forth non-stop, and was often hard to spot in the flow of the game. Now stop, that’s what stands out to me the most: just how much he didn’t stand out. He was timid. Even in the light of the larger than life effort by Dwyane Wade, it was still the loudest silence I’ve heard in long time. Matter of fact he disappeared, and when he resurfaced the results show one of the absolute worst performances for a leading man in Finals history.

Even in November that would’ve been unacceptable performance, but now it’s magnified to a major level. LeBron is no stranger to the spotlight, but the effort he put up on Tuesday was the first time I ever saw him basically drop back from it. He’s not the first major superstar to have a game like this in the Finals, as once again, the Jordan comparisons are inappropriate (a look at Magic Johnson’s clutch failings early on paint nearly the exact picture as LBJ currently). The main difference: Magic proved he could win already, he had climbed the mountain that LeBron looks like he’s on the edge of falling off right now. However, he put himself in a unique position that breeds unparalleled expectation. This is the position he forced himself to get to from the moment from the second he aligned himself with the Heat and immediately made them the spectacle they are. So to get here, and continually decrease your profile in the Finals to the point where you nearly have to get out a flashlight and search and rescue dogs just find out if he even played? Nah, this is plain unacceptable. 25-year-old ex-MVPs cannot become zombies in the Finals. No exceptions. While it’s far too early to look at this as a deciding point in his career, it is a mark that he must overcome now, once again, in a similar fashion that Magic did in route to re-establishing himself.

LeBron can't hide from how bad that performance looked...and his legacy may not be able to either

In the end, the issue is that great players are expected to step up and be undeniable forces in close games, especially in during the pinnacle series of the season. However, so far LeBron has managed nine points in 48 minutes of fourth quarter basketball in the Finals. And like it or not, that is the only reason the NBA season is still going on right now. You got to carry that weight LeBron, because you asked for it.

TRUTH #2 – MORE FOR LESS: This series is playing closer than any Finals series in history, so the first 40 minutes have become basically nothing more than the undercard to what is on deck in the end: how far ahead can the Heat get before Dirk inevitably starts his Blitzkrieg (I’d been want to work that reference in all series, I’m relieved now).  In a complete opposite take on what was just relayed about the life and times of LeBron in the last 48 minutes, Dirk has total 44 points in the fourth quarter thus far. That’s right, nearly a point a minute ridiculously efficient output. And the biggest issue may have become in this series for the Heat may have become not stopping Dirk, but how far ahead can they get before the inevitable charge he leads comes. They may just have accept the fact they can’t stop him from getting his late, and just do everything humanly possible to try to limit it instead.

At this point, even King Koopa probably can't slow Dirk up down the stretch. He should just wear this fit tonight instead.

By limiting it, I don’t mean trying to play tougher defense against him, because clearly that’s not possible anymore (seriously, he’s playing like he gets the invincible star from Mario to start every fourth quarter now). By limiting him, they’ll have to get ahead by so many that even Dirk can’t bring them back. But for that to be, it all comes back to LeBron once again and if he can find a way to play with D. Wade and share the clutch minutes as much has he does headlines. The only game they successfully “Dirk-proofed” was Game 1, when they turned the last two minutes into an 2-on-8 fast break show and pulled off the biggest margin of victory of the series yet. So even saving them from Dirk is all in LeBron’s hands, which right now, is a scary proposition.

TRUTH #3 – ALMOST FAMOUS:  Despite the big name successes and failures ringing out the loudest after Game 4, for the majority of Tuesday the biggest noise in Dallas was made by the supporting cast that was coming to play finally. Other than Dirk, team depth was a great strength for Dallas coming into the series, but it had not shown itself at all yet and they had labored along due to it for much of the first three games. However, with Nowitzki struggling from a high fever most of the game, it was a must that the rest of the Mavs finally step up and shoulder some of the burden, collectively. Shawn Marion has been putting in work each game, but has often been the only supporting member of the deep Mavs squad to show up. Tyson Chandler inserted himself on the glass finally, and his 16 rebounds were the first time he completely dominated the glass in the series. His presence shifted what had been a great advantage for the Heat: control of the glass on both ends of the floor.

If Chandler's rebirth can spark the rest of the supporting Mavs, they may be about to take series control.

Chandler’s reemergence was just the first step in Dallas being able to make a legit run at taking the two of the next three games in this tied up and restarted series. Jason Terry has to get more shots falling earlier on so the Mavs can establish real leads to protect. But most critical is Jason Kidd has to find a way to get the ball to everyone in smarter places. Dirk is the only player capable of creating his own shot, so the rest of the Mavericks are waiting on Kidd find his self, and find them. The outcome of the next three games (and I’m calling a seven games now), may hinge on it.

While the series shifted from one American Airlines supported venue to another (Center to Arena) and to Dallas, it was nearly a complete repeat of the previous game in Miami. The Heat break out early, have a dunk contest and get way ahead. Then Dallas chips away at that lead, and finally gives it to only Nowitzki to close it out.

The only difference came this time in that Chris Bosh was given shooting the last shot duty, as opposed to defending it, and Dirk didn’t make his last second suspense-filled jumper to bring the Mavs back, and the Heat survived to pull ahead 2-1. But what’s really going on? Game 3 was so similar to Game 2 because there are some definite factors and identities that have been developed between these two teams that are pushing it in down the same avenues over and over again. Who do they favor? Can the Mavs continue to live inch by inch and do the Heat have what it takes to drive the stake into them and keep them down?

Here’s my 3 TRUTHS on those issues and a few more.

 

TRUTH #1 – GAME OF INCHES: So far this series has been remarkably close, with no game not being decided in the last two minutes. Games 2 and 3 were nearly twins, with just a style. The type of affair where you’d think your DVR messed up if not for the last 30 seconds. However, there’s a lot more to it than just the game of tag it has appeared to be so far. Game 3 established one major consistency that does not bode well for the Mavericks winning three more games this year: they cannot build on their leads.

Bosh looked much better taking the last shot instead of defending it, and it made the difference in the game.

Dallas has been playing catch up all series and are keeping it just close enough for Dirk’s one man show to pull them back into it (he scored 9 consecutive to end Game 2 and went on a 12 point spree to pull Game 3 even). That’s not the way to get a championship run done; just ask the Indiana Pacers of the 90’s. The Heat have been able to play for too comfortably for too long and that’s why it seems like they are always up by a million regardless of what is on the scoreboard. Somehow, Dallas has to play like the last two minutes starting in the first two, and no time better than the present to make it happen, at home with the fan motivation. But…..

 

TRUTH #2 – MOTIVATION: The Mavs are falling behind because they are a mixture of flat (basically anybody not

Cuban changing approach could be the spark the Mavs need.

named Dirk or Marion), confused (Rick Carlisle) or sedated (surprisingly, Mark Cuban). However, while it led to their downfall once, the Heat have been fired up the whole series, and their style of play as shown it. I’m going to take this one off the floor and say the biggest catalyst they could use is a fired up, intense Mark Cuban. Make your boys sweat out there Mark, you’re the biggest sideline presence in the game. Like vintage Spike Lee, only with the power to actually get under the refs skin and put the fear of leaving the luxurious lands of the Dallas Mavericks locker room in your players. At this point something has to give, and if the page is going to turn on this series it’s going to have to come from a spot on the bench that isn’t required to shoot or defend, just yell and write checks.

 

TRUTH #3 – THE DAGGER: So far LeBron has been doing the in-between work, playing a much lower profile game than usual (aside from a truly disrespectful dunk every quarter or so. I wonder if anybody has reclaimed Ian Mahinmi’s soul yet after Bron Shang Tsung’ed it with that dunk on Sunday). He’s played a game where he’s embraced the Scottie Pippen-type of role: making the assist, playing masterful defense and second hand scorer (an a step back from his role as the 2nd leading scorer in the League this year and Chicago Bull killer). His handling of the details has played a major role in Dwyane Wade being able to focus on being an outright carnivore against each severe mismatch that keeps get fed to him by the Mavs.

LeBron making more impacts like he did over Mahinmi could be what finally breaks Dallas' spirits.

However, coming out of Game 3 and looking forward, a visit from the Bulls series version of LeBron could break the Mavericks spirits. No player in the league finishes at the rim with the style he does, and if it can be found in the flow of the game (and still secondary to Wade’s all-out onslaught thus far), it could be the dagger in Dallas’ spirits. LeBron did a great job of constructing and playing within the best overall team performance of the series from Miami in Game 3, but now that they have the lead again, he’s got to go for the throat. Dallas will have to adjust their focus to be heavy on Wade in Game 4, he’s just doing way too much damage to them the way they are approaching him now. This equals more openings for LeBron in getting looks at the rim, and that’s the poison of playing the Heat: you have to give up a lot to stop a lot. If LeBron focuses this into attacking like Juggernaut for 4 quarters tonight, Game 5 may just be a formality.

 

For more on this, in-game rants and outtakes for Game 4, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360

A subplot of these NBA Finals taking place is that they feature three highly decorated former MVPs, that while have received many accolades for their play in their careers, have also received a fair amount of criticism for what they haven’t gotten: a Championship.

LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd have all had indisputably great careers, yet haven’t been able to reach the summit yet. Each is at a different point in their pursuit of the top prize the game has to offer: LeBron is young and looking to fulfill his unparalleled expectation (or at least start the road towards doing so), Dirk is out to kill a reputation of being a playoff flop, and Kidd trying to take full advantage of what could be his last opportunity to add the final piece to his resume.

Besides these three, there have been many distinguished careers that have never taken home a ring. So today in THE LINEUP, I’ll be ranking the top 10 (or 11…) players that never were the last standing guy at the end of the season. One way or another, someone will be removed from this list at the end of this year’s Finals, but some will never have the opportunity to correct this slight…who’s the best runner up ever?

 

10. REGGIE MILLER

Best Shot: 2000 vs. the Lakers

For all of his legendary moments, they couldn't pull him in the biggest win of them all.

Tough luck will be a reoccurring theme here, and it rarely gets any tougher than what Reggie Miller faced in his career-long battle trying to get out the East. His battles with the Knicks seemed like Finals showdowns when you look back at them, but the closest he actually got is a lot less memorable. After all the years of not getting over the Knicks or the Jordan era, his Pacers finally broke through in 2000….just to run into Shaq at the height of his power. That was the pinnacle of the tough breaks for one of the best postseason performers ever.

 

9. JASON KIDD

Best Shot: 2011 vs. the Heat (Right Now)

He is currently the record-holder of the most consecutive postseasons without a title at 14, and right now he is in the middle of the best chance he has had yet to end that undesirable record. His first visit to June basketball was the pinnacle of the great point guard acts in League history, taking the Nets from last to first, but to true join the ranks of the elite court generals he needs to pull this year’s tilt.

 

8. NATE THURMOND

Best Shot: 1967 vs. the Sixers

Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity. Well that’s what it had to feel like the non-Celtics in the NBA of 1960’s trying to get a shot at a title that didn’t involve going through Boston. A lot of guys had to wait in line to get their number called for a championship during Bill Russell’s reign in Boston. And a lot of guys did get their chance afterwards, but he caught a break that few others did: he made it to the Finals in the one year between 1957 and 1969 (crazy) that they actually didn’t make it. What was his reward? Wilt Chamberlain and the 1967 Sixers who had set the single season wins record over the course of that year.

 

7. DIRK NOWITZKI

Best Shot: 2006 vs. the Heat

This could very well be Dirk’s redemption show we are watching right now, but his first trip to the end of the road he basically got carjacked while pulling into his spot on Championship Lane. The Mavs jumped out to a two game lead, and then Dwyane Wade went into a berzerker rage of 30 and 40 point games in one of the great Finals performances ever and sent Dirk home in a hurry. But since he’s wearing the cape this postseason, there’s a chance he’ll get to exact the same type of revenge on Wade right now.

 

6. PATRICK EWING

Best Shot: 1994 vs. the Rockets

If there is any career that could have used one championship, just one, it’s Ewing’s. He arrived with more expectations in the League than any other player before LeBron James (more on that later). He was the great college hero, the franchise center that landed in the league’s biggest spotlight in New York. While he took the Knicks to a longer stretch of success than they ever had, he never got over the top. And his career in review is more defined by never winning than anybody else’s thus far.

Despite being very close many times, Ewing never closed out on a badly needed championship.

 

5. ALLEN IVERSON

Best Shot: 2001 vs. the Lakers

This isn’t A.I.’s fault; he was a MAJOR victim of circumstance. He was a force of nature in the Playoffs, averaging 29.7 in his postseason career places him second to only Jordan. However, while the NBA is definitely a league where one player can win games, solo act shows do not win championships, and Iverson may have played with less talent over his career than any other dominant player ever.

 

4. LeBRON JAMES

Best Shot: 2011 vs. the Mavs (Once again, right now)

It’s hard to categorize LeBron’s career yet, because there’s been no other career quite like his yet. However, he is a two-time MVP and a talent unlike any player before, so the championships have to be factored in the equation on him. He reached the Finals in 2007, but played the absolute worst team a first time player could run into in the Spurs. To really etch his place in history though he has to get them (plural), however he’s 25 years old and has at least another decade left to his career. I don’t see much as sure bets, but whether it’s this year or not, he won’t end his career on this list. He just can’t.

 

3. CHARLES BARKLEY

Best Shot: 1993 vs. the Bulls

Barkley's best wasn't enough to overcome the highs of peers primes.

Chuck was the best power forward an era full of great ones. However, no matter what mountain he climbed it all ended up with having to answer to Jordan, and that was a question that didn’t have an answer. He was at his very best when he ran into the Bulls in ’93, his debut season in Phoenix. However, despite piloting the deeper team, in the end it wasn’t enough. That was his best shot, the Rockets overtook them at the top of the West after that and after that point he was never the same player again. And then Mike came back again. But Chuck was so good that he’s one of the only guys that still get as much respect without a ring as he probably would have with one.

 

2. ELGIN BAYLOR

Best Shot: 1972 vs. the Knicks (when the Lakers actually won)

It doesn’t get any worse than this. Elgin Baylor was a boss of epic proportions. There’s never been another player quite like him since; a 6’5 small forward who averaged over 24 points and 13 rebounds a game for his career, as well as four consecutive years of 32 points or better a night in the Playoffs. He pushed the great Celtics dynasty to a seventh game three different times, but never could close them out. However, he may have been forced the bitterest pill of them all along the road to no-ringdom. In 1972, he was forced to bow out of the season after nine games due to a knee injury. That year’s Laker club went on to set the record for most consecutive wins in history and finished the year as champions; Baylor didn’t participate in either effort.

I don’t know what hurts more, that end of his career or what followed it: 20+ years as the GM of the Clippers. It’s a crap shoot, literally.

 

1. KARL MALONE and JOHN STOCKTON

Best Shot: 1998 vs. the Bulls

No combo was better for longer, than Stockton and Malone, but it never led to a closing out a title.

The game’s most productive duo ever; their careers are so intertwined that they have to get equal billing here. They put up ridiculous numbers, and made the Playoffs every season from 1985 to 2003. Despite Stockton setting the NBA records for most assists and steals and Malone winning two MVPs while they played together, they never got over the hump together. They took the Bulls to six games in consecutive Finals, and had their best shot in ’98 when they potentially could have hosted the last two games at home in Salt Lake City. However, that shot was end by “The Shot” taken by; once again, the previously and multiply mentioned Michael Jordan, as the Bulls won game six and ended the last chance Malone and Stockton had to win a ring together.

By Matt Whitener for CHEAP.SEATS.PLEASE.

 

Last night, the NBA Finals took on the exact drama that it needed…eventually. The Heat basically dominated three and a half quarters of the game. They played with such as style that it seemed like they were up by a thousand most of the time, even if it really was just something like eight. And that’s where the story of the game takes form: that things were definitely not what they seemed. In the end, the Mavericks showed why they have been able to fight their way to this point. Their vets stepped up (in proper fashion and deference no less) when needed to close out the Heat and take home court advantage from them right before the road takes them back to Dallas, now with a series that sits at even.

Nowitzki turned it on the most at the right time, and KO'd the wobbly Heat with the game's last 9 points.

However, there are both interesting side plots developing along with some major indicators that speak to each team’s strengths and weakness that were showcased in the opening two games. If game 2 was a proper measuring stick of the balancing act of this series, there will be a lot of fireworks on deck down in Texas. For now, let’s get into what was definitely proven to me in Thursday night’s bonanza.

 

TRUTH #1-PROTECT YA NECK: The Heat showed repeatedly last night that they can get out on runs (literally) and put some definite distance between themselves and the Mavs. Half of the game looked like a dunk contest that only LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were invited too. Behind this and basically taking the ball on the other end of the court whenever they wanted for a while (15 Miami steals including seven from LBJ/Wade), they roared out to several big leads.

A failure to close left LeBron and Heat with no answers, and a lost home court advantage as well.

However, these leads never stood up for long, and the Mavericks paced themselves, and continued to chip away at each big moment until, boom, they put themselves in the driver’s seat at the exact right moment to close it out and leave Miami with no time to match them. The Heat can be as dashing and exciting as they want to be, but if they only can do it in shifts, they will not be able to beat a team as solid overall as the Mavs. If anything is proven here today, it’s the number one thing I said here they must avoid to win out in this series back on Tuesday. You have to get them down, and keep them down, and that’s a lot easier said than done, especially when Dirk Nowitzki is in the picture.

 

TRUTH #2-SHAWN MARION IS UNCONSCIOUS: The biggest ex-factor for the Mavericks thus far has been the resurgence of Shawn Marion. He has been the only consistent non-German member wearing blue and without his effort, especially his 20-point, 8 rebound, 3 assist performance last night, the Mavs wouldn’t have been close in any of these games. He has been able to attack the rim and get assert himself in the open court like he’s back in Phoenix again. Most importantly, he’s continues to be a timely rebounder, which is invaluable considering the absence-while-present performance of Tyson Chandler around the rim so far. Also his half court defense of LeBron has been invaluable in keeping him somewhat contained in Game 2. Dirk was the MVP last night for putting the weight of the world on his shoulders in the last two minutes, but for much of the 41 minutes he played last night, no Mav was more important than Marion.

 

TRUTH #3-ACT LIKE HE’S BEEN THERE BEFORE: There is only one player on the Heat that has been a leading man in a championship before, and that’s Dwyane Wade. However, last night his often brash and celebratory actions after nearly each basket made him look like a novice that couldn’t believe what he was pulling off himself. Now I’m not taking this from him: he balled out last night. Plus if he had been given the chance to handle more of the closing act (once again, he was made to play second fiddle in the clutch, get only 2 shots in the last seven minutes), things may have been different. But this is exactly where and why he has step up and claim the team as his own right now.

Wade needs to take on the role of setting the example that Shaq did for him in route to his first championship, immediately.

Anybody that has watched this series should know he’s been the MVP of it thus far. But he has to act like it as well, and most importantly remind them (and maybe himself too) that he has been a Finals MVP that has led an improbable comeback by balancing an incredible level of play with a focused, level-headed approach. He’s got one half of that equation done already, now he to set the tone for the entire team on the other half has well. He can’t play to LeBron James’ tempo or Eric Spolestra’s either.  29-year-old Dwyane Wade better channel his 24-year-old self quickly and be the example the Heat have no choice but to follow behind, or the Mavs have proven they have the steadiness to wait for their opening, take it and take the W as well.

 

Follow me on Twitter for Finals outtakes, strategy and in-game reflections at @CheapSeatFan and @STLSport360. 

I usually reserve the 3 Truths tag for when something of controversy or major split opinion sporting news takes place, but there was just too much that happened in the game last night that made a really strong statement for me to pass on breaking it out today. So, I’m not even going to delay with the setup here (cause the Heat definitely didn’t), let’s get into it.

 

TRUTH #1-THE HEAT OWNED THE PAINT: The Mavericks aren’t a good rebounding team, mostly due to the fact that much of their advantage comes from the bevy of outside shooters they bring at you. However, if they want to stay in this thing, they have to get more from Tyson Chandler (4 rebounds in 34 minutes). Even if it just means keeping Chris Bosh honest around the rim. Overall, three Heat players totaled nine boards or better, while only Shawn Marion hit double figures on the other side. The most telling stat is the 16 offensive boards the Heat grabbed, while only surrendering 6 (one of which Brendan Haywood almost broke his arm trying to dunk back but getting severely hung…like, dude, you’re seven feet tall. Really?). If the Heat can own the area around the rim and live on put backs like the Mavs let them yesterday, this series won’t make it too far into next week.

Wade owned the glass for six more boards than Tyson Chandler. That can't happen again for the Mavs to make it.

TRUTH #2-WHERE WERE THE REST OF THE MAVS? The greatest advantage the Mavs have is their depth, as I discussed yesterday, their ability to deploy many different matchups and overall depth at is the best thing they have going. Well, they didn’t subscribe to that idea yesterday, as they only got 5 points from their non-Jason Terry bench. Peja Stojakovic, JJ Barea and Brendan Haywood combined to go 1 for 12 from the field, with nothing from behind the arc. Even Terry had a tough go at it, as he was surprisingly guarded by LeBron James much of the time and worked overtime hard to end up with the 12 points he did, going 3 for 10 from the field against his physically superior matchup.

If the other Mavs don't fill in their roles soon, Dirk could average 30 a game and it wouldn't be enough to pull it out.

The good news is that this most likely will not happen again, as they are too experienced to not adjust and find a way to impose themselves in the next few games, but the Heat did a masterful job of playing team defense and contesting the Mavericks all over the court.

TRUTH #3-DID THEY GIVE IT ALL THEY HAD? This game was close throughout, with the Heat only pulling away at the end; however that raised the biggest question of them all for me: could this just be the warm up for Miami? The Heat are closing games out as aggressive as any team I’ve seen in a while right now. In the last two minutes, LeBron and Dwyane Wade basically shredded the entire Mavericks team by themselves, concluding with a ridiculous NBA Jam-style oop that drove the dagger not just into Dallas chest, but through their back too. However, when I look at James (24 points on 9 of 16 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists) and Wade’s (22 points on 9 of 19 shooting, 10 rebounds and seven assists) stat lines, I just know they have even stronger efforts to turn in.

Despite a convincing 8-point win, could the Heat still be in route to widening that margin in game 2?

They did the majority of that damage in the second half, after a bit of a slow start from both clubs. However, there was nothing that Dallas was presenting that seemed to challenge them very much, even before they switched into fourth quarter overdrive. And this is all without mentioning how easily Chris Bosh asserted himself deep under the rim, which is definitely not his game.

I bring up all of that to lead to this: this isn’t the best effort they have in them on the offensive side. If the Big Three asserts itself in its fourth quarter fashion a bit early, continues to play stellar all around offense and the Mavericks don’t find some way to get those shots outside falling AND to throw their bodies around more underneath, this could be the shortest Finals since 2007….with a certain controversial Heat forward on the other end of the deal this time.