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Wrapping up the 2011 NBA Playoffs

Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki walks with his MVP trophy and a bottle of champagne after the Mavericks won the NBA Championship defeating the Miami Heat in Miami, June 12, 2011. At right an assistant is carrying the Larry O’Brien Championship trophy (R). REUTERS/Joe Skipper (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

In an attempt to put the final nail in the coffin that is the 2010-11 NBA season, it’s a good time to look back on the 2011 Playoffs and try to make sense of it all.

Let’s start with…

DIRK’S LEGACY

Easily the biggest winner of these Playoffs, Dirk has shrugged off charges that he was soft and/or a choker by leading the Mavs on one of the most epic postseason runs in recent history. Firing up the NBA StatsCube, we’ll find that Dirk averaged 47.5 points per 36 minutes in the clutch (game within five points with under five minutes to play). Not only did he score a ton, but he did it efficiently, shooting 54% from the field, 97% from the free throw line and 60% (!!) from long range. Even in Game 6, after a miserable 1-for-12 first half, Nowitzki had the mental toughness to go out and score 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the final 7:22. He’s never going to win as many championships as Larry Bird, but dynasties are a rarity these days (which favors Bird, historically speaking), so now the Bird/Nowtizki comparisons are legit.

CUBAN

Yes, he’s irritating. Most billionaires are. He made his fortune during the internet bubble and had enough sense to get out when the getting was good. He parlayed that into an NBA team, and is definitely a loudmouth outspoken, but in an age when team owners don’t always show a commitment to winning, Cuban has been more than willing to spend in his chase for a ring and in collecting all these aging All-Stars, he finally found a combination with enough grit, determination and defense to put his franchise player in a position to close the deal. Love him or hate him, he’s entertaining, and in a matchup with the Heat, he was most definitely the lesser of two evils. (And give him credit, when interviewed after the Game 6 win, he was quick to defer the spotlight. Classy move.)

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (R) celebrates with his family after the Mavericks beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 to win the NBA Finals basketball series in Miami, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Hans Deryk (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

KIDD, MARION

Jason Kidd didn’t do much stat-wise in the Finals, and seemed to turn the ball over a lot, but he hit a huge three towards the end of Game 5 and played tough defense on LeBron and Wade for the entire series. After leading the Nets to back-to-back Finals in the early ’00s, he finally got another chance at a ring, and played an important role, even at 38-years-old.

The Mavs got a similar contribution from Shawn Marion, who many left for dead after stints in Miami and Toronto. He helped score when Dirk was getting his rest and played inspired defense on LeBron and Wade at different points in the series. Dallas would not have won the title without The Matrix, especially once Caron Butler went down during the season.

THE JET

Other than Dirk, I can’t see a bigger winner (legacy-wise) in these Finals than Jason Terry. He jumped from also-ran status to clutch Finals performer — one who most definitely backed up his smack talk. He outplayed LeBron down the stretch and didn’t miss a free throw in the clutch in the entire Playoffs. When we look back on these Playoffs a decade from now, we’ll remember Dirk, the Jet, and the Heat’s disappointing performance.

THE BIG THREE

There’s plenty of time for LeBron to redefine his legacy, but this was not a good start. He was mediocre to bad in the fourth quarter for most of the series, and it sure doesn’t seem like this leopard is going to change his spots after tweeting that God decided that it just wasn’t his time to win a title. Um, okay. That doesn’t sound like a guy who is going to hone his post game (like MJ or Kobe) or spend all summer with a shooting coach to make his jumper more consistent.

As for Wade, he doesn’t get off scot-free after fumbling away a chance to tie Game 5 and dribbling the ball off his foot late in Game 6, but he already has a ring, so his legacy has a higher floor than LeBron. And it’s not like the guy didn’t produce — he averaged 27-7-5 and shot 55% from the field in the Finals.

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (L) and teammate LeBron James wait to leave the stadium after losing the NBA Championship to the Dallas Mavericks in Miami, June 12, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Skipper (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Lastly, let the record show that Chris Bosh played his best ball of the Finals when the chips were down. In the last three games, he averaged 21-8 on 55% shooting, and even hit the winning jumper in Game 3 after a rough shooting night. Bosh was something of a punchline during the season, but he came up big against the Bulls (23-8, 60% shooting) and did some damage in the Finals.

Where does Miami go from here? While some are arguing that Pat Riley should trade LeBron for Dwight Howard, this is certainly not the last we’ve seen of this trio. They made it to the Finals in their first try, and did it with a substandard supporting cast. I expect changes to be made, but I’d be shocked if any of the stars are moved.

Game 5 Reaction

Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki (C) dunks the ball between Miami Heats Mike Miller (L) and Chris Bosh (R) in the fourth quarter during Game 5 of the NBA Finals basketball series in Dallas, Texas June 9, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Sharp (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Gregg Doyel, CBSSports.com: It was a triple-double, if you’re into stats. But as LeBron James told us after Game 3, forget about the stats. Stats are for dummies. So let’s dig deeper than the 17 points, the 10 rebounds, the 10 assists, and let’s do what LeBron wants us to do. Let’s ask a better question. Hey, I have one: Anyone seen LeBron James? What happened to him? This James? The guy in these NBA Finals? Never seen him before. Never seen a LeBron James who refused to attack when someone like the shorter, slower, older Jason Kidd was guarding him. Never seen a LeBron who couldn’t make shots outside of 10 feet, or who wouldn’t get close enough to Jason Terry to stop him from shooting — and making — a 3-pointer with 33 seconds left on a night that Terry was locked in from long distance. This guy isn’t doing anything LeBron James did in the playoff series against Boston or Chicago, but the more I think about it, it’s him — the headband gives him away. He wears it at a tilt, but not because he’s sweating. Because he’s balding. The headband hides his receding hairline. And nothing can hide his receding game. The shrinkage continued in Game 5, shrinkage that started in Game 1 and Game 2, was mentioned after Game 3, and was acknowledged by most everyone else after Game 4. The shrinkage was so bad in Game 4 — James was so bad — that these 2011 NBA Finals stopped being about Miami and Dallas. Days ago the typical white noise generated by a championship series had been drowned out by the shrieking about LeBron.

Randy Galloway, Star-Telegram: It was another stretch run that seemed Hollywood scripted, which has become the norm in this series, and speaking of Hollywood, there was even bad acting by one of the NBA’s most noted actors, Dwyane Wade. His hip hurt. This is the same guy who blew off Dirk Nowitzki’s illness of Game 4 with “he’s a great player without all the dramatics.” What’s this? The drama queen of the league scoffing at someone else’s misfortune? Right back at ya, D-Wade. And where was your game when you were needed? With the Mavericks now up 3-2, the Heat will have to use home court, starting Sunday night in Miami, to rescue their egos and their reputations by winning twice.

Greg Stoda, Palm Beach Post: Before the game, the Heat insisted that it likes – wants? – the NBA Finals this way. It insisted that the challenge Dallas is providing makes more meaningful the emotional, psychological and physical tests Miami endured throughout the regular season and in earlier playoff rounds. Better, figured Wade, that adversity present itself. “That’s what we run on,” Wade said. “It wouldn’t feel right if it was (easy). “All the things we went through all year? If we had come out and won (4-0)? Really? All that for that? “This is what this team is used to. I always look forward to how we’re going to respond.” My guess is that there’s more rationalization than whole truth in those words, and the Heat is using whatever’s necessary to get through these worrisome nights. But it’s difficult to imagine Wade ever thinking that James would be at the root of Miami’s problems.

Kudos for Rick Carlisle

Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle reacts during his team’s play against the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals basketball series in Dallas, Texas June 7, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Jason Whitlock heaps praise on on Rick Carlisle for his coaching in Game 4:

He did crazy (stuff). He inserted J.J. Barea into the starting lineup. Barea has been a nightmare in the Finals. He can’t finish at the rim. He can’t knock down open perimeter shots. He left his game in the Western Conference playoffs.

Carlisle went with Barea to change his rotation and rest Shawn Marion. With Barea in the lineup, DeShawn Stevenson would come off the bench and defend Wade or LeBron James.

Carlisle also tied Peja Stojakovic to the bench. Peja left his shot in Los Angeles. The few minutes Carlisle would have wasted on Peja, he gave to Brian Cardinal. Well, at least “The Custodian” didn’t turn the ball over and escort a Heat offensive player to the rim.

The Barea and Cardinal moves didn’t really pan out. That’s fine. Down 2-1 and with Dirk sick, a coach has to try something.

And Carlisle did find minutes for Stevenson. In Dallas’ two victories, Stevenson has played a combined 48 minutes. In Dallas’ two losses, Stevenson has played 29 minutes. Stevenson played 26 minutes Tuesday. He knocked down three 3-pointers. He played solid defense on James and Wade.

Where Carlisle really made his mark Tuesday was in the fourth quarter, when he mixed in some zone defense. The Heat scored only 14 points in the final 12 minutes. The zone slowed Wade’s penetration, and it masked Nowitzki’s exhaustion.

Carlisle coached a masterpiece.

Carlisle definitely deserves some credit as Dallas came up big last night. But this is a crafty, veteran team that never gives up, and that, along with LeBron’s Houdini act, had just as much to do with the outcome.

Is it over already?

Miami Heat’s LeBron James (C) goes up to shoot between Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki (L) of Germany and Tyson Chandler (R) during the second half in Game 1 of the NBA Finals basketball series in Miami, May 31, 2011. REUTERS/POOL/Larry W. Smith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

News like this makes you wonder whether Dallas has a chance.

A torn tendon in superstar Dirk Nowitzki’s left middle finger made the Dallas Mavericks’ Game 1 loss to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals on Tuesday night a little more painful.

Nowitzki suffered the injury when he was called for a foul after stripping Miami’s Chris Bosh with 3:44 remaining in the fourth quarter.

“I thought I stripped him clean, then I kind of looked down and I couldn’t straighten my finger out anymore,” said Nowitzki, who had 27 points on 7-of-18 shooting as the Mavs fell behind in a series for the first time this postseason. “So I tore a tendon in there. I guess it will be all right. I have to wear a splint probably the rest of the playoffs.”

Nowitzki, who is averaging 28.3 points per game in the playoffs, said X-rays on the finger were negative.

He downplayed concern about the injury, pointing out that it’s on his non-shooting hand.

The Mavs have to find a way to win game 2 in Miami. Hitting their threes would help . . . .

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