All-Access G5: Inside Mavs 100, Thunder 96
Please allow us to introduce the 2011 Western Conference Champions: your Dallas Mavericks.
Oklahoma City deserves a moment of respect. C'mon. Just a moment. Despite having their hearts ripped from their chests in Game 4 by the magnificence of Dirk Nowitzki and the pain of an epic collapse, they displayed an uncanny resiliency in Game 5 … until the Mavs again tore their still beating hearts from their still sore chests once again and showed no mercy as they closed the game with a 17-6 run to clinch a berth in the 2011 Finals.
THE TOP STORY: For the first time in the franchise's history, the Dallas Mavericks earned a Western Conference Finals trophy before their home crowd. Yet, there was no confetti raining down, catching in the sweat still clinging to the players' faces. No racing around the court in exuberant victory laps. No corks being popped. There was only a team that stands four wins away from their uncompromising goal.
Here. Take a front-row seat with DB.com ...
While we may have taken to leaping around our living rooms, or the space in our heads (for members of the press who are supposed to remain outwardly calm and collected with their unbiased viewpoints), the Mavs were not overwhelmed in the moment. In fact, if not for the throngs of reporters flooding the locker room and a handful of extra smiles, you would have been hard pressed to find evidence of what this team has just accomplished in the locker room … even the trophy sat alone, abandoned by the players.
The endgame is clear: the Mavs are four victories away from where they want to be, not at it.
Sure, they may look back on this time and smile, but that's for another day.
"I don't know what to say," Peja said, genuinely appearing to search for the words and finding none. "It's a great feeling, but you can't relax. You can enjoy it for a second, but we got to get ready in a few days."
A moment to dive into the implications of going where he's never been, to quickly embrace it, but then, just as quickly, Peja pulled back and turned towards what's to come.
"(Dirk) wants that trophy," Jason Terry said from his seat with a bundle of ice wrapped around his right forearm and elbow. "He wants it bad, and his teammates feel the same way."
So, while you let loose, take comfort in the fact that the team who must face the winner of the Heat/Bulls series isn't allowing their focus to wander, or their drive to soften.
Four more wins.
DOUBTING DIRK?!: Dirk may have had his most ineffective shooting fourth quarter of the series, hitting only two of his seven attempts. Yet, did you ever even doubt his 3 with 1:14 to play was going in?
Jason Terry didn't.
"I knew it was good," Terry said. "I knew it was good. You can't give him, a shooter like him, myself, Stojakovic, J-Kidd, two shots on the same possession. It just don't work like that. Percentages say he's going to make that nine times out of ten."
Who are we to question Jetometry?
Dirk's final stats: 26 points, 8-of-15 shooting, nine rebounds and two steals … again, considering the outcome, we'll dismiss the five turnovers, and the fact that he's averaged 5.3 per game over the last three contests … an aberration for the reliably sure-handed Nowitzki.
With 1:21 to play the Mavs found themselves down 94-92, Dirk lined up for a 3-pointer over Nick Collison from the top of the arc. The crowd stood in anticipation of what they collectively knew would be the shot to put Dallas ahead … only it bounced from the rim and into the hands of Russell Westbrook … but there was Tyson Chandler fighting to keep the possession alive.
"It was a huge play," Terry said, "but the bigger play than Dirk's 3, Dirk doesn't get that 3 if Tyson Chandler doesn't run in and get the rebound, so that was tremendous."
Westbrook went to the ground and lost the ball, which squirted behind him into the hands of Jason Terry, who quickly flipped it to Jason Kidd, who forwarded it on to its rightful destination; right back into the hands of The UberMan.
Dirk calmly rose once more, and this time, as the crowd's voice rose with him, they would be rewarded with the sight of the ball slipping perfectly through the net … putting the Mavs up for good, 95-94, with 1:14 to play.
In seven seconds, the last remaining hopes trying to cling to the Thunder tailed Dirk's shots and first rose and then crashed to the court.
"You can't give him, a shooter like him … two shots on the same possession. It just don't work like that," Terry said.
"It just don't work like that."
THERE'S NO UNPLUGGING THE MATRIX: In the two biggest games, and what may have been the biggest moment, of the season to this point, Shawn Marion has risen to the occasion with spectacular results.
In the all-important Game 3, with the series tied at one, he rode the anger handed to him by his teammates and scored 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
In Game 4, he climbed to deny Kevin Durant the chance at a last-second desperation heave in regulation.
In the series clinching Game 5, facing the prospects of granting the Thunder a reprieve on their season, a return of their confidence and a chance to head home to force a Game 7, Marion took the next step up the ladder.
He finished with 26 points, while going 10-of-17 from the floor, grabbed eight rebounds, three blocks and a steal. Fitting that it would be Marion racing up the open court beside Terry as the clock expired … he was everywhere else.
When Marion can put up better numbers than Kevin Durant, you have to like the Mavs' chances. Durant finished with 23 points on 8-of-20 shooting to go with nine rebounds.
After the first quarter, primarily guarded by the tandem of Marion and Jason Kidd, Durant scored only 11 points, being held to converting four of his 14 shot attempts.
Compare that to the 14 points, 5-of-8 shooting, three rebounds (two on the offensive end) and one steal ‘Trix had in the fourth quarter alone and you find an extremely favorable matchup for Dallas.
"(Marion) was spectacular for us," Dirk said. "For us, he's probably our best perimeter defender, he's long, he's active with his hands, and he was phenomenal the last couple games, really trying to make it hard."
CONSIDER THE BATTLE OF THE POINT GUARDS WON: It's not often you can look at the point totals of two players and be confident in saying the guy with two points vastly outplayed the guy with 31.
Russell Westbrook was the man with 31 points, though he needed 28 attempts to get there, hitting only 11.
Meanwhile, Kidd wasn't much better with his shot, hitting only 1-of-7 tries … and somehow, the gulf currently between these two wasn't a notion slyly slinking beneath the sightline of all but the most observant of eyes. It was blatant.
In the playoffs, within each game, within each series, the importance of moments tends to build, to crescendo to an intoxicating high. It's in these moments that the winners are chosen … and it's in these moments that Kidd absolutely abused Westbrook.
It wasn't always when directly matched up with each other, but in the overall impact on the game.
"Oh, (that late rebound by Kidd) was tremendous," Terry said. "That was huge, but little plays like that throughout the game, the team that wins that battle usually wins the game, and I thought for tonight, for the most part, we won that battle."
When the Mavs were desperate for a defensive play, it was again Kidd stripping the ball. When the ball seemed to find its way everywhere but into the hands of Dirk, it was Kidd who took control and redirected the offense to where it needed to be, even if it needed to be with Marion in the low post.
Kidd wrapped his hands around the crescendo at its highest point and molded it into what it had to be … what it must have been for Dallas to claim the victory.
In this most important of capacities, he left Westbrook years behind … perhaps 16 years behind.
Kidd may have given only those two points, but added 10 assists, seven rebounds, one steal and only one turnover. Oh, and there were numerous occasions when he poked his forefinger at his temper in a gesture that garnered the attention of mates.
"Think!'' he was telling them, pointing out his own BBIQ.
WHY NO OVER-CELEBRATING?: Ask D-Steve:
"Dirk got on us in LA ...'' And that's why there's no over-celebrating.
DON'T FORGET THE SMALLEST GUY ON THE COURT: For moments in the first two quarters, as the Thunder were being given every chance to put some space between themselves and the Mavs on the scoreboard, it was the smallest guy on the court who burst out with six much needed points by attacking the interior of the defense.
He posted 11 points in the first half, and made did his best to kick-start a floundering offense. Outside of Marion and Dirk, who were a combined 4-of-4 from the floor in the first quarter, the rest of the Mavs had hit only 5-of-20 shot attempts.
If not for a five-point push from JJB Barea in just over two minutes of play, the deficit would have easily been more than the 27-26 score it was.
Barea ended with 14 points, four rebounds, five assists and one steal. … to almost the four-minute mark, Dallas made a push using him in The 3-PG Attack ... and Mr. Universe exits this series as a "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Barea'' issue that Scott Brooks never quite unlocked. Nate Robinson on him? First-game fail. Maynor on him? Last-game fail.
THE NBA HIGHLIGHTS PACKAGE: Bask in it ...
MAVSELLANEOUS: The Eastern Conference Champion will have homecourt in the 2011 NBA Finals, as both the Heat (58-24) and the Bulls (62-20) finished with a better record than the Mavericks (57-25) during the 2010-11 regular season. Miami leads the series with Chicago, 3-1. … Dallas is taking Thursday off, as you might imagine. "Any time you can get rest this time of year is a bonus," said Kidd, 38. "For us to close it out here is huge." … We won't name names here, but a certain media outlet apparently took some Haywood comments out of context. So now Big Wood is saying "LOL'' after his more humorous remarks as a safeguard. … Dirk's lack of desire for attention was never more obvious than when Cuban had to shove The UberMan to the front of the postgame pile to make sure he was properly positioned in the ceremonial photos. … The interior attacks launched against Tyson Chandler were vicious and frustrating and maybe even a little intimidating. But they were so out of the realm of "basketball play'' that in the end, they killed OKC. The Thunder would've been better off instructing Ibaka to play the game properly, and would've been better off instructing Kendrick Perkins to go sit in the stands and pay to watch like all the other non-athletes in the building. … Dirk averaged 11.8 points in the fourth for the series, and he averaged 32.2 points in total. … "He's a man on a mission,'' Chandler says of The UberMan. … Mavs owner Mark Cuban took the postgame microphone and yelled, "We ain't done yet!'' And by gum, that's about all he said before chugging over to hug his children and good for him … Kidd wore dark blue shoes. Maybe a trick to make him look older and slower? ... Trendy Dirk: Some of the Mavs now give each other "high-threes,'' touching a thumb and two fingers to mimic Dirk's post-3 signal ...
JET'S DRIVEN, TOO: Remember "CTC''? And Jason Terry's off-season workouts? He was there in 2006, too, you know.
"I never let it go,'' Jet says. "Anytime I go to sleep. Anytime I lift my arm up I got the trophy tattooed on me this season.''
And there is in. On his biceps. Jet's as tatt'ed up as DeShawn, who thinks it's a little nutty that Jet has the Larry O'Brien on his arm. ... and this is coming from a cat with piercings on his upper chest, right below the Abe Lincoln tattoo on his neck.
QUOTEBOARD: What the fellas are saying …
*"It came down to our veteran leadership, our experience and us being in every possible situation we've been in over the years. We know what were going to do down the stretch offensively and defensively we know we have to get stops and we're able to do that and when you have that belief and that trust in what you're doing it's just a confidence and more times than not we're going to be successful."- Jet
And more Jet ...
*"We just kept our poise at all times. It seemed like we never got rattled and just chipped away and chipped away." –Trix.
*"It's tough now. But we can learn from it. The only way to get better is to keep pushing." – Durant.
*"(OKC's) time will come, but it's not now. We feel like now is our time to move on." – Rick Carlisle.
THE CENTERS: Tyson Chandler was limited to 24:20 due to early, and constant, foul trouble. Despite his limited minutes, he did finish with nine points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
Brendan Haywood played 15:30, with some time at the center position going to Dirk or Marion (depending on how you looked at it) as the Mavs matched the Thunder's SmallBall, and once again reminded us all of the intelligence behind the decision to keep him around.
His numbers won't leap from the page (seven points, three rebounds), but his offensive efficiency, and defensive contributions were more than enough to carry the position with Chandler relegated to the bench.
On a side note, after hitting only 36.2 percent of his free throws in the regular season, and 38.7 percent prior to Game 5 in the playoffs, Haywood has drilled 10-of-14 attempts from the line over the last two games … including 5-of-6 in Game 5.
If the free throws can fall, Big Wood becomes that much bigger … stealing the strategy of fouling him from the opponent.
WHO IS THIS ‘NOBODY'?: Mark Cuban isn't saying much, but one thing he is saying sounds a tad silly.
"Nobody believed in us!'' is wrong. DallasBasketball.com serves about 150,000 MFFL's who've believed enough to hang with this bunch for the last decade-plus, to buy the tickets and the t-shirts and the DB.com Mavs Premium membership.
If what he's saying is that there aren't many of who believed they'd roll to 10 wins in 11 outings and be the team rested and waiting for the Miami-Chicago winner …he's got us there.
NUMBERS-CRUNCHING: Calculate ...
* Dirk Nowitzki went 9-of-9 from the line on Wednesday. He finished the five-game series against Oklahoma City 59-of-61 from the foul line. Oscar Robertson holds the record for free throws made in a five-game series with 62 (Cincinnati vs. Philadelphia, 1964). Robertson also made 61 in a five-game series (Cincinnati vs. Boston 1966). Nowitzki's shot 130-of-140 from the stripe overall in the postseason.
*Carlisle is 10-3 in possible series-clinching games. Ties him for the best coaching winning percentage in such situations all-time.
*Dallas has now won 10 of its last 11 playoff games.
*The Mavericks hold an overall record of 12-3 (.800) in the postseason, and are now 7-1 at home.
*The Mavs have yet to trail a playoff series (tied 2-2 vs. Portland and 1-1 vs. Oklahoma City).
THE FINAL WORD: The mountain has been climbed, but the summit not reached. Dallas has earned the opportunity to be one of the last two teams standing in the 2010-11 season, but they are quick to point out that they have yet to reach their goal.
Whether it is the Heat in a rematch of the 2006 Finals, as it appears it likely will be, or the Bulls, one team remains directly in the path these Mavs hope to travel.
"It's been a great playoff run for us so far, but everyone knows what this next step means," Terry said.
"We can enjoy it for a day," Dirk said, "but we got one of those (Western Conference Finals) trophies already, and it didn't mean anything at the end."
"It's exciting, but my sense is we're very grounded," Carlisle said. "We'll enjoy this moment for a day, watch the game tomorrow and see where things are. … We have a lot of work left to do."
Notice a trend?
For now, we'll leave the focusing with the players and coaches already intently looking to what comes next. For us, for the fans, it's time to celebrate … your Mavs are headed back to the NBA Finals.
"This is special here," Peja Stojakovic said. "Special locker room. We got special players here."
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