Meet 'The Loneliest Championship Trophy Ever'
"We've got one of those trophies already," Dirk Nowitzki said later, his Western Conference Championship cap and t-shirt stashed (or maybe trashed). "This is nice for a day, but we set our goals in October to win it all. We haven't done it yet."
The Dallas Mavericks superstar has dominated these playoffs as completely as anyone … LeBron, Rose, Wade, (and obviously, the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time members of the Thunder) … any of them … and he did it again at the AAC on Wednesday. He lined up a second-chance straightaway 3 with 74 seconds left that triggered yet another clutch rally – the Mavs were down by eight with nine minutes left and down by six with 4:37 remaining – that added up to a 14-4 run to close the game …
And close the series.
Dallas dispatched OKC in just five games, after having made 4-0 short work of the Lakers and after having endured the Blazers in a six-game series. All of that provides an excuse for any Mav who wanted to dance just a little bit, to kiss the silver-ball trophy, to parade about as the franchise is back in the NBA Finals for the second time ever – and the second time since Dallas blew a two-and-seven-eighth-game lead in the 2006 Finals against Miami.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban took the post-game microphone and yelled, "We ain't done yet!'' But no other player skipped to center-stage; in fact, Cuban had to shove The UberMan to the front of the pile to make sure one of the greatest and most clutch men in sports history was properly positioned in the photos. When ESPN's Doris Burke attempted to conduct the obligatory on-court interview with the victor, no victor wanted any part of her.
The AAC crowd chanted "We Want Miami!''; easy, folks. That one "ain't done yet,'' either. Mavs players responded with stony indifference, and tied the petulant Russell Westbrook for first place in the race to get off the floor.
One snapshot is the comeback, though it doesn't stand apart because of what Dallas did in Game 4, when it was "almost perfect'' in coming back to win in OT after being down 15 with 5:06 left.
Another snapshot is Jason Terry and Shawn Marion running the floor together, though that doesn't stand apart, either. Jet played handsy defense in this series and The Matrix? He scored 26 points (15 in an explosive fourth quarter). But even more importantly he guarded every and all OKC stars. When Westbrook started to go off, ‘Trix took him. Before that, Kevin Durant was again hounded into a not-like-Dirk night.
Again, it looked so familiar -- especially to OKC believers who never dreamed that Jet/'Trix/Kidd might out-do Harden/KD/Westy.
Tyson Chandler survived OKC interior attacks that seemed inspired by the late Randy "Macho Man'' Savage. JJ Barea scooted to the rim at will during an important late-game spurt. Big Wood provided quality depth at center.
Jason Kidd demonstrated his BBIQ, of course – and KIDDIRK did that together.
The Mavericks have been close before and they have been here before; 11X50, you know. They have individuals who've done the same. As Jet points out, "All of us have unique stories. Shawn Marion, Peja, coach Carlisle, Jason Kidd being there twice and not getting it done … so I think that's what is driving us and that is why we're going to try to get it done this year for all of those guys."
Oh, and Dirk.
"He's a man on a mission,'' Chandler says of The UberMan.
Adds Jet: "He wants that trophy. He wants it bad, and his teammates feel the same way."
Dallas has won 10 of its last 11 and is is 12-3 this postseason. Cuban's "Nobody believed in us!'' meme is wrong; DallasBasketball.com serves about 150,000 MFFL's who believe enough to hang with this bunch for the last decade-plus. But how many of us believed they'd roll to 10 wins in 11 outings and be the team rested and waiting for the Miami-Chicago winner?
This much we did know, and have always known: Whatever Dallas did or did not accomplish would be Dirk-centric. He didn't get 40 or 48; maybe that comes next week again. He did, however, score nine of his 26 points in the fourth quarter – he averaged 11.8 points in the fourth for the series, and he averaged 32.2 points in total.
"It feels good to finally go back," says Nowitzki. "This time, hopefully we can finish the job."
Ah, but wait. Can't we savor this for just a second?
Before we get to LeBron James and Miami or Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls (Miami leads 3-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals and if the Heat wins on Thursday, the Dallas-Miami Finals will begin Tuesday in South Beach), can't we enjoy this? Dirk doesn't like The Lonely Silver Ball. But it's not like a disease or anything, is it?
Can we celebrate the fact that Durant and Westbrook (31 points) and Ibaka and Harden and Collison might provide another challenge in another year, but that this is not that year?
"Their time will come, but it's not now," Carlisle said. "We feel like now is our time to move on."
They will move onto the NBA Finals … and I presume they will leave The Loneliest Championship Trophy Ever back there behind the soda machine, near some wet towels, on a table somewhere.
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