Throughout these 2011 NBA Playoffs, seemingly nobody has believed in the Dallas Mavericks.
A popular upset pick against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, a heavy underdog against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the second and an expected victim of the ascending Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, the Mavs not only survived, but also thrived.
After blowing a 23-point lead in Game 4 of the Portland series, Dallas reeled off 10 wins in 11 games to soar into the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, but somehow that didn’t seem to change anyone’s mind.
Despite playing excellent, efficient and entertaining basketball on both ends of the court, and despite assuming the role of heroes to every basketball fan living outside of South Florida, Rick Carlisle’s squad was still supposed to get crushed by the three-headed monster destined to destroy mankind, at least according to the “experts.”
Wrong, yet again.
A thrilling 86-83 Game 4 win Tuesday night has the series all knotted up at two games apiece, and in my opinion, the series is completely up in the air.
Doubters remain—sports fans/pundits are some of the most stubborn people in the known universe—but I verily believe in the Mavericks’ ability to emerge from this war victorious.
I believe in Dirk Nowitzki, who has erased all questions of toughness and clutchness. He has been a superstar throughout, and his versatility is shining. Scorer, facilitator, rebounder, shot blocker and most importantly a leader.
Although he was battling a sinus infection-induced fever in Game 4 and consequently missed a surprising amount of shots (6-19), Dirk came up big when it mattered most, dropping 10 fourth-quarter points to secure the W.
I believe in Rick Carlisle, who is proving to be one of the most flexible, creative, daring, gutsy and resilient coaches in the league. Starting a backcourt in which one guy is 5’9" and the other is 38 years old? Playing DeShawn Stevenson, that’s right DeShawn Stevenson, in crunch time? Trusting Brian Cardinal, whose nickname is "the Custodian", for crucial minutes? Unleashing a zone when the game was on the line?
These are just a few of Carlisle’s successful Game 4 decisions, and he boasts an extensive list of great coaching moves throughout the playoffs.
I believe in Jason Kidd’s defense. A looming uncertainty entering this series was how would the Mavs defend in the fourth quarter, with both Kidd and Jason Terry on the court? Well, the oldest starting guard in the history of the NBA Finals has done a more-than-admirable job.
I believe in Shawn Marion’s revival. The former All-NBA forward clearly takes his matchup with LeBron personally, and he’s almost, gasp, playing King James to a draw. Though it took the Matrix a while to figure out his role on this team, now he is flourishing.
Attacking the rim, finishing in transition, grabbing offensive boards, being hyperactive on defense—this is vintage Phoenix Suns Marion, and it could not have come at a better time.
I believe in Tyson Chandler’s emotional intensity. Some guys just have that extra gear of energy and passion (Dennis Rodman, anyone?), and the previously much-maligned Chandler is one. He snatched nine huge offensive rebounds in Game 4, and every key play appears to inspire and uplift his teammates. Would anyone have believed me if I would’ve claimed in August that Dallas’ Tyson Chandler signing would have championship ramifications? Wow.
I believe in Jason Terry’s brashness. Has he backed up his talk? Not entirely. He’s only shooting 39 percent in the Finals, 31 percent from downtown. He also missed several potential nail-in-coffin-type attempts near the end of Game 4. However, his attitude and indomitable spirit are vitally important to the whole Mavericks team.
Dallas generally assumes the disposition of Kidd—calm and composed, especially off the court—but JET lights their fire and gets the fans involved. And perhaps, just perhaps, his chatter affects LeBron.
I believe in Dallas’ capacity to play better. As Jon Barry said on ESPN’s postgame show, they could’ve won Game 4 going away. JJ Barea is missing wide-open layups, Terry is missing wide-open jump shots, and Kidd is committing uncharacteristic turnovers.
If Dallas cleans it up, watch out Miami.
And I believe in Dallas’ belief. All year, through ups and downs, trials and tribulations, fits and starts, battling injury and inconsistency, trying to establish an identity; all year, from owner Mark Cuban on down, the Mavericks have believed in themselves.
So yeah, I believe that the Dallas Mavericks can beat the Heat and win the NBA title. And so should you.