Beyond the Boxscore
Heart Check: The Mavericks are about to Buster Douglas the Miami Heat; titlewould rank with sports' great upsets
DALLAS — The ball found Jason Kidd because the ball always seems to find the open man when the Dallas Mavericks are swinging it. Kidd took his time to set up his shot.
He was so wide open at the top of the 3-point circle that he could have taken more time than a geriatric shuffleboard champion. Kidd is almost old enough to qualify for a few of those competitions too. But he'll try and steal an NBA title first.
As Kidd's shot dropped, it was apparent that's exactly what the Dallas Mavericks are doing. The Miami Heat delivered another fourth-quarter shot that would have destroyed most teams, turning Dallas' party upside down with a barrage of pinpoint passing. The lead evaporated and for several moments it looked like the raucous blue-man (and woman) crowd at American Airlines Center would be left cheering a valiant but losing effort.
It looked like Dallas would be sending the Mavs off to some other King's coronation in Miami. You could almost picture a standing ovation amid tears at the final buzzer.
Only, these Mavs don't conform. They don't believe in the usual. The team that should have been swept slugs back.
So Jason Terry hit a 3 and Dirk Nowitzki spun baseline and delivered one of those He-Man slams that are supposed to be the province of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and Kidd sized up that triple. Dallas rose from the dead again, yanked away a 112-103 win and a most unlikely 3-2 series lead.
Guts to glory.
"We're a very resilient team," Terry says. "... This is our time."
That's actually a play off a cheesy slogan that graces the free blue T-shirts the Mavs give away at every playoff game, the NBA marketer's "The time is now" mantra. But truth is no one outside of Dallas thought this was the Mavericks time. (Heck, many of the bandwagon fans in Dallas didn't think that for long stretches of these playoffs). But a whole lot of people believe now.
Including, maybe most importantly, the shell-shocked Heat.
"As a team we played good enough to win the game," James says afterwards.
That sounds like someone who can't believe he lost. It sounds like Mike Tyson after he was ambushed by Buster Douglas in Tokyo, like the Jim Kelly and the rest of the K-Gun Buffalo Bills after the New York Giants ground down their brilliance in the 1991 Super Bowl, like Patrick Ewing after Villanova ran that passing clinic in the 1984 Final Four. Make no mistake, these Mavericks winning this series would rank right up there with some of sports' greatest shockers, all the more so considering how the first three games of these NBA Finals played out.
The Mavericks somehow looked like even bigger underdogs after three games (and one miracle win) of this series than they even did coming into the Finals. Now, LeBron and the Heat are inexplicably the ones who suddenly appear as silly as those sportswriters who insist on wearing cowboy hats to every postgame press conference in Dallas.
"The big thing is to just not panic," Kidd says.
These Mavericks never do. Kidd and company would probably hum through a plane crash. They've trailed at some point in the fourth quarter of every single game in this series. Yet, somehow they're the team holding a 3-2 series lead.
This just hasn't turned into one of the greatest NBA Finals of all time. It's historic. All thanks to the Mavericks' guts.
It's J.J. Barea, who is somehow still getting underestimated because he still looks like a YMCA player, putting up 17 points, shooting 4-for-5 from 3-point range in his second straight start. It's Nowitzki finishing with 29 points on a night when he never even looked dominant — except on that baseline slam, in the moment that mattered most. It's Terry outscoring LeBron 16-2 in the last two fourth quarters, the two most important fourth quarters of the entire season, playing so well that even Nowitzki had to smile when he unleashed that Jet arms-extended-like-wings move that usually drives the cautious German so batty.
"We all know Jet's a very confident young man," Nowitzki laughs afterwards.
Nowitzki now has the third W he never got in the 2006 NBA Finals. He's now finally 48 minutes away for the first time ever.
Guts to glory.
When the ball found Kidd with the Heat only down 102-100, with the game hanging on the next shot, the pass-first man didn't hesitate to take on the responsibility himself. OK, he did hesitate.
Because the 38-year-old Kidd's logged so many basketball miles that he sometimes can't help but take a moment longer. Kidd is like Clint Eastwood in an old Western, only the hitch is in his jump shot rather than his gait.
"We like to ask Jason when he's going to be competing in the Senior Olympics," Mavericks center Tyson Chandler says.
Hey, the Senior Games are in Houston this month. Kidd wouldn't have to travel far. Of course, he might be weighed down by a certain championship trophy. Big Man Games hardware.
Back when he was still hoops young, fast and a precursor to the Steve Nash revolution, Kidd was absolutely humiliated in two NBA Finals, especially the LA Lakers 4-0 sweep in 2002. Kobe Bryant and Shaq clowned their way through routs in that series.
Another superstar tandem certainly isn't laughing this year. Instead, you get the idea that LeBron, in particular, might be crying himself to sleep.
To be fair, James was as good as he probably should have needed to be in Game 5. Sure, he missed a long jumper, ran into Chandler for a charge and clanged a 3-pointer on three critical fourth quarter possessions. But his triple double would have been enough.
Against any less dogged team.
Individually, the Mavericks are little match for the Heat. "We're not high flyers," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle says.
But somehow this collection of one really good player and a cast of veteran misfits add up to much more than the sum of its parts.
Dallas hits nine of its first 13 3-point attempts, but rather than a one or two-man show, it's an every man thing. Six different Mavs combine on those nine triples.
Suddenly, the team that easily could have been swept — Dallas trailed going into the fourth quarter of the first four games — pushed LeBron and Wade closer and closer to the brink. Now, the two future Hall of Famers have their heels against the edge of the cliff, facing an unfathomable fall.
A team with less resolve than these Mavs would have been swept. Now, they're 48 minutes from stealing a championship. And the Heat are left trying to delude themselves into believing they are in some position of strength.
"We worked all year to get into this position," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra says. In their nightmares. Wade is hurting. LeBron is searching. Maybe, Terry is right.
Guts to glory.