MIAMI // Dirk Nowitzki got the Dallas Mavericks to the brink of an NBA championship. His teammates did the rest, a perfect ending for a club that talked all season about its greatest strength being the sum of its parts.
Nowitzki missed 11 of his first 12 shots and matched his series low with 21 points, yet with Jason Terry scoring 27 and every starter and reserve making some sort of significant contribution, the Mavericks beat the Miami Heat 105-95 on Sunday night to wrap up the first title in franchise history.
The difference-makers were everywhere: from Ian Mahinmi with his step-back jumper and third quarter buzzer-beater to DeShawn Stevenson and his three 3-pointers in the first half; from Brian Cardinal making a 3 and drawing a charge to J.J. Barea improving to 3-0 as a starter.
“This is a true team,” coach Rick Carlisle said during the jubilant trophy ceremony. “We don’t run fast or jump high. These guys have each other back. This is a phenomenal group.”
Although Nowitzki had only three points at halftime, Dallas was up 53-51. It was a testament to the teammates around him. They knew if they could keep it close, the big German would snap out of his funk.
Nowitzki made his first shot of the second half and began to find a groove. He went 8 of 15 in the second half, scoring 18 points – and becoming a champion for the first time.
“I couldn’t get in a rhythm today for some reason,” Nowitzki said. “The team carried me all night long. (Terry) came out aggressive. I’ve got to give it up to the fellows. They were unbelievable tonight.”
Not a single player on this roster had won a championship, and that shared burden drove them all season. Nowitzki and Terry lived with the disgust of blowing a nearly 3-0 lead against Miami in the 2006 finals, and Jason Kidd lost consecutive finals with New Jersey in 2002-03. All told, this roster had 133 seasons and zero rings.
The emotions began to hit with 18.8 seconds left and Kidd going to the line. Nowitzki and Terry met at midcourt – right on top of the Heat’s logo – and shared a hug, the smaller Terry leaning on the big German like a child and his dad. Nowitzki went to near the other free throw line, put a hand on his hip and exhaled. The job was done.
A week shy of his 33rd birthday, the former league MVP finally had the championship he so desperately craved. No longer will he and Kidd be part of the conversation of “best player never to win a ring.”
It’s a lift for the franchise, too. This celebration 31 years in the making was savored by hundreds of Mavericks fans, despite being halfway across the country. They stood in their blue shirts chanting “Let’s Go Mavs.” In Dallas, a packed house watched at the home arena, no doubt going bonkers themselves.
Franchise founder Donald Carter – wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, the one that used to be part of the team’s logo – accepted the trophy from commissioner David Stern at Cuban’s request.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the Western Conference title celebration, Cuban said: “It just feels so good for Dirk and Jason Kidd and (Terry) and Shawn Marion. ... This team has so much heart, so much determination.”
And a championship.