Living The Finals
By NBA TV's Rick Kamla
Amazingly, the Heat ripped off four straight wins after sinking into an 0-2 hole, matching the trail blazed by Portland back in 1977 when Bill “Grateful Red” Walton led the Blazers to four straight wins against Julius Erving’s 76ers. It was only the third time in the 60-year history of the NBA Finals that a team has recovered to win it all after losing the first two games.
Even more amazing is how far the Heat climbed and how far the Mavs fell in the 2006 NBA Finals.
When you consider that so-called experts were picking the Bulls and Nets and Pistons and Mavericks to beat the Heat, and when you consider that they were tied at two games apiece with Chicago and down 0-1 to New Jersey, and when you consider they were down 13 points midway through the fourth quarter of Game 3, this team has a right to walk around with a Shaq-sized chip on its shoulder.
On the other hand, when you consider that the Mavs tied a franchise record for regular season wins with 60, and when you consider they beat the Spurs in Game 7 at the AT&T Center, and when you consider that most of us picked them to beat the Heat, and when you consider the fact they had a right to start thinking sweep midway through the fourth quarter of Game 3, it’s almost unfathomable to think they did not win it all.
GAME 6 HERO
Wade’s last four games traversed from 42 to 36 to 43 to 36, and he scored 11 of his game-high 36 in the fourth quarter of Game 6. Wade averaged 34.7 points for the series and concluded the 2006 playoffs with the most postseason points scored in the first three years of a career, breaking Elgin Baylor’s record.
The comparisons to Michael Jordan, Wade’s role model growing up, are impossible to resist, as Wade is the Second Coming in terms of his ability to split double or triple teams, knock down cold-blooded jumpers, and get to the foul line whenever he wants. More impressively, Wade is so Jordan that he can single-handedly will his team to victory. And it’s no coincidence that Wade is the first swingman since Jordan (1998) to lead his team to an NBA championship.
I typically pick one unsung hero, but because Miami’s Game 6 victory was – kindly pardon the cliché – a total team effort, I had to pluralize the word for our purposes here.
The first dap goes to Alonzo Mourning for scoring eight points, grabbing six rebounds, and – most importantly – blocking five shots. To borrow a phrase from Knick legend and former champion Walt Frazier, Zo provided the inspiration and Wade delivered the devastation. If you wanna know how the Heat won Game 6 despite nine points and five fouls from Shaquille O’Neal, look no farther than Zo’s game for the ages.
Did Udonis Haslem miss a shot? Oh, he missed five, you say? Well, the way that 15-footer was dropping – from all angles, it looked like Udonis pitched a perfect game from this freak’s fancy seat. Haslem finished with 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds, and his o-board and put back off Jason Williams’ miss extended the Heat lead to three late in the fourth. And his free-throw line J midway through the fourth broke a 79-79 tie, and the Heat never trailed again.
Also, I want to credit Antoine Walker for grabbing 11 rebounds (three offensive) and committing zero turnovers in 33 minutes. Yeah, he went 0-for-6 from deep (sigh) and didn’t have a point or rebound in the fourth quarter, but Pat Riley will take a 14-11 doub-doub from Toine every day of the week.
Lastly, James Posey had just six points, but his dagger three from the corner with just under four minutes to play extended a three-point lead to six. He also had a tough runner a couple minutes later that gave Miami an 89-85 advantage. Coincidentally – or not, Pose outscored Dirk Nowitzki 5-2 in the fourth and the Heat won by three points.
It’s tough to cut up Jason Terry, who scored 35 in Game 5 and clearly was the best Maverick in this series, but the dude was 7-of-25 in a death game. And he had overtime on his fingertips when he missed a potentially game-tying three with two ticks left.
But don’t worry about Terry because he’s about to get paid this summer. And when I say “paid”, I mean 10 figures annually. Here’s hoping Mark Cuban stops complaining about the officials long enough to re-sign the second coming of The Jet.
WARRIOR OF THE GAME
This could go to Haslem or Mourning, but because Haslem is dealing with a left shoulder injury and Mourning’s career was almost derailed by kidney transplant surgery, I’m going with Zo. Plus, Zo’s facial on DJ Mbenga was the signature play of the game.
I’m going macro with the best chessmove for Game 6 because Riley deserves a ton of credit for bringing his band of gypsies together in the nick of time. Think about it. This team was still answering the age-old chemistry question into the second round of these playoffs, and yet the Heat was the first team to win 16 games. Considering the circumstances (age, ego, shot selection), this likely goes down as Riley’s finest hour.
And the ring collection grows for this future Hall of Famer, who now has seven overall. Riley won his first ring as a player for the Lakers, another as an assistant coach for the Lakers under Paul Westhead, and five as head coach (four with Los Angeles and one with Miami).
Riley is one of the most storied coaches in all of professional sports, but when you consider the following factoid, you might wanna remove "one of" from the aforesaid statement. Only one head coach has guided a team to a championship after taking over midseason, and that coach is Riley, who did it with the Lakers in 81-82 and Heat in 05-06.
As if toying with the Mavericks, Dwyane Wade was deferring to teammates in going scoreless for the first 10 minutes of the game. Down 26-12 at the 2:54 mark of the first quarter, Wade finally started going for his, and with seven first-quarter points, his Heat trailed by seven after 12 minutes. Wade kept it rolling in the second quarter, powering a 19-6 run with 13 points that cut the Dallas lead to one with 9:06 left in the half.
I don’t know about you, but as soon as that early lead dissipated, I knew the Mavs were in big trouble.
Dirk was Dirk in the first half, scoring 17 points. And I was preparing to eat my words from the scathing Game 5 recap when I looked up at the scoreboard and saw 27 points and 11 rebounds for Dirk through three quarters.
Sadly for the Mavs, Dirk had exactly zero field goals in the fourth quarter, scoring only a pair of free throws with just under three minutes to play. It’s bad enough that Dirk had only one FG in the fourth, but combine that with Jet’s one second-half field goal, and it’s hard to believe the Mavs stayed in the game.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
The quote of the day comes from Coach of the Year Avery Johnson, who has styled the basketball world with entertaining and enlightening podium interviews throughout the playoffs.
When reflecting on the most successful season in Mavs’ history, Avery said: “I’m just so proud of my team. We made a lot of progress this season. We aimed high, and I told them a lot of teams have to go through this. It’s going to hurt a lot this summer.”
Thanks for the memories, Avery…
-- I don’t want to do this, but the reporter/gonzo journalist in me feels compelled to tell the truth about the dubious behavior of the Mavs fans at Game 6. The negativity started in the second quarter when commissioner David Stern was featured on the jumbotron and promptly – and soundly – booed. Um, he’s only the best and brightest leader in sports. Nice going, Dallas. The negativity continued in the third quarter when a faction of Miami fans started chanting “Let’s Go Heat!!!” That got the Mavs’ crowd chanting “Let’s Go Mavs!!!” for all of 90 seconds. What kind of competitive response is that? Finally, on the biggest night of the season, the PA announcer had to practically beg Mavs fans to chant “De-fense” in the fourth quarter of a death game. The 2006 NBA Finals was a learning experience for the Mavs, as well as their fans.
-- In the scathing Game 5 recap we talked about legacies being on the line, and Dirk's will never be the same after failing in the clutch repeatedly against the Heat. This was supposed to be the Mavericks' year, what with defeating top rivals San Antonio and Phoenix in back-to-back rounds and making The Finals for the first time ever. But when it mattered most, Dirk and his teammates could not deliver in the clutch, and one wonders if they will ever acquire that ability. As such, I have downgraded Dirk from superstar to All-Star, and I highly doubt he will ever lead a team to a championship. Dallas fans don't want to hear this, but with Amare Stoudemire likely to return to rock-star form and the Spurs looking to reload this summer, there is no guarantee the Mavs will make it back to The Finals during Dirk's prime years. He turned 28 on Monday. In other words, this was your shot, Dallas, and you missed the target. Sorry...
-- Get ready for the Heat to dominate the Eastern Conference, and possibly the NBA, for the next two seasons. The Pistons are heading in the wrong direction, the Cavaliers are on their way but not quite there, and no other team in the East has championship mettle. The West is loaded with legitimate contenders like Dallas, Phoenix, and San Antonio, and one of those teams will meet the Heat next June. My early call for the 2007 Finals is Miami over Phoenix in six in the Sunscreen Series.
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