They may not win these NBA Finals, but nobody (and The Rock means, NOBODY) can question the heart of the Dallas Mavericks.
On a night when Dirk Nowitzki resembled His Dirkness at a 6AM meeting following a night of multiple Dirk No-Whiskeys (shot concoction soon to sweep the world), the Mavs refused to lose. Dirk hit the biggest shot of the game on a night when he was rushed off the court and hurried into the press room only to hack up Maverick green phlegm all over my man, Shan Shariff. Dirk did his damage by putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim on a night when he shot the ball Like a Bosh. Dirk put up 21 points and 11 rebounds on a night when he was visibly exhausted down the stretch of an NBA Finals game that was taxing for players that were 100% healthy. All of this coming in a series that has seen him sustain a torn tendon in a finger, an injured right wrist, and now this feverish game where Dirk resembled Lebron in a 4th quarter (zing!). All of this in a series that will define his career. (P.S. I'm currently the highest bidder on Ebay for Dirk's game-used towels that he coughed into throughout the game. I want them germs).
But the Mavs game 4 victory wasn't about Dirk NoQuitzki (eh? eh?), although he is the main power source for the team's resilience.
It was about Tyson Chandler, who was the Mavs' MVP of Game 4. On a night where he admittedly had to pick up his game because of Dirk's fever, the man straight outta' Compton snagged 16 huge rebounds, including 9 on the offensive end. After drawing my ire for most of the first 3 games, Chandler finally brought the necessary amount of energy to the floor for Game 4. Despite being crutched by the injury to backup Center Brendan Haywood, Chandler did his best rim protecting job of the series on Tuesday night. Tyson is absolutely vital to the success of the Mavs in the series. He has to continue to play with that level of energy, avoid all foul trouble, come down with double digit rebounds, and not allow any easy buckets. Just remember, if it's not him, it's The Custodian.
It was about DeShawn Stevenson, who desperately deserves some love right now. After playing well in Games 1-3 (6-9 from 3, good defense), he was told that he had been demoted for Game 4 in favor of a player who is strugg-a-ling (Barea). Did you see or hear anything from him that would make you think he didn't have the team's best interest in mind? I sure didn't. And he was rewarded with crunch time minutes, playing a key role with the lineup that ultimately won the game for the Mavs (he usually doesn't sniff the 4th quarter). I believe this may have been the strategy when he was replaced in the starting lineup all along. Despite the benching, DeShawn ended up playing a series high 26 minutes in the game. Try and guess the other game that saw him play over 20 minutes in this series? You bet your sweet ass it was Game 2.
This series is all even because of the Mavs' resolve, toughness, and heart.
It's laughable to me how 95% of the world still believes the Mavs have no chance to win this series. What are they watching that I'm not? It has me questioning their chances because I feel like it must be my biases that are blinding me when I wonder aloud, "How could this series be anymore even?" The total margin of victory of the first 4 games has been 15 points, the lowest total since 1969. And yet people are treating this series like it's Spurs-Cavs or Lakers-Nets. It's not all bad, necessarily, because the outpouring of smugness makes me care about the Mavs winning that much more, but it is definitely strange. I cannot even comprehend why. These two teams are even during the regular season. Even through the Playoffs before this series. Each game has been relatively even. The series stands even. What am I missing?
My best guess is because the Heat have led throughout most of the NBA Finals. However, if the roles were reversed, then I believe people would still believe in the Heat over the Mavs.
This brings me back to my original point. I am amazed the Mavs are alive and well in this series. They've been trailing for a majority of 7 of the 8 halves. Their will and determination not only outweighs the Heat's, it catapults the Heat through the air when measured against. I'm not sure the Mavs have any business being in this series, but that shouldn't discount the fact that they are.
I thought the Mavs were done. I thought it was over. I had begun the rationalizing process, putting the series into perspective, at the beginning of the 4th quarter of Game 4. The Mavs were down 9, and Dirk didn't seem like he had it in him to lead a comeback. But then Jason Terry stepped up, making the next 2 shots, the most important two of the game (not to mention the 2 FT's at the end). They stepped up their defense with a beautifully designed 4th quarter switch to zone, stifling the Heat, who suffered an end-of-the-game meltdown for the second time in 4 games. This was supposed to be a time dominated by the Heat, but it's been the Mavs, and their collective heart, that have dominated the 4th quarters of this series, leaving their prior reputation in the dust of a Texas sunset.
The question now is can the Mavs heart, will, and determination overcome the Heat's advantages in terms of talent and athleticism? These 3 games will tell, but I'd never bet against heart.