Unfortunately, I was unable to find a photo of DeShawn Stevenson celebrating, or any other photo of DeShawn Stevenson.
I’ve got to keep it real with my readers: I didn’t make it to the end of last night’s game. Not because it bored me to death (I’ve enjoyed this series), and not because watching Kendrick Perkins makes me want to gouge my eyes out… but because I simply passed out at some point during the third quarter. I’m normally good until at least 1 AM, but all of these 9-12 hour days I’ve been working at my real jobs are starting to catch up to me. Lately, come about 10:30 PM, I’m struggling to keep my eyes open. Last night, I couldn’t do it.
The good news? It seems that I didn’t miss much. Hell, I think I’ve pretty much seen the ending to last night’s contest twice already: Thunder up eight with eight minutes to go, Dirk Nowitzki leads his squad on a 21-9 run, Dallas wins 100-96? Yeah, that sounds awfully familiar.
Since I can’t really tell you exactly how this game went down, I’ll just give you the basics and then move on to some other things. Dirk Nowitzki had a rather routine night with 26/9 on 8-15 (yes, that’s become a routine night for him). Seven of those 26 came in the final eight minutes over the course of that 21-9 Dallas run that I mentioned. He nailed the huge three that gave Dallas the lead with a minute to go (missed a three, Chandler got the board, and he was given a second look… two looks for Dirk? Can’t let that happen), and then he hit the pair of freethrows that made it a two-possession game. Just Dirk doin’ what Dirk does.
^Apparently he does that, too. ESPN has been shoving those videos of his practice sessions down our throats; showing us that Dirk actually practices these crazy, off-balance, one-legged jumpers that he knocks down on the regular (it was cool the first five or six times, but we get it, you can stop now). Well, I didn’t see him rehearsing this shot in any of those clips! So, if I’m the Thunder, I’m a little pissed off about this bucket. Dirk is already good without the second “o” (good… get it? He’s god!), he doesn’t need any extra fortune from the basketball gods.
There was a surprise element to this Dallas rally: Shawn Marion. The Matrix actually contributed more points to that 21-9 Dallas run than Dirk did. Marion scored 11 points in the final eight minutes of this game, including consecutive layups that sparked that run. Neither of them are in the highlights, and I was sleeping, so I don’t know exactly how it was happening… each of them were assisted by JJ Berea, so I’m assuming it was either his ability to penetrate or the pick and roll that created the two baskets. Before I passed out Berea had already gotten himself off to a nice start. He scored three buckets in the second quarter, and he finished up with 14/4/5 on 5-11. No one has been able to stay in front of him in the last two rounds, and I don’t think the Heat have anyone who’s up to the task either.
Anyway, congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks on getting back to the finals after what has been an extremely painful five seasons. I’m happy for Dirk Nowitzki. He’s a very hard worker and a guy who has taken a lot of unfair criticism over the course of his career. Finally, he has earned himself the opportunity to put the 2006 collapse and the 2007 disappointment behind him. I was most certainly a Maverick doubter coming into these playoffs, but goddamn, they’ve really forced me to look at them in a whole different light. Not only has Dirk shown incredible poise, but the entire team has displayed never-before-seen composure. These guys had to recover from the second-biggest comeback in NBA playoff history, then knock off the defending champs, and finally recover from three fourth-quarter defecits to beat a team which features Kevin Durant (he’s been known to do some damage in fourth quarters). It wasn’t the easiest road ever travelled to the NBA finals, that’s for sure… but they certainly made it look easy. A lot of the credit belongs to Nowitzki–he hit some absolutely incredible jumpshots down the stretch of these games. The one over Pau Gasol from game one against LA? The dude basically just put that on rewind throughout the entire Thunder series, and he did it against a great defender in Nick Collison. So yeah, I’m really happy for Dirk Nowitzki. Hopefully that’s good enough for him, because not everyone is…
As much as I want to post the Cam’ron video, I’m not gonna do it, because seriously… what the hell kind of question was that? “What kind of feelings do you have seeing him succeed, even at your expense?” I’d have taken that reporter’s mic and shoved it down his throat.
I’ve got to go back to something I was saying earlier on in this post for just a moment: “Finally, [Dirk] has earned himself the opportunity to put the 2006 collapse and the 2007 disappointment behind him.” I’d just like to point out the fact that the key word there was opportunity. Another finals loss to the Heat doesn’t remove the weight of any of the past disappointments; in fact, it could only add to that weight depending on how the Mavs were to go about losing it. All of these incredible shots Dirk has made, and epic games he’s had will be tossed aside if Dallas doesn’t win in the finals. This is a “now-or-never” team full of veterans who’ve accomplished everything they’re ever going to accomplish aside from an NBA title. Most of the top teams in the league are full of young players and should only get better with time, so if Dallas doesn’t do it this year, they may never get another shot. Dirk understands this: “I was already thinking about the finals. This is nice for a day, but we set our goals in October to win it all. We haven’t done it yet.”
That’s right. The Mavs haven’t done a damn thing that they haven’t done before. What they haven’t done before is beat the Heat in the NBA finals… if they do that then they can celebrate. I think they may very well do it. As of this moment, Dirk Nowitzki is the best player in the NBA. No one else is playing on the level he’s been on since the start of the Laker series. I’d say the Mavs are the best team in the NBA as of this moment as well. No squad has matched their level of play in this postseason… they’ve hit their stride at precisely the right time. I’m not making a guaransheed, but I like their chances.
As for the Thunder… well, they’re the opposite of the Mavs: even though they lost this series, they’ve already accomplished something by advancing further than they’d ever been before. They’re still a young team with plenty of time to grow. Their window of opportunity is just opening up, whereas Dallas’ is closing. They need to take this defeat and use it as motivation to build for the next run. They could very easily have been up 3-2 right now had their defense, shot selection, and late-game performance been a little better. The first two are things that can and will be worked on during the offseason, and the third one will just come with time. Dallas has already been through all of this, and that’s why they’re headed to the finals.
Random observation: have you noticed all of the James Harden hype? I seem to recall that Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson spent the majority of the first three quarters raving about him last night, and they aren’t the only ones giving him praise. A lot of folks seem to think he’s going to be a star. “Star.” What exactly does that mean? All-Star? Best player on a good team? 20 PPG scorer off the bench? I have no idea… but I was thinking that maybe I could clarify it with a comparison. I can see James Harden becoming the next Manu Ginobili. Now, Manu is obviously a far better player than James Harden at this point… the dude had his name in the MVP discussion at one point during this season, and I’m not even saying that Harden will ever reach that level… but I see similarities. First of all, both players are underrated athletes. Harden has been described as having “old-man game,” but he’s very strong, he moves well, and he jumps pretty well too. Secondly, both guys provide an excellent all-around offensive punch. Harden can shoot the three, drive the lane, and pass the ball. I don’t think he handles the ball quite as well as Ginobili does at this point, but he’s young and I’m sure he’ll improve. Both guys are also capable of playing some pretty good defense. Those are the similarities I see in their games, but part of the reason that I chose to compare Harden to Manu is because of their situations. Manu came in as a young player on an established team and had to wait his turn and slowly move into the major role that he plays now. Since establishing himself, he’s started, come off the bench, scored, distributed… whatever he’s needed to do to help the team, he’s done it. While Harden entered the league on a younger, less-established Thunder team, he’s already been to the Western Conference Finals here in his second season, and he played in the postseason as a rookie as well. He had to wait his turn while Jeff Green was in the picture, and now without Green he’s been asked to step into a bigger role. Next season I figure he’ll be starting; another step. He delivered in his increased role off the bench in these playoffs, and I think he’s ready to deliver as a starter. He’ll never be the Thunder’s best player as long as KD is around–just like Manu was always playing in Duncan’s shadow during San Antonio’s championship era–but I think he can be a key player on a contending team for many years to come (assuming he sticks around), which would make him a lot like Ginobili. He won’t get the All-Star nods and put up the stats that he’d probably be capable of on a worse team… but he can be to the Thunder what Manu is to the Spurs, while also sharing with him some similarities as far as style of play. Hopefully, for Harden’s sake, his hair won’t go the same route as Gino’s. That beard wouldn’t work too well with a bald spot.