Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Decision, The Promise, The Collapse

Last year LeBron James made a decision to leave Cleveland after establishing himself as the new "Superstar" on the block.  But after 7 seasons with the Cavaliers, he failed to win a championship after a few somewhat gallant efforts.  It was the obvious belief of Lebron that owner Dan Gilbert was not committed to the acquisition of  players to help him accomplish his goal to win an NBA title.  Therefore, in a much publicized vetting process, Lebron chose to accept an offer to play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in "South Beach" in a highly drama filled production on television, making the Miami Heat fan base believe they had an instant dynasty with this combination of heralded free agents.   This decision also left the state of Cleveland in a state of shock, disappointment, hurt, anger and dismay.

Then there was the promise to the southern Florida fans that there would be one, two, three, four , five, six and yes, even seven championships on the horizon for the Pat Riley managed franchise.  A franchise that has been to the promise land and experienced the reward of faithful support to a previous superstar roster headed by Wade and Shaquille O'Neal in 2006.  This promise would be questioned early in the season by a series of losing streaks and a failure to see the synergy of what was deemed to be the best collection of three skilled basketball athletes since Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett came together to form the original "Big Three" and accomplish the goal that had eluded these fine athletes throughout their careers.  But all of a sudden, in the second half of the season this team began to find their roles.  The Heat defense became a work of art.  Their late game playmaking was a consistent success, and they were in the title hunt again and all seemed worth the early frustration, an investment into building a team and a championship franchise with the formula controversially discussed throughout the season by media, knowledgeable fans, novice and comedians, debated as justifiable or overrated as an equation for success.  The promise seemed viable, when the Heat toyed with the 76er's, out battled the league MVP Derrick Rose and his record leading Chicago Bulls, only to easily dispose of the favored but gimpy Boston Celtics.  The new "Big Three" had overcome the franchise that was a frustration for them all in so many different ways, to evolve as the Eastern Division Champions.

Forget stats today and lets' fast forward to the championship series with the Dallas Mavericks, a team that scores a lot of points, and supposedly plays little defense with the characteristic of outscoring opponents, not stopping anyone.  A franchise that has never won a title, and was the victim of the 2006 Miami NBA Championship, when they, the Mav's opened with a 2-0 lead, only to lose four straight in experience and display the worse modern day collapse in a championship series in modern day.  This included a double digit lead in game three, before the wheels came off the championship vehicle, designed and created between 2000-2006, by the flamboyant billionaire, Mark Cuban.  When Miami opened with a strong second half victory in game one this year, the rout was projected, and the Dallas dream was advertised as another potential nightmare.  Then came game two, and the apparent second demise became the Dallas dream, as Dirk Nowitzki led a struggling Mavericks squad to a miraculous come from behind victory in literally stealing game two.  With the series tied 1-1, the stage was set for Dallas to control their destiny at home with three consecutive games at home, in the 2-3-2 finals format, but Bosh, Wade and James would crash the party and flirt with stealing the series while in Dallas, with an aggressive defensive scheme that made the Mav's work hard to find open shooters, that once found, appeared too anxious and tired to throw a basketball in the ocean, not to mention a seemingly small basketball hoop.  Now the stage was set to anticipate that the series could possibly not even return to "South Beach," with the Heat being crowned in Dallas.  Jason Terry, a former sixth man award recipient, who is possibly the most productive sixth man offensively, was not convinced, as he stated that Lebron could not keep up the intense defense for seven games that has appeared a challenge for Terry in producing the necessary perimeter support to offset the intense Heat defense pressure after three games.  Lebron disregarded the audacity of Terry to challenge his stamina and capacity to continue the defensive shutdown and fourth quarter productivity.  This not only was a challenge, this was a statement that Dallas was in this series for the long haul and that anyone writing this team off was sadly mistaken.  In game 4, Terry looked like a prophet, as the fourth quarter displayed an anemic Miami offense, that after holding the Mavericks to under 40% shooting, could not stop the final quarter shooting of Dirk and Terry, as the Heat only developed 14 points, with Lebron nowhere to be found in the final quarter scoring.  The 21-14 fourth quarter tied the series at 2-2 and the series was now a competitive matchup of scoring shooters against tremendous superstar athletes. Who would win, who has the best coaching, who has the best finishers, who has the most heart, who can handle the pressure and who will win?

The final game in Dallas produced the largest margin of victory for either team, as the Mavericks won by 9 points and crossed into their comfort zone of 100 points, winning 112-103.  Returning home Coach Eric Spoelstra stated that they were just where they wanted to be, with home court advantage, something they strived for in closing out the regular season and the chance to close the championship series out at home.  While it was another good sound bite, the Heat were in trouble and they knew it.  All the buzz words, cliches, and words of confidence were no match for a Dallas team that was not intimidated by the contemporary "Big Three" and had found the range from long distance, mental toughness, aggressive defensive pressure of their own and a goal to vindicate their 2006 collapse and leave the Heat feeling the taste of favored disappointment as they shot their way to the 2011 NBA Championship with class, teamwork, perseverance, mid game adjustments and great rotation production from their bench that took the Heat from "The Decision" by Lebron, inclusive of Bosh and Wade, to "The Promise" by Wade, James and Bosh, led by James and "The Collapse" also led by James, as the "King" only scored 18 points in the fourth quarter in 6 games.  By the way, Nowitzki scored 62 over the same period.  Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle out coached Spoelstra, Dirk outplayed Lebron,  Terry outplayed Mario Chalmers, Tyson Chandler outplayed Udonis Haslem and Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea combined to outplay Wade.  Let's face it, the Dallas fans outcheered the Miami fans, even in South Beach.