For nearly five years, Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Cuban and Jason Terry have had to live with the pain of losing the 2006 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat. After leading the series 2-0, the Mavericks lost four straight to end the series. After returning to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since that season, the Dallas Mavericks took on the Oklahoma City Thunder with only one thing in mind; reach the NBA Finals and give themselves a chance to redeem their loss. This is their story.
The be all and end all of this series can be summed up in two words; Dirk Nowitzki. Like so many superstars before him, the 7-foot German sharpshooter sat his team squarely on his shoulders and carried them all the way to the 2011 NBA Finals. In a near-perfect display, Nowitzki averaged over 32 points per contest on 55% shooting, while leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 4-1 series win over the Thunder. [caption id="attachment_870" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="This is what Scott Brooks will see in his dreams all offseason"][/caption] Along the way, Nowitzki not only removed the label of soft underachiever that has been attached to him like a mark of shame since their 2006 capitulation, but the former League MVP also made history, hitting 24 free throws without a miss, breaking Paul Pierce’s single game record of 23, set during the 2003 Playoffs. To top it off for Dirk, he made an astonishing 59 of 61 free throws during the series, which, according to ESPN, was previously held by Celtics’ Hall of Famer, Larry Bird. For the Mavs, this series was all about Dirk, experience, and depth. Over the series, the Mavericks second unit, consisting primarily of Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic and JJ Barea, combined to average over 37 points per game against the Thunder, including a tone-setting 53-point outburst in a victorious Game 1. On top of their exceptional depth, the hardened playoff experiences of Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Nowitzki and former Phoenix Sun Shawn Marion, who exploded for 26 points in the decisive Game 5 victory, helped the Mavericks pull off two exceptional late game comebacks to close out the series.
For the Thunder, their lack of playoff experience shone through in the fourth quarters of Games 4 and 5. Even though two-time scoring champion Kevin Durant combined with All-Star point Guard Russell Westbrook to average over 51 points a game this series, the clever defense of the much older Dallas outfit limited the young tandem to a combined 39% from the field. The poor shooting from the Thunder’s two best players, together with sloppy ball-handling (the Thunder combined for more [caption id="attachment_871" align="alignright" width="200" caption="With a nucleus of Kevin Durant (left) and Russell Westbrook still intact, the Thunder will be contenders for years"][/caption] than 15 turnovers per game), excellent perimeter defense, the poor play of Kendrick Perkins and utter annihilation of any defender Dirk faced, doomed the younger Thunder in this series. Unfortunately for Russell Westbrook, a large chunk of the Thunder’s poor shooting and alarmingly high turnover rate can be directly attributed to his performance. To his credit, Westbrook averaged over 23 points per game, but his erratic play resulted in nearly five turnovers a contest. When you include that he missed 64 of his 100 field goals during the series, it is easy to see why the Mavericks were able to use their experience and late game clutch performances to eliminate a team that, I’m sure, we will see in the Western Conference Finals for many more years to come.