When Dirk Nowitzki took his first fadeaway of the 2011 playoffs, it looked a lot like the thousands of others he’d taken in his 12-year career. He stood for probably the millionth time in his life in the high post, free-throw extended, back to the basket, pacing his dribble like my grandpa paces his Toyota Camry. He surveyed the scene – a German-engineered basketball machine processing information as it passed in front of him. Then, just as the moment seemed right, Dirk did his turn, off-foot push-off, Mr. Miyagi ninja-leg raise and released. At that moment, Nowitzki’s body gets itself into a position that almost makes you wince. It’s like watching the one-armed drummer from Def Leppard – it feels awkward and kind of unnatural, but the simple fact that it’s so effective gives the motion a poetic flow, a kind of uncomfortable beauty. And as the ball drops perfectly through the net, into its rightful home within the iron, we just watch. For that single, solitary moment we ignore the fact that it’s impossible to tell whether or not he’s wearing a mouthpiece, or that his English might be getting worse, and we just watch. And then we listen.
I’m sure Dirk didn’t know at the time that he had just taken the first step on the unpaved path to winning his first championship. After a tough end to the regular season, and with the draw of a legit Portland team, I’m sure he wasn’t even sure his boys from Big D would make it out of the first round. But they did, and as this team of vets and journeymen, hardened by a collective slog through a half-century of title-less seasons, swept the defending champions – the too-brazen-for-their-own-good Lakers – I think that’s when it probably started to creep in.
“We might be able to get this done.”
“This might be our year.”
“Audi’s are extremely reliable automobiles.”
Ok, I made that last one up, but you get the picture. It was after that Lakers series that this group of dudes, with Biggest Loser-type playoff baggage, started to look like champions. So how did they do it? How did they go from “soft” and “old” to “experienced” and “crafty?” How did they go from the last living reminders that B. Diddy was once B. Diddy to the first team to extinguish the Heat? Well, friends, I’ve spent an almost-perverted amount of time thinking about this over the last few days, and while most customers at my day job did not receive the winning service they’ve come to expect, I do have a few theories. Let’s get to it:
1. Good Offense Might Just Beat Good Defense: For whatever reason (myself included), over the last few years NBA fans/humans in general have fallen in love with defense. We heart the Celtics and the Bulls for embodying it, we long for the good ole days when teams actually played it, and we hold dudes in the highest regard who own it as their sole skill (see Perkins, Kendrick).
And I guess it makes sense. America was built on the kind of effort and grit that goes into playing really strong, really tight D (and who doesn’t love America?). But I think we might’ve fallen almost too in love with defense at this point, to where it clouds our view of the most basic concept in basketball: that the purpose of the game is to put the ball in the basket. Now I’m not going to say that Dallas didn’t play any D – they have at least one top-notch defender (Marion) and a bunch of guys who can contribute – but this is not a defense-first squad. They’ve had such defensive issues that they started using a zone (which I love) to cover up the no-less-than three defensive liabilities they have on the floor at any given time (Dirk vs. Bosh, Kidd vs. fast people, Barea vs. adults).
In the end, it was Dallas’ ball movement on offense that exhausted the Heat’s stifling D. And that’s really the whole Finals story. Unless of course, I’ve simply succumbed to a Clockwork Orange-style brainwash from watching Mike D’Antoni’s system over the last few years. I’m keeping both in play.