The true measure of a person, your grandparents probably lectured you, 'is what you do when nobody's looking.'
The problem with the Miami Heat is that everybody is looking, parading into the circus tent, eyeballs pressed against the peepholes, so to LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, this entire season's process seems like a long-running Broadway show. It's about posing and it's about pronouncements.
The Dallas Mavericks are not frightened by the spotlight and have done their share of jawing, too, of course. But at the end of Thursday's Game 5 of the NBA Finals, two typically mouthy Mavs uttered a total of three words, not necessarily meant for public consumption, that maybe demonstrate that Dallas knows what counts is what you do – or maybe what you mutter to yourself -- when nobody's looking.
With 33 seconds remaining in what would be a dramatic 112-103 Mavs win to put them up 3-2 in the NBA Finals, Jason Terry splashed one of his trio of 3-pointers over the defense of James, giving Dallas a seven-point lead and forcing a what-the-heck Miami timeout. As Jet strutted back to his huddle he said something loud enough so no one could hear:
"I told you.''
Moments later, the Mavs had done it: Moved to within a win of their first-ever NBA title. Registered that third championship series win that was so elusive five years ago. Absorbed the strikes from LeBron and Wade, who'd both promised to come up huge in this "biggest game of their lives,'' this "now-or-never'' situation, to paraphrase each of them respectively.
And as the victorious Mavs marched to their locker room, readying to pack for a Sunday Game 6 in Miami, Shawn Marion said something to himself, too.
"I told you.'' The defiance justified.
"One more.'' The simple math that overrides "The Three Kings'' and "The Decision'' and Wade's come-and-go hip problems and LeBron's seemingly wobbly psyche and all the headlines generated by a franchise that threw itself a championship party to START THE SEASON.
LeBron's "now-or-never'' was a boxscore-filler: 17 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists. But the man – The King – from whom Jet wouldn't back down contributed a series of crummy plays before and after Terry's 3-pointer that tied the game at 100-all.
Dallas, using defensive-minded battlers like Marion, DeShawn Stevenson and Jason Kidd, has transformed LeBron into a mortal and exposed him as someone easily deked mentally. There is a sensitivity there and a fragility there that all the muscles and tattoos and posing on South Beach cannot mask.
And while LeBron tries to quiet the echoes of Mavs voices in his head – he "checks out'' and "fades out'' and "is wearing down,'' they've said – Wade is trying to ease the pain of a hip injury that limited him to 34 minutes and only two "encores'' as he theatrically returned to the floor after limping off stage.
Wade – truly the centerpiece of the things Miami does best, made-for-TV-specials aside – did get the Heat 23 points. But consider Dallas' responses:
J.J. Barea in many ways matched LeBron. In almost half as many minutes, Barea had the same 17 points, with five assists and just one turnover (LeBron had four), again rendered Mike Bibby invisible, and was put in charge of the Mavs offense due to his ability to penetrate so easily.
Crazy? Consider that while that was going on, Jet in many ways matched Wade. Terry scored 21, had six assists (in indisputably his most heady game of the postseason) and had four rebounds.
If somebody can stick with LeBron and Wade … if the Mavs' shooting eventually rose to its usual level … if the pace could accelerate to Dallas' wishes while Miami wasn't allowed too many transition buckets … if the Mavs would assume the role of "bully,'' backing up their off-days trash-talking tone …
Then Dirk Nowitzki's brilliance would be the unmatchable tiebreaker.
Nowitzki is fully recovered from his 101-degree fever from Dallas' Game 4 win – an illness that Wade and LeBron childishly mocked earlier Thursday. ...
And while their lack of class was predictable, it was also easy to forecast what class Dirk might put himself in. The UberMan led the Mavs with 29 points. He had a flurry of points to close the first half, had the go-ahead dunk with 2:46 remaining, was inside and out (he made one of Dallas' 13 treys) and was the backbone of an offense that broke the 100-point barrier for the first time in the series. The list of Dallas helpers is lengthy; starters Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler each scored 13 and end-of-benchers Brian Cardinal and Ian Mahinmi each refused to give up ground to a Miami team that, by reputation, thinks that "ground'' is its kingdom.
Dallas doesn't have somebody quite like Wade. Dallas doesn't have somebody quite like LeBron. Dallas does employ the largest collection of clutch in the game (consider the fact that in fourth quarters in the series, Dirk has now outscored LeBron 52-11, including 8-2 here). And Dallas has "waves of white jerseys,'' as coach Rick Carlisle said this week, and look at how the waves work: Every Mavs player shot 50 percent or better except for Marion, who was "just'' 4-of-11 but did the defensive dirty work and in total was a +21, better than any other player.
And that +21 isn't counting those quiely mumbled-to-himself words. …
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