Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
As the highly anticipated third edition of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Finals is set to begin on Thursday night, every Mavs fan should do one thing: reminisce about that incredible 2011 Finals victory.
It’s insane for me to think that it has been six years since that magical spring where the Mavericks took down the likes of the Dallas-native LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trailblazers, Kobe Bryant and the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden when they made up the rapidly rising trio for the Oklahoma City Thunder, and finally the polarizing Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat.
There were countless moments from each round that will stick with other MFFL’s and me forever, but the six games of the Finals made up what might be some of best six nights of my life. Victory or defeat for the Mavs. When you’re as big of a MFFL as me, you cherish those nights of big playoff games more than anything.
With that in mind and former foe LeBron James getting ready to play in a seventh straight NBA Finals, let me tell you my five favorite moments from the 2011 NBA Finals.
5. Dirk Overcomes Illness and Takes Over Late to Win Game 4
This game forever stands out to me because it was the game where my brother, a couple friends and I painted ourselves up– and looked great— in an effort to get free tickets to the game. We looked better than plenty of people who ended up getting in, but we blew it whenever we couldn’t come up with a clever skit. Choke job.
Anyway, game 4 was undoubtedly the ugliest game of the series. The Mavericks only shot 40% from the field and scored a lowly 21 points in the 4th quarter but it was still enough to stage another comeback led by the ill and eventual Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki.
The Big German had 21 points on the night and notched 10 of those in the 4th; and that includes a huge driving layup in the final seconds to push the Mavs lead up to 3 points. Jason Terry would go on to sink a couple big free throws to seal the deal as Mike Miller airballed an attempt to tie the game at the buzzer.
The win tied the series at 2 and was the first of three straight victories en route to clinching the series for the Mavs. Considering the win saved them from going down 3-1, it was arguably the biggest victory of the series.
4. J.E.T. Drains a Dagger from Fort Worth to Put Away Game 5
Game 5 of the 2011 NBA Finals was the greatest sports experience of my life. I graduated from high school in June 2011, so I got a lot of graduation money right around the time the NBA Finals began in late May. What does one do with graduation money? Definitely not spend it on books or furniture for my dorm. I spent $400+ on ONE upper level ticket to what I figured would be a pivotal game in this series. I had been a Mavs fan for nine years at that point, I knew that this might be my only chance to see them in an NBA Finals game in person. Six years later and they’re nowhere close to one. I think I made the right call.
Remember how my brother, a couple buddies and me painted ourselves while only wearing underwear and got rejected for the free tickets back in game 4? Well for game 5 my two buddies tried again with two less dudes (my brother and me) and replaced them with two hot cheerleaders. Wouldn’t you know it? They got in. Standing room lower level seats for free. Oh well. I was still there, too.
The game itself was epic. Neither team never had major control of the game. The series was tied at 2 and it was likely that whoever took this game would take hoist the trophy.
The Mavericks held a four point lead with about 50 seconds remaining. The royal blue ocean of fans packing the American Airlines Center were shouting “Beat the Heat” in unison. The shot clock was winding down. Jason Terry gets the ball and doesn’t seem to know what to do with it while being defended by the menacing LeBron James. Dirk comes over to get the ball to save the possession. Jason Eugene Terry will have none of it as he decides to pull up from 30 feet and drain a three right in LeBron’s grill to push the Mavs lead out to an insurmountable 7 points with just 30 seconds remaining.
The place went insane. I went insane. The Jet spread his wings and made his way down the runway as he had just hit what was the closest thing to the series clinching shot as game six three nights later didn’t have much drama down the stretch.
Worth the money? Damn straight.
3. Dirk’s Winning Layup in Game 2
It had been an insanely draining half hour. The Mavericks had come back from down 15 in the 4th quarter (more on that in one second) and had one chance to win the game in regulation. The entire game, maybe the entire series, came down to this one sequence with Dallas already trailing in the series 1-0.
The comeback took a good 20 minutes to a half hour of real time with all of Miami’s timeouts and the free throws, but this final 20 seconds of game time was so quick and brief that it almost felt like the game wasn’t really over when it was.
Dirk got the ball against the lanky Chris Bosh in his sweet spot, hits him with an incredible spin move and drives and finishes with his left hand that had a big splint on an injured finger. The Mavs win! Not yet. Still have to get a stop as Miami is forced to advance quickly with no timeouts. LeBron would dump it off Dwyane Wade who got a decent look and almost banked in a game-winning shot from nearly halfcourt. It clanks off the rim and the Mavs bench stormed the court to celebrate.
My favorite part of the postgame scene is seeing how verbally fired up everyone is when they congratulate Dirk. It almost seems like Dirk is so fired up that he simply can’t say anything. Kudos to guys like Corey Brewer and Caron Butler for being the stars of the show in that moment.
2. Mavs Save Their Lives With Unlikely Comeback to Win Game 2
How can I put the game-winning shot behind the comeback itself? How can I even separate them into two moments? Let me explain.
We were all positive the Mavs were about to be down 0-2 to this seemingly unbeatable Miami superteam. All-time DFW sports villain Dwyane Wade had just hit a three in front of the Mavs bench and was joined by LeBron James for a celebration while still in front of Mavs players and coaching staff. At the time, I couldn’t blame them. They were up 88-73 with about half a quarter to go. It looked like the dagger shot in a game that would have put them up 2-0 in the series and essentially on their way to the title.
The Mavs weren’t done yet. What was so great about the comeback was how perfect they had to be for it to happen. They also lucked out with Miami taking some incredibly bad shots. Like head scratching bad.
As the lead went from 15 down to into single digits fairly quickly, I merely began to raise my eyebrows. I didn’t allow myself to get too high of expectations because I didn’t want to be heartbroken when the Heat would rattle off a three and a breakaway dunk to end the Mavs run at any second.
It never happened, though. The Mavs kept hitting shots and Miami kept missing bad shots. It was like Miami just assumed everything was going to go right for them and the veteran Mavs knew that they had to earn every single point. The Mavs tied it with a minute to go and would eventually go in front on an awesome wide-open Dirk three thanks to a gnarly Tyson Chandler screen. See number 3 on the list to see what happened next.
1. Dirk Heads to the Locker Room as the Buzzer Sounds
The final six minutes or so of the 4th quarter of game six in Miami felt like the longest six minutes of basketball in my life. The Mavs had a comfortable lead that they were unlikely to give up. It didn’t seem real. This was too easy. We’ve all waited to so many years for this to happen and it’s going to happen? This easily?
I was lucky enough to be at the watch party at the American Airlines Center. As the final seconds wound down, “We Are the Champions” began to blast through the speakers and streamers flowed down from the ceiling. I was screaming with my eyes welling up. High fiving strangers around me.
Meanwhile, on the incredible ABC broadcast, Dirk is hopping over the scorer’s table in order to hide his overwhelming emotions in the locker room. The incredibly colorful Mark Cuban is bear hugging the gray Rick Carlisle while their conversation can be heard. Jason Kidd, at the age of 38, is shaking so many different hands and hugging so many people with a permanent smile on his face.
The boys had done it. A franchise in its 31st year of existence finally had a title for its city.
It was an incredible moment that MFFL’s will cherish forever. One that can never be taken away.
As the Cavs and Warriors prepare to play in the Finals for the third year in a row, let’s all remember and appreciate that magical run back in 2011 that is ours forever.
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