Hasta la vista, baby!
Monday night the little Mavericks grew up just a bit. They say to be the best you have to beat the best. Monday night, the Mavericks demonstrated the ability to beat the NBA's best team, the defending champs on their own court. They said, "Good bye" to the Spurs and hello to the Western Conference Finals.
Mark Cuban, Mavs owner, said it best ... WOW. It was an overtime nail-biter and it was close to being one of the greatest meltdowns in franchise history, almost blowing a 3-1 series lead and a 20 point lead in Game 7. However, "close" only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades.
The reality is/was that they did win and they beat a team that was good, has been good, and will be good again next year. There can be no excuses. The Spurs played hard, but they were outplayed by a better team, a team that was deeper and played better as a team.
Credit much of that success to the players (e.g., Dirk's MVP quality 28.6 points per game in the playoffs), but also to the coaching staff and owner, for this success did not happen overnight. We've seen this train coming 'round the bend for a short while. The train got on the right track when Mark Cuban bought the team.
Chew on this fact: Dallas has 25 postseason wins in the last 5seasons after winning only 21 playoff games in the previous 21 years of its history. That includes, of course, the good Mavericks teams of the 80s.
Mark Cuban gets some flak, but there are tons of teams out there who would love to have such an owner and you can credit him with a large share in the praise for this Mavericks turnaround. Cuban brought in legendary coach Don Nelson, who rescued the team from the mire of obscurity & mediocrity and then passed the team on to his assistant, the Little General. Coach of the year Avery Johnson, in his first full season, instilled a defensive mindset and helped the team overcome numerous injuries and key losses the past two years (back to back NBA MVP Steve Nash and lifelong Mav Michael Finley).
Prior to Mark Cuban, the Mavs were one of the perennial worst teams in the NBA. They became a run & gun team that was fun to watch, but would never be taken too seriously to go deep in the playoffs because they couldn't play well on defense and were perceived as soft.
Well, this season they took out the powerhouse team in the West, the San Antonio Spurs. This was a Spurs team who won 63 games (60 for Dallas) and had won 2 NBA Championships in the past 3 years, beating Dallas in the Western Conference Finals in 2003. Plus, the Spurs edged out Dallas for a division title 5 of the last 6 seasons, with the Maverickss finishing behind the Spurs by one game or on a tiebreaker 3 of those seasons.
They took the Spurs' best shot and wound up with the most points on the scoreboard at the end of OT in Game 7 and the most wins in the series. It was hard fought, but symbolized the Mavericks status as an elite team, a team with legitimacy when discussing a championship.
They still need to win 4 games just to make it to the NBA Finals and another 4 to be called NBA Champs, but they can be proud, as can their fans, of the great strides they have made over the past few years and the giant leap they took this year.
In fact, regardless of what happens against Phoenix, a new era has dawned, for one of them will go to the NBA Finals. This will be the first time since 1998 that the West is not represented in the NBA Finals by either the Spurs or Mighty Lakers.
Yet, when it's all said and done, having shown their character and ability to work well as a team, there's a very good chance Dirk could be raising his fist in victory over the Phoenix Suns AND the winner of the Heat vs. Pistons series.