2011 Playoffs

JET Terry’s Tattoo Stays Put

MIAMI — The tattoo stays.

Jason Terry made sure of that with his work against the Miami Heat in The Finals.

The Dallas Mavericks’ sixth-man extraordinaire went to work in the last three games of the series to help the Mavericks roll to their first title in franchise history while also making sure he wouldn’t have to make a trip to have that Larry O’Brien trophy tattoo removed from the inside of his right bicep.

Terry’s 19 points off the bench before halftime carried the Mavericks while Dirk Nowitzki struggled with his shot early. He finished with a game-high 27 and for the series wound up outplaying the man, LeBron James, the Heat assigned to shut him down.

Terry averaged 18 points on 49 percent shooting from the floor and 39.3 percent from beyond the 3-point line. James averaged 17.8 points on 48 percent shooting from the floor and 32 percent from deep.

The stage fright that seemed to paralyze James in this series, his second trip to the last stretch of the season, had the opposite effect on Terry, who thrived in the magnitude of his second Finals moment. He not only outplayed James, he called him out repeatedly and backed up his words with clutch work when the Mavericks had to have it.

Terry said he was channeling the idols of his youth, namely Gary Payton.

“Everybody knows who GP is, Gary Payton.One of my idols. A good friend,” said Terry, a Seattle native raised on the Payton-Shawn Kemp-led Sonics teams. “It wasn’t about me carrying the team. It was doing my job. My job is to come in and provide a spark, make plays, make shots. I did my job.”

Terry’s confidence was on full display in the elimination situation but in the aftermath he reflected on his roots.

“For me, I just think about my journey,” Terry said. “Where I come from, the inner city of Seattle, growing up many nights on the playground emulating the greats, Isiah Thomas, even my hometown heroes like Slick Watts, “Downtown” Freddy Brown, Magic [Johnson]. Now I’m in the same breath as those guys. They’re champions. Dr. J texted me before Game 6. He said, ‘Hey son, it’s your time.’ I responded to him, ‘I want to be a champion, just like you.’ Now I am.”

And Terry is likely the only one with that tattoo on his arm.

James Gets Passive On Finals Stage

MIAMI — Something happened to LeBron James on the way to his first NBA championship.

It’s not clear what exactly, but the LeBron James that we saw in the previous two rounds of the playoffs was not the same as the LeBron James that we saw in the 2011 NBA Finals.

“Sometimes, you got it,” James said afterward. “Sometimes, you don’t.”

Indeed, this is a make-or-miss league. James’ shooting numbers from the last two series, especially in the clutch, were probably not sustainable. But this was much more than that. James’ performance in The Finals was clearly not about shots just not going in.

The James that destroyed the Celtics and Bulls was aggressive, dominant and unforgiving. In The Finals, at least in Games 2-5, James was nothing but passive.

He turned himself into a point guard in this series, always looking to pass first. Yes, the Mavs blocked off the paint and were always ready with a second defender. Yes, “the right play” is to take what the defense gives you and find the open man.

But James isn’t a point guard. He’s 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds. And the best basketball talent in the world.

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Game 6 Sights And Sounds

MIAMI — Sights and sounds from AmericanAirlines Arena in the hours leading up to Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks…

  • It was unseen, but the Larry O’Brien trophy is in the building, secured in storage. There’s also a room set up to take post-game photos with the trophy if the Mavs win.
  • Marc Anthony rehearsing the national anthem.
  • A group of NBA officials at midcourt going over the plan for the trophy presentation, but not actually going through the trophy presentation.
  • No t-shirts on the seats, but the same white seat covers as usual. And fans were handed white “Let’s go Heat” signs.
  • Rodrigue Beaubois and Ian Mahinmi getting some extra shooting in, but leaving the court once Jason Kidd emerges from the Mavs’ locker room. “When J-Kidd steps on the floor, we shut it down,” Mahinmi tells Brian Cardinal.
  • Several Mavs fans dress in blue among the first spectators in the building and finding seats near the Dallas bench. One group has a large Puerto Rican flag, and J.J. Barea is quick to acknowledge them as he goes through his shooting routine.

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John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

Pushing All The Right Buttons

MIAMI — When quizzed about his packing habits for the final stanza of The Finals, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle wisely put the brakes on sharing too much.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for all of you,” he told us Saturday. “I feel like I’ve gotten to know you well. But I don’t believe at this point I’m ready to share the number of pairs of underwear I packed. I just don’t know that that’s the right way to go.”

That’s another move Carlisle has gotten right during this series. The coaches have been reduced to bit players, for the most part, courtesy of all the other headline-stealing issues surrounding this Mavericks-Heat matchup.

But after five games, it’s clear that Carlisle is pushing all the right buttons. Tweaking his starting lineup, J.J. Barea for DeShawn Stevenson, sparked the Mavericks to back-to-back wins. Subtle shifts to where the Mavericks’ offense is initiated from has helped solve the Heat’s vaunted defense. And with Brendan Haywood injured, Carlisle has tapped both Ian Mahinmi and Brian Cardinal for crucial minutes at the most critical moments of the season. And Carlisle’s game-management abilities have always been held in the highest regard by league insiders.

“Well, I think he’s pushed the right buttons I think all season long,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “He’s challenged us in ways.  Sometimes he’s backed off.  Sometimes he’s letting J[ason]Kidd run the show.  Sometimes he feels like things are not going the way he wants to and he’s clamping down a little more.  So I think that was the challenge the first two years, to find a good mix between playcalls and freedom and still play enough defense to win.  And I just think he found a good mix and he found all the right buttons to motivate us every single night to get to this spot.”

Meticulous attention to detail and tireless preparation are not mutually exclusive traits of Carlisle and his staff. Still, the maneuvering has landed them here, 48 minutes away from claiming the Larry O’Brien trophy. Whatever Mavericks’ video coordinator Mike Shedd is showing in those film sessions is on the money.

“I think every series, every time you go through a game, win or lose, you have to look at the film,” Nowitzki said. “You adjust.  Sometimes it’s major things, sometimes it’s minor things the media doesn’t even pick up.  It might be little coverages.  So I think every coach goes back after a game and adjusts, and we’ve done good so far.  I think the major change was obviously starting J.J.”

A reporter tried to coax Carlisle into admiring his own handy work after the Mavericks’ Game 4 win, but he refused to bite.

“Who is this guy?” an amused Carlisle responded.

You can forget about Carlisle patting himself on the back. That won’t happen, even if his team finds a way to finish this series tonight or even in a Game 7.

If the Mavericks win it all, Carlisle won’t have to say a word anyway.

Now Or Never … The Remix?

MIAMI — At least we’re done with the endless debates about things other than basketball.

As LeBron James famously Tweeted a few days ago, it’s now or never (the remix?), if you will.

Four quarters, 48 minutes and someone can walk out of American Airlines Arena tonight after Game 6 of The Finals with the Larry O’Brien trophy … or we could come back and do all this one last time, Tuesday night in Game 7.

But the sideshow, the extracurricular drama, is finished.

“It’s bigger issues in this series than that,” James said Saturday, declining to feed into the foolishness created off the court.

Right again, my man.

When you’re down 3-2 and facing an extended and painful offseason if you can’t win on your home floor, there are much bigger issues looming.

Will James find his way in the fourth quarter? Can Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks duplicate their 13-for-19 shooting display from Game 5 in Game 6? Is Dwyane Wade going to rekindle his 2006 magic and deliver in Wade County? Are Jason Terry and J.J. Barea back in a groove for good after struggling in the opening stages of this series?

We keep hearing Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, and many of his players, insist that they wouldn’t want it any other way. It doesn’t sound any more convincing to us now repeating (or rather rewriting) it than it did when the words were uttered. But for the sake of the Heat’s season-long narrative, the whole us-against-the-world script that has served them so well, we’ll buy in.

Game 6, as if it needed anything extra, will be even more enjoyable this way.

With so much on the line, you have to wonder who has the most at stake tonight between James, Nowitzki, Wade, Spoelstra and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle … (and feel free to share your own opinions and your Game 6 predictions after casting your vote):

Heat’s No. 82, Mavs’ No. 78 caused this

MIAMI – Why are we here?

No, that’s not meant as some angsty, existential question. It’s meant literally, as in why has The Finals shifted to Miami for Games 6 and 7 rather than to Dallas? How did the Heat end up with the homecourt advantage — the first two and the last two in the 2-3-2 format — and not the Mavericks?

The obvious answer is Miami’s 58-24 regular season record was better than Dallas’ 57-25 mark. The NBA, after all, doesn’t goofily award home-court for its championship series based on the outcome of the All-Star Game. Now some might argue that using raw W-L records isn’t really fair, since teams play more games within their conferences and make comparisons difficult. At least it’s a smarter way than baseball’s.

Look closely and you’ll see that Miami won its 82nd and final game of the regular season in a way that no one would have expected. And that’s what gave the Heat its one-victory edge on Dallas to set up The Finals schedule.

When Miami played at Toronto on April 13, almost nothing was at stake. It already had clinched the NBA’s Southeast Division crown and was locked into the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 playoff seed. It was the perfect time to rest the Big Three — Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh — and that’s exactly what coach Erik Spoelstra did. Spoelstra apparently did raise the prospect of future home-court edges but that wasn’t enough to lose the R&R.

“We said we have a lot of confidence in our teammates that they can pull this game out,” Wade recalled Saturday, after his team’s practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. “Juwan Howard, Eddie House, Big Cat [Jamaal Magliore] did a great job winning against Toronto.  Our teammates did help us out and put us in this position where we can have the last two games at home.”

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LeBron needs fourth quarter freshness

MIAMI — These games, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is fond of saying, are coming down to the last three or four possessions. Well, then maybe it also comes down to an issue of stamina, in which case, we know what the gas meters are reading:

Dirk: on “F.”

LeBron: “E.”

These two players, so important to their team’s late-game fortunes, couldn’t be more opposite here in the NBA Finals. Dirk Nowitzki has outscored LeBron James in fourth quarters 44-13 and the numbers don’t completely explain why.

By the fourth quarter, LeBron has chased Jason Terry and/or J.J. Barea for three quarters. Dirk hasn’t chased anybody. Basically: LeBron is using precious energy on defense while Dirk is getting away with playing little or none.

LeBron admitted Saturday: “Anytime you can get a little rest here, or a little rest there, it definitely helps.”

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Setting The Record Straight On ‘Cough-gate’

MIAMI — Just so we’re clear, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James never mocked Dirk Nowitzki specifically. And even if they did, they were only toying around like that to mess with the media and not the Mavericks’ star.

At least that’s the Wade James version of what transpired before Game 5 of The Finals in Dallas, where James and Wade played to the cameras as they walked out of American Airlines Center.

Saturday afternoon here at American Airlines Arena, we got the latest twist in “Cough-gate.” And while Wade, James and every one of Nowitzki’s teammates that was asked about the footage tried to downplay its significance, Nowitzki was surprisingly pointed in his response to being spoofed by the competition.

“I just thought it was a little childish, a little ignorant,” Nowitzki said. “I’ve been in this league for 13 years.  I’ve never faked an injury or an illness before.  But it happened.  It’s over to me.  It’s not going to add anything extra to me.  This is the NBA Finals.  If you need an extra motivation, you have a problem. So we’re one win away from my dream, what I’ve worked on for half of my life.  This is really all I’m worried about.  This is all I’m focusing on.  And not really offthecourt stuff that happened. ”

The video footage of Wade and James poking fun added an extra layer of telenovela-style drama to a fascinating series that didn’t really need any extra spice. The games have been well-played, tightly contested and full of breathtaking plays from both sides.

Really, the only thing that seemed to be missing was some genuine disdain for each other by the two sides, the rematch of the 2006 Finals storyline didn’t carry much weight since so few of the principles this time around weren’t involved then. And no offense to DeShawn Stevenson, but his longstanding feud with James hasn’t gained much traction either.

All that changed when Wade and James walked down that hallway and started in on their comedy routine that Wade insists wasn’t directed at Nowitzki.

“First of all, it wasn’t fake coughing. I actually did cough,” he said. “And with the cameras being right there, we made a joke out of it because we knew you guys were going to blow it up. You did exactly what we knew. We never said Dirk’s name. I think he’s not the only one in the world who can get sick or have a cough. We just had fun with the cameras being right there in our face about the blowup of the incident, and it held to be true. You blew it up.”

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All Of Miami Counting On A Game 7

MIAMI — A celebration some 11 months in the making is on hold for now.

At least until further notice, and certainly until after Sunday night’s Game 6 of The Finals, which is shaping up as the Miami Heat’s (second to) last stand.

Down 3-2 to the Dallas Mavericks with the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the line, the Heat not only have to stave off elimination Sunday night at American Airlines Arena, they also have to save the financial bacon for local merchants here that have planned all year for a championship parade since the day the Heat’s Big 3 came together last summer.

That pressure LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are feeling right now is very real, especially for the folks here in South Florida that are heavily invested in the lucrative residue that accompanies a title run.

There are more than just a few legacies riding on Game 6, as Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald explains:

From T-shirt makers to nightclub owners to shaved-ice vendors to newspapers and radio stations to a West Miami-Dade botanica selling Heat-themed voodoo dolls, a broad slice of Miami’s economy has some skin in the game, with an impact that could stretch beyond just the immediate sugar high of a post-championship celebration.

“I hear all the excitement and anticipation,” said Tadd Schwartz, a public relations maven who represents the Miami Downtown Development Authority. “Everyone would want to attach their name to the Miami Heat in some way shape or form. All of this is good for Miami.”

And it all rests squarely on the shoulders of the Heat’s Three Kings. Without a title, there’ll be no championship parade, no celebratory blowouts at swanky hot spots, no ringing cash drawers at sports merchandising shops across South Florida and no commemorative insta-books reveling in the team’s achievement.

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Dirk’s Silence Deafening In Finals

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — While the brass band continues to march around every shot and pass, each nail-bite and utterance of LeBron James, at the other end of the floor Dirk Nowitzki tip-toes around like a ninja on a mattress full of marshmallows.

Call him the Basketball Whisperer.

Of course, there is no reason to shout your own name from the rooftops when your performance and results scream louder than an air raid siren.

Another game, another win and another virtuoso effort – 29 points, six rebounds, three assists – by Nowitzki that is not just a contrast in style but of substance with the star-studded Miami monster.

Our buddy Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com delivers the goods:

Actually, Nowitzki has been twice as good as the Heat’s two stars during winning time. That’s fact, not opinion. Just check the numbers.

In the final five minutes with the score within five points, Nowitzki has scored 26 points in these Finals, hitting eight of 12 shots from the floor. That’s double what (Dwyane) Wade and James have combined to produce, with James contributing a grand total of zero points to the cause.

No wonder the Mavs have outscored the Heat by 15 points in those situations, which explains why the less talented team is the squad with a chance to pop champagne bottles Sunday night.

The unfolding story does seem to go beyond the cold, hard numbers as the basketball world watches it all unfold. There is a vastly different approach to the game at work here.

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