The stage was set. Dirk was ready to take his place among the upper echelon of all-time greats. He was minutes away from all but sealing up his 1st NBA championship – yes, exactly one more than the combined total of NBA legends Charles Barkley and Karl Malone. His legacy would be cemented as one of the great power forwards and best European player to ever play the game.
Other legacies would be made as well. Mark Cuban would prove that you could buy, trade, and draft a collection of free agent parts to a mid-market city and produce a championship – as long as you had a dynamic owner with a enough vision, arrogance, and of course, the help of Yahoo! management overpaying for your company by several billion.
The whited out Miami Heat crowd was dead silent. This was not the expected outcome after bringing in Shaquille O’Neal the previous summer to complement Wade with a team rounded out by nice component parts like Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, James Posey, and Udonis Haslem.
Below, with some editorial notes, are the 6:13 that would come to define Dirk and the Mavericks’ legacy to date:
The setup: It’s the 4th quarter, Dallas is up 2-0 in the Finals against the Heat. Game 3 is in Miami and, coming off a big 3rd quarter and strong start to the 4th, the Mavericks seem on their way to cruising to a an insurmountable 3-0 lead. They are up 89-76, a 13 point lead with less than 6 and a ½ to play.
6:13 – Wade, who has had a strong game thus far, drains a fadeaway bank shot from 15 feet. Dallas 89, Miami 78.
5:50 – Shaq who has been getting knocked around by Erick Dampier all series (Dampier outscored him 6 to 5 in the previous game), draws a charge. Shaq has seemed to come up with this play from time to time throughout his career.
5:36 – Wade absolutely blows by a flat footed Josh Howard for a reverse layup and 3 point play. The Miami crowd shows signs of life. No need to head over to the Clevelander to drown sorrows just yet. Dallas 89, Miami 81.
5:12 – Devin Harris, who as it actually turns out was the only other player who decided to show up in the 4th outside of Nowitzki, knocks down a jumper. Dallas 91, Miami 81.
4:58 – James Posey, the ultimately NBA finals role player, drains a 3. No fear. Pat Riley is sitting in the stands somewhere with a smug smile on his face. Dallas 91, Miami 84.
4:33 – Jason Terry, the supposed Microwave of Dallas, bricks a shot badly.
4:19 – Wade again, this time with a beautiful fadeaway from the elbow. He now has 37 points. Dallas , Miami. Dallas 91, Miami 86.
3:53 – Nowitzki misses fallaway jumper from top of key.
3:35 – Wade blows by Howard AGAIN for a double clutch layup. The lead is now down to three. The camera flashes to show a young Mark Cuban looking panicked. Dallas 91, Miami 88.
3:18 – Nowitzki has a somewhat questionable moving screen, that said, these calls usually seems to go in favor of the team with the momentum (in this case, the Heat)
2:49 – Nowitzki is fouled on the shot by Haslem, makes both free throws. Dallas 93, Miami 88.
2:04 – Another bad offensive possession for the Mavericks. Terry misses a long 3 that doesn’t hit glass as the shot clock runs out.
1:48 – Shaq grabs a huge offensive rebound on a J-Will miss. In the process, he gets away with a push off foul against Dampier and is fouled himself on the dunk attempt putback. Then he delivers on what he has repeatedly stated throughout his career, and makes both free throws when they count. This is probably the most important sequence of the game. Dallas 93, Miami 90.
1:26- Stackhouse misses jumper from top of the key. The Mavericks keep inexplicably posting up Stack in the 4th quarter with little to no results.
1:17 – Wade drills a jumper from the baseline. No timeout from Avery Johnson, as he decides to take a page out of the Zen master’s book. Dallas 93, Miami 92.
1:03 – Udonis Haslem jumps the lane on a pass to Nowitzki and fouled on drive to rim. It’s unbelievable what glue guys/role players can mean to a championship run. Besides stellar defense, Haslem has added 8 incredibly important offensive rebounds to the mix. He makes both free throws. It has taken Dallas just a little over 5 minutes to completely lose a 13 point lead. Miami 94, Dallas 93.
0:43 – Terry misses again. Posey gets the rebound and Terry for some inexplicable reason fouls him. Miami is in the bonus. Just an absolutely disastrous sequence for Terry. Posey makes 1 of 2. Miami 95, Dallas 93.
0:33 – Devin Harris driving layup to tie game. No hesitation. I’m impressed. What happened to you in New Jersey, Devin? Tie game.
0:09 – GP , ARE YOU WITH ME?? In what will probably go down as the biggest shot of his career, Payton takes and makes his first and only shot of the night, a falling away 20 footer with the shot clock expiring. All the Mavericks are staring in disbelief. Somewhere out there, Shawn Kemp is eating a donut. Miami 97, Dallas 95.
0:03 – Nowitzki is fouled on a tough drive to the hoop.2nd free throw rims in and comes out. Life is cruel – how many times do you think has Nowitzki dreamt about that shot? Wade makes a free throw to cap the scoring. Game over. Miami 98, Dallas 96.
The rest, is history. Miami went on to win the next 3 games of the series. Wade capped off what many believe is the greatest individual performance in Finals history. As for the Mavericks? The last 5 years have been full of regrets and what-could-have-beens.
Why did Terry play so lousy in that 4th quarter? Should Avery Johnson have made an adjustment when he saw Josh Howard was helpless to stop D-Wade? Why did Stack get so many touches? And of course, how could Dirk miss that last free throw?
All those questions hang in the balance as the rematch to the Dwyane Wade / Dirk Nowitzki 2006 NBA Finals opens Tuesday. Even more so, can Nowitzki and Cuban reclaim the legacy that seemed so rightfully theirs well into that humid June night in Miami? Only one way to find out.
Let’s play ball.