The Dallas Mavericks wanted us to believe everything but the truth. They tried to make us think it was the refs who had them in this predicament, down to their last at-bat, their final strike and trailing desperately. They wanted to divert our attention, make us think they were pushed to the brink of elimination because a timeout was called too early, because the zebras missed a Miami back-court violation, because Dwyane Wade was awarded a bushel full of foul shots he didn't deserve. They wanted us to buy into their fantasy, that their anger plus playing back at home was going to be a cure-all.
The Mavericks wanted us to believe everything except the obvious truth, that the Miami Heat is a better team. They don't award championships for being more athletic or having a better bench or playing a more aesthetic brand of basketball. Championships, if things are fairly even between opponents, are earned by teams with the toughest minds, teams with a nasty stubbornness to match their talent. And while Miami isn't the greatest team to come around in recent years, it has a champion's grit, a champion's mettle.
When time came to stop whining and start playing, the Mavericks were no match for the Heat in Game 6. All that Dallas anger and the home-court advantage the Mavericks kept touting couldn't stop Miami from winning its first NBA championship Tuesday night. There will be no Game 7 in the NBA Finals because Miami closed like the champion it is, taking Game 6, 95-92.
Heat Coach Pat Riley, asked before the opening tip-off what he thought about the possibility of having to play a Game 7 on the road, had the only answer a guy with Riley's championship history could have. Riley said he brought one suit, one shirt and one tie to Dallas. Now, tell the truth. Can you see a man as stylish and as vain as Riley wearing the same suit to back-to-back games? Okay, I suppose Mr. Armani could FedEx some wardrobe for Riles from Italy, but Riley had a better way of dealing with packing light:
Win the game. Win the championship right here in Big D and not have to worry about Game 7. Nobody ever wins Game 7 on the road to take a championship. Conference finals? Sure. League championship series? Yes. But not the whole thing.
So while Miami was dealing with the business of winning a championship, the drama surrounding the Mavericks was about owner Mark Cuban's latest $250,000 fine, how the Mavs would respond for their home fans, and whether stationary exercise bikes were going to survive another poor performance by Dirk Nowitzki.
Typical of an angry team, Dallas got off to a great start, an explosive start. But long-term, it was as effective as a boxer tiring himself out in the first couple of rounds. Dallas went from 10-6 to 18-10 to 26-12. And then, the series MVP, Wade, went to work. No, he's not Michael Jordan and he'll never be. Wade doesn't have a post-up game yet, which is how Jordan set up so many easy baskets for himself and for teammates out of double teams. And Wade has no three-point shot to speak of, not yet anyway.
Yet, he is the best player in the NBA at the moment. Kobe and LeBron both have more natural talent, but neither is as effective as Wade is now.
Neither has Wade's feel for what's necessary on a certain night, on a certain possession. And as a closer, Wade might as well be Mariano Rivera in 2000. Wade, late, is untouchable, even when he's slumped from the fatigue of too many minutes and fighting through too many double teams. Tell me it wasn't fitting that Wade grabbed the final rebound, off of Jason Terry's would-be game-tying three-pointer just before the buzzer.
The torch must have been passed if we're talking first and foremost about Wade instead of Shaq. And it has been passed. Now, it's Shaq who has to be a support player for a young and upcoming star. Who would have guessed, oh, seven or eight years ago that Wade would be supported by Shaq and Alonzo Mourning? Of all the Miami players, nobody could find this more satisfying than Mourning, who for so many years was the face of the franchise, the star, or at very least the co-star with Riley.
Mourning is a hero in Miami, in a way few people are, because of all his charitable work. He's up there with Dan Marino and Don Shula on the marquee in South Florida. People weep when he shows up to encourage their ill or physically challenged children. So, while his life is already full in so many ways, a championship would just about complete him, certainly professionally. He'd grown just vulnerable enough with his own life-threatening illness to become an even bigger favorite.
But there was nothing vulnerable about 'Zo in Game 6, not the way he blocked shots, dunked, scowled and flexed. 'Zo's eight points, six rebounds and five blocked shots, considering the stakes and the circumstances of his life, were a more significant contribution than those 30-point nights, the 20-rebound nights when he was healthy and, yes, menacing. His minutes played and energy off the bench in relief of Shaq make for some kind of melodramatic but true story.
Of course, the big credit has to go to Riley, who orchestrated the whole thing, from the acquisition of the players to the hostile takeover that sent Stan Van Gundy packing, to getting them all to play the way Riley wants to play, the tough way, the championship way. Riley promised a championship for Miami when he arrived from New York 11 years ago. And though it took far longer than he thought at the time, Riley delivered. He became, Tuesday night, only the third head coach in the history of the NBA to win championships with two teams. Alex Hannum and Phil Jackson are the others.
Riley didn't have to call Armani after the game, didn't have to sneak out early in the morning and buy something off the rack to wear at Game 7. He got dressed once, for success, for a championship.