The NBA season came to an end last night in Miami when the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Heat to win their first championship in team history. They beat one of the most publicized and scrutinized team in history, and did it emphatically. After winning Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in the series the Mavericks knew they had two chances to eliminate the Heat, but both games would be in Miami. That didn’t sway the confidence of the Mavs, as they rose to the occasion and beat Miami in Game 6 to win the crown.
As is the case with almost any NBA champion, the story for the Mavericks centered around their best player and Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki. After a solid series and an unbelievable playoffs, Dirk found himself struggling to find the range throughout the majority of Game 6. However, Dirk’s determination only grew stronger and he continued to fire up shots. At the end of the night he had a poor shooting percentage, but he also had an NBA championship.
Nowitzki’s performance was very similar to that of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who just one season ago found himself struggling in an elimination game. During Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics Bryant felt that his legacy was on the line. He felt that no matter what he accomplished in his career it would be incomplete if he was unable to defeat the Celtics and win the NBA championship. Dirk mentioned having similar feelings during the 2011 Finals. This competitive drive that motivated both players was so intense that they had trouble relaxing and getting into the rhythm of the deciding game.
The numbers were very similar for Bryant in Game 7 and Dirk in last night’s Game 6. Against the Celtics in the deciding game Bryant shot 6-24 from the field, including 0-6 from beyond the three-point line. He did pull down 15 rebounds and made 11-15 from the free throw line. Of that shots that he did make, several were jumpers and a series of free throws that iced the game for the Lakers down the stretch.
During Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals in Miami Nowitzki was facing a similar slump. When the game ended Dirk had shot 9-27 and just 1-7 from three-point territory. But like Bryant he pulled down double digit rebounds, 11, and willed his team to victory in the fourth quarter. Even though he missed the majority of his shots all night long, Dirk kept shooting and ultimately got the deciding baskets that sealed the game and the championship for the Mavericks.
The tension that both Bryant and Nowitzki felt almost cost them the biggest games of their careers, but in the end they were able to master the moment and come out on top. The same determination that caused the stress and the missed shots ultimately proved to be the deciding factor.
The mindsets that both Bryant and Nowtizki had during these elimination games was remarkably similar. Both knew that they were the best players on their team, and that without them scoring the basketball their team would not win. This allowed them to continue shooting even after missing the majority of their shots throughout the game. Neither Dirk nor Bryant cared about their shooting percentage, they only cared about putting points on the board and getting closer to the ultimate goal.
To truly appreciate the mindset that both Bryant and Nowitzki possessed during their deciding games all you have to do is look at LeBron James. The Miami Heat superstar had the chance to take over Game 6 in the fourth quarter and send the series to Game 7, but ultimately he passed up his opportunity. Even though some of the passes James made were good passes, that’s not what the Heat needed in that situation.
The Heat were looking to their star player to take over the game and bring home a victory, but his passive mindset ended up dooming himself and the team. James took only five shots in the fourth quarter of Game 6, when the Heat needed much more from their best scorer.
The superstar mentality is one that not many players have. It’s easy to get discouraged after continuously missing shots for the majority of the game. Being able to overlook those previous misses and continue shooting ultimately led Dirk and Bryant to the championship. While people may discuss the poor percentages or the lack of a dominating performance, nobody can ever dispute what Bryant and Nowitzki turned themselves into during these difficult games – champions.