Dirk Nowitzki can’t catch a break. After taking the bulk of the blame for the Mavericks’ Finals loss to the Heat in 2006, the big German produced a brilliant performance as Dallas won their first NBA championship in 2011.
Nowitzki won the Finals "Most Valuable Player" award despite battling injury problems and illness midway through the series. But despite such efforts much of the U.S. media outside of Dallas, decided the biggest story remained LeBron James’ latest failure on the big stage.
Remember, James left Cleveland for Miami in the off-season to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for what they hoped would be a championship-winning combination. It may be in the future, but not now.
“King” James was easily the Heat’s best player during the regular season and continued his great play throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Often labeled as a man who disappears during big moments, James shined as the Heat rolled over the Boston Celtics in the second round.
His play in the Eastern Conference finals against the team with the best regular season record – the Chicago Bulls – was even more impressive. So impressive, in fact, that former Bull Scottie Pippen went as far as saying: “James may be the greatest player to have played the game.”
Scottie went a bit far with that statement to put it mildly. Maybe he needs to take another look at the half dozen championship rings he won thanks to his former teammate Michael Jordan.
But even the harshest James critics were running out of ammunition after he led the Heat to the Finals in only his first year in South Beach. The stage was set for “The King” to finally be crowned under the bright lights. All he had to do was continue his blistering form.
And he did, at least for a game and three quarters. After the Heat won the opener, they built a 15 point fourth-quarter lead and were looking to be on their way to a commanding 2-0 series advantage.
James celebrated with Wade as if the title was already won. The Mavs were done and dusted. The next two games and change were a mere formality. But not so fast ...
The Mavericks closed the game on a mammoth run to even the series at 1-1. James was never the same after that. The killer instinct he displayed against Boston and Chicago was ancient history. Dallas won three of the next four games to clinch the title, fittingly, on the Heat’s home floor.
James didn’t just lose the Finals. He vanished into thin air without explanation. It’s one thing if he played his regular, aggressive game but simply missed shots. Instead, he became passive at the end of games. He treated the ball like a hot potato and passed it off in key moments.
“The King” averaged almost 27 points per game in the regular season, but under 18 in the Finals, which is the largest such point drop-off in NBA history. He also scored a mere total of 18 fourth-quarter points in the series. Compare that with 62 for Nowitzki.
So maybe Pippen was a bit premature in dubbing James the greatest player ever, and maybe LeBron once again fell short in his latest chance to grab that championship winners' ring. In the final analysis, he ran away from his own coronation.
The story of the Mavs winning in such dramatic style led by the brilliance of Nowitzki was certainly compelling but the melodrama of James' quest to be crowned remains the saga that rightly captivates most fans of the NBA.