It took Dirk Nowitzki thirteen seasons to reach mountain top of the NBA and bring the city of Dallas their first NBA championship. Many believed it should’ve happened in their first trip to the NBA finals in 2006 and perhaps even with the Mavericks own version of their “Big 3” Steve Nash, Michael Finley, and Dirk Nowitzki.
Michael Finley was the face of the franchise before Nowitzki emerged as a perennial All-Star and was let go in 2005 due to financial reasons on top of the fact he was 32 years old and no longer in his prime. Steve Nash, however, was much tougher to see leave Dallas as he won back to back league MVP awards following his departure from the Mavericks in 2004.
There is still a large portion of Maverick fans that wonder what might have been if Steve Nash had never left for Phoenix and had re-signed with the Mavericks. Could we have possibly seen more than one rafter hanging in the American Airlines Center (AAC) or would Nowitzki be in the conversation with Barkley and Malone as greatest player ever without a ring?
For starters it’s very likely the Mavericks could have made it to the ’06 finals with Nash but let’s not forget key players on that team that were acquired as a result of Nash leaving most notably Devin Harris and Jason Terry. Argument could be made that the Mavs don’t beat San Antonio that year without the driving ability and defensive play of Harris and shot making from Jason Terry.
Would Steve Nash have made a difference in the finals against Dwayne Wade and his trips to the free throw line, probably not? The teams between 2006 and 2011 were simply not deep enough nor did they carry the defensive toughness to overtake the Spurs, Celtics, or Lakers championship teams.
Now if we break down the Mavericks’ championship run in 2011 we can look at 5 main reasons that team was able to prevail.
- First: We have to start with Nowitzki’s fourth quarter dominance and clutch making shots throughout the playoffs. Nowitzki had also developed a tougher mentally over the years being the sole leader and perennial All-Star for the Mavs.
- Second: We look at the acquisition of Tyson Chandler and the defensive presence and toughness he brought to the team.
- Third: Jason Terry showed everybody why he was Dirk’s sidekick coming through in the clutch time and time again, none more important than his 27 points in game 6 of the NBA Finals.
- Fourth: Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd’s defensive play on the likes of Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dwayne Wade, & LeBron James can’t be overlooked by any stretch,
- Fifth: Coach Rick Carlisle put together a defensive scheme that hid the lack of athleticism on the team by switching to a zone defense more so than any other team in the league.
Steve Nash is exciting and fun to watch but with him staying, there would be no Jason Kidd nor is there Jason Terry two huge pieces to the 2011 championship run. Anyone who saw Nash play with the Phoenix Suns loved seeing him dazzle the fans with his no look passes and exciting the arena but the biggest reason none of those Phoenix teams won a championship was the lack of defense. No Mavs team in the Nash era was known for defense and it’s very likely that trend would have continued for as long as he was playing point guard for the Mavs.
The 2011 NBA champions Dallas Mavericks not only had a defensive identity but a Dirk Nowitzki that had emerged as a leader and wanted the ball in his hand when the game was on the line. Nowitzki was forced take on a bigger role with the departure of his friend Nash which led to him raising his game to an MVP level and eventually becoming an NBA champion.
Mavs fans would have been entertained and loved watching Nash and Nowitzki continue to electrify the American Airlines Center for years and years but as we have witnessed over and over again it’s defense that wins championships.