However, his more immediate concern is winning his third ring. With Milwaukee clicking in the playoffs and having gone 8-0 in the regular season against the four best teams in the West, he likes the Bucks' chances. Says Cassell, "You tell me, 'Why not us?' "
—L. Jon Wertheim
During the Bulls' glory years, Mavericks swingman Michael Finley would return to his native Chicago and try to put himself in Michael Jordan's shoes. Before last month Finley had played six NBA seasons and never made a playoff appearance. "It's a new experience for me, but I'm a student of the game," he said last Friday night after arriving in San Antonio for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. "I've seen the level of intensity it takes to win these types of games. I've been around guys like Michael and Scottie Pippen, and I would go down and see [fellow Chicagoan] Tim Hardaway play in those Miami-New York series."
Seeing has led to believing. The 28-year-old Finley played 229 of 240 minutes in the first round against the Jazz and was still fresh in the second half of Game 5, finishing with a game-high 33 points to help Dallas overcome Utah's 14-point fourth-quarter lead. With the Mavs behind 83-82 in the waning moments, Finley took the ball in the high post, drew a double team, glanced over his shoulder and passed to second-year center Calvin Booth on the baseline. Booth laid in the game-winner with 9.6 seconds left, and Dallas won a series in which it had trailed two games to none.
Given the circumstances of his arrival in Dallas, Finley is an apt leader for a come-from-behind team. He has been perceived as part of a trade deficit since December 1996, when the Mavs acquired him from the Suns for All-Star point guard Jason Kidd in a six-player deal. "Michael has always had to prove his critics wrong, but I look around this locker room, and I see a lot of guys who have been called underachievers or castoffs," says assistant coach Donnie Nelson. "It's like the Island of Misfit Toys around here."
A two-time All-Star, the 6'7" Finley has averaged at least 20 points in each of the past four years, and he led the league in minutes the past two seasons. His teammates called him the Silencer after he quieted Jazz fans with his three-pointers, transition baskets and off-balance turnaround jumpers. It was Finley and his teammates who were muted, however, in a 94-78 loss to the Spurs last Saturday in Game 1 of the semis. Finley spent the fourth quarter on the bench after scoring 17 points. "I wanted to go back in," he says, "but the coaches said they want me to rest my legs."
That rest didn't help on Monday night, when Finley scored 24 points, but hit only 8 of 24 shots as the Mavericks dropped Game 2, 100-86. After years of studying others' playoff performances, he finally has a chance to have experiences of his own to learn from.