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AFTER THE FINAL HORN OF THE FINAL GAME HAD SOUNDED, MAVERICKS COACH Rick Carlisle was talking about his team, the team that had won it all. "I kept having people come up to me the last three or four days [saying], 'Hey, there's billions of people rooting for you guys.' And we could feel it. We knew it was important that we won this series because of what the game is about, and what the game should stand for. I'm so proud to be a small part of that." Well, maybe not billions, but were millions of fans supporting Dallas against Miami? Definitely. That support may have began more as an anti--LeBron James and anti-the-star-loaded-Heat sentiment, but as the Finals unfolded, the Mavericks began winning people over just by being the way they are.
"They have made a statement," said Carlisle of the Mavs. "Not just about our team but the game. Playing it a certain way. Trusting the pass. Believing in each other. Our team is not about individual ability; it's about collective will, collective grit. We're skilled and talented, but our game is on the ground. The guys we were playing, their game was in the air. Fortunately, as the series went on, we stayed on the ground enough to be able to win it."
Literally and figuratively the Mavericks did stay on the ground, and that lifted them higher than the franchise had ever been.
GAME 1 May 31, Miami
Heat 92, Mavericks 84
THE OPENING STATEMENT WENT TO THE HEAT. Would the Mavericks have a rebuttal? In Miami's Game 1 win Dallas never elevated its game, putting forth a ho-hum showing that belied the team's character.
"We have to force the game," said Dallas forward Shawn Marion, and he sounded as if he were making a promise for Game 2. "We were calling so many sets, it kind of took the rhythm out of everything we normally do. When we're out there freelancing and playing the game and making it up as we go, we're one of the best to do it."
The Heat relied on teamwork and rhythm to push past a first quarter in which it shot 28.6% from the field. Behind James (24 points, nine rebounds, five assists) and Dwyane Wade (22 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocks), Miami wound up pulling away in the fourth. The win was the latest example of how far the Heat had come—the team could not have had such grit in November, January, March or even at the start of the postseason.
"It just takes time for players to feel comfortable with each other and a new offensive system," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We had quite a few close games in the regular season where we failed. The more times you're in it, the more confident you get."