When Dirk Nowitzki couldn't get anything to fall, Jason Terry couldn't miss.
When Tyson Chandler got in foul trouble, Ian Mahinmi went in and hit two memorable baskets.
When DeShawn Stevenson replaced Shawn Marion as the defensive stopper, he turned three quick steals into 3-pointers.
The Dallas Mavericks closed out the NBA finals on Sunday night the way they got there — as a team, with everybody from the biggest star to the least-heralded reserve finding a way to contribute.
Sound hokey? Well, remember the sacrifice one individual among this group made for the benefit of the greater good: Mark Cuban stayed silent for more than six weeks.
"We came together for a common goal and we stayed together throughout the entire season, no matter what happened, no matter what anyone threw at us," Chandler said. "Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry have been out catalysts all season. But, that being said, we're a team, a full team. They're able to lean on us and we're able to lean on them in time of need."
Now that they've won it all, it's easy for guys to say they saw this coming "the moment they traded for me," as Chandler said, or "from Day 1," as Stevenson said.
But when Terry says he "knew it in training camp," he also can back it up. He felt so confident that in October he got a tattoo of the championship trophy on his right biceps and vowed to have it removed if this team didn't win it all.
As Stevenson hollered across the locker room Sunday night, Terry gets to keep it now.
"I knew with this group of guys, and a healthy Caron Butler, that we had the team to do it," Terry said, glossing over the fact Butler went down with a knee injury on New Year's Day; he was their second-leading scorer at the time and he never returned, yet they won the title anyway.
"I mean, (Miami) had three pieces, but we have 14 or 15. With that kind of confidence in each other — the system, the coaching staff — we just believed," Terry continued. "This team has the heart the size of Texas."
Nowitzki was the main reason the Mavs got to the brink of a title, pulling out their first two victories by leading fourth-quarter comebacks against the Heat as well as injury (a torn tendon in the tip of his left middle finger) and illness (a sinus infection that left him with a 101-degree fever). He scored the go-ahead basket in their third win.
But in Game 6, Nowitzki missed 11 of his first 12 shots. He had only three points at halftime and Dallas was ahead anyway.
He made his first shot of the second half and began to find a groove. He went 8 of 15 over the last two quarters, scoring 18 points, but he was basically a complementary scorer to Terry, who had 27 points. Dallas won 105-95, ending the series in six games.
"I couldn't get in a rhythm today for some reason," Nowitzki said. "The team carried me all night long. (Terry) came out aggressive. I've got to give it up to the fellows. They were unbelievable tonight."
Not a single player on this roster had won a championship; there was a combined 133 seasons and zero rings.
Nowitzki and Terry lived with the disgust of blowing a nearly 3-0 lead against Miami in the 2006 finals, and Kidd lost consecutive finals with New Jersey in 2002-03.
The emotions began to hit with 18.8 seconds left and Kidd going to the line. Nowitzki and Terry met at midcourt — right on top of the Heat's logo — and shared a hug, the smaller Terry leaning his head on Nowitzki's chest like a child and his dad. Nowitzki went to near the other free throw line, put a hand on his hip and exhaled. The job was done.
A week shy of his 33rd birthday, the former league MVP finally had the championship he so desperately craved. No longer will he and Kidd be part of the conversation of "best player never to win a ring."
It's a lift for the franchise, too. This celebration 31 years in the making was savored by hundreds of Mavericks fans, despite being halfway across the country. They stood in their blue shirts chanting "Let's Go Mavs."
Franchise founder Donald Carter — wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, the one that used to be part of the team's logo — accepted the trophy from commissioner David Stern at Cuban's request.
That's right, Cuban willingly avoided the dramatic moment of taking the Larry O'Brien Trophy from his frequent sparring partner, Stern.
Cuban took the high road. It was a classy gesture in keeping with his willingness to avoid being part of the story line to this postseason.
But once the big ceremony was done, out came the Mark Cuban most sports fans remember.
He swore in multiple TV interviews to emphasize how proud he was of his team's fans. He walked into a postgame news conference talking on the phone, hung up and hollered, "Did anybody inform you guys, we're the world champions?!" On his way out, he took the trophy with him and declared it was spending the night in his room.
"You know, I probably won't even shower for six months," Cuban said, laughing. "My biggest fear is that I can't remember every little part of it, every emotion, every feeling that I went through as the clock was winding down. ... I was just hoping I could just do an emotional videotape of myself and just keep it. So that's my biggest hope and fear that I'll be able to feel this forever."
Now that he was talking again, Cuban explained why he censored himself throughout series against the Lakers, Thunder and Heat.
"It didn't make any sense to say anything," he said, reciting the litany of questions he knew would surround each series. "The quieter I got, the more we won. I didn't want to break the karma."
Not that he thought there was a correlation between his silence and the team's success.
"Do you really think these guys are going to play any harder or less hard because of what I say?" he said. "That's disrespectful. They put it on the line. They didn't care if I was naked at every game. They were going to go out there and play as hard as they could."
They sure did. And now they have a shiny gold trophy to show for it.
(Photo: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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