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Thursday, May 26, 2011
Crown the Mavs as NBA's crunch-time kings

By Tim MacMahon



DALLAS -- The mantra in the Dallas Mavericks' locker room after slamming the door on the Oklahoma City Thunder was, "Four more wins."

The Western Conference title was simply another step toward the ring-less veteran squad’s ultimate goal. There won’t be any wild celebrations until the Mavs claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy. However, there is already one crown Jason Terry believes the Mavs have earned the right to wear.

"Down the stretch, we like to say that we're the best team in basketball," Terry said after the Mavs' 100-96 win Wednesday night that clinched the Western Conference title.

Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks used a 14-4 run in the final 4:19 to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals.
He'll get no arguments across the Red River. Not after the Mavericks schooled the young Thunder on how to perform in the most pressure-packed moments of the playoffs.

Oklahoma City outplayed the Mavericks for 43 minutes in each of the last two games of the series. It didn't matter because Dallas was so dominant down the stretch.

The Mavs made a historic comeback in Game 4, finishing regulation with a 17-2 run to force overtime en route to becoming the only team in the past 15 years to win a playoff game after trailing by 15 or more points with five minutes remaining. It was fitting that the Mavs finished off the Thunder with a 14-4 run in the final 4 minutes, 19 seconds of Game 5 to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals.

The youth-versus-experience angle has been front and center since the Oklahoma City whiz kids beat the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 to earn a matchup with the gray-bearded Mavs. But it's short-sighted to chalk up the Mavs' clutch prowess to an experience edge over a bunch of NBA toddlers.

After all, the Mavs were just as dominant during crunch time against five-time champion Kobe Bryant and the veteran-loaded Los Angeles Lakers during their stunning semifinals sweep.

The combination of Dirk Nowitzki scoring seemingly at will, Jason Kidd making smart decision after smart decision and Dallas playing lockdown defense makes the Mavs extremely comfortable in the final few minutes of close games.

"Everybody's calm," said Kidd, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the overtime win over Oklahoma City and shut down All-NBA scorers Bryant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in many clutch possessions. "The crowd might be a little uneasy, especially when we're at home, but the guys don't panic."

This isn’t a new development in Dallas. The Mavs are 29-12 in regular-season games decided by three points or fewer under coach Rick Carlisle.

Dallas is just getting it done in the playoffs this year, a welcome change from their recent run of postseason disappointments. And they're closing at a completely different level of efficiency.

In the final five minutes when the score is within five points in these playoffs, the Mavs have been more than twice as good as their opponents. Per 100 possessions, Dallas averaged 148.5 points and allowed only 71.7 in such situations.

That success starts with Nowitzki. He has averaged an NBA-best 9.7 points during fourth quarters this postseason. His 12-point flurry in the final five minutes to key the Loud City-silencing comeback in Oklahoma City will never be forgotten. He scored 40 points in 32 clutch minutes -- final five minutes, score within five -- during these playoffs.

However, just as Dirk dished to Kidd for the game-winner in Game 4, he shares the credit with his fellow Hall of Famer.

"We've got Jason Kidd, who has obviously seen it all in this league, who is one of the great leaders," Nowitzki said in explaining why the Mavs thrive in crunch time. "He always seems to make the right play down the stretch."

Those crunch-time plays by Kidd, Nowitzki and their veteran teammates have gotten the Mavs to the NBA Finals.

If they do it four more times, they'll finish the season in the best possible way: popping champagne bottles.