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Everybody had a sob story to tell. Gary Payton fell short in two Finals with Seattle and the Lakers, not to mention the year his team had the best record and lost in the first round. Shandon Anderson missed twice with Utah, Derek Anderson came close in San Antonio and Antoine Walker had a taste of the conference finals in Boston. And of course, Pat Riley had gone nearly two decades since his last championship.
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But perhaps no Heat player had become more identified with postseason failure than Alonzo Mourning. He was there for all the heartbreaking losses to the Knicks in a previous Heat era, and then came back just in time to see his team blow Game 7 at home in the Detroit series a year ago. All told, Mourning had been part of four different deciding-game losses on the Heat's home court.
So perhaps it was fitting that Mourning was the key role player in the Heat's championship-clinching game in Dallas on Monday night. No, he wasn't the biggest star -- that, of course, was Dwyane Wade -- but he was the difference-maker.
When he checked in, the Heat already trailed by 14 points, and it seemed to nearly everyone that Miami's championship moment would have to wait for another day. But Zo took charge almost immediately, blocking a shot at one end and then getting a rebound and dunk at the other to cut the Dallas lead to eight. By the time he checked out early in the second quarter, Mourning helped Miami shave 11 points off the Dallas lead in a span of just 5:12.
"We knew as a team that they were going to make runs," Mourning said. "We had to sustain their run with getting stops, making defensive plays. I think collectively, everybody just dug a little bit deeper."
Later in the quarter Mourning rose up again, taking a sweet behind-the-back feed from Jason Williams and delivering a monstrous, I've-waited-long-enough-and-would-like-my-ring-tonight-please jam over D.J. Mbenga. That slam capped a 13-0 Heat run that gave the Heat its first lead of the game and utterly deflated the Dallas crowd.
In his short burst of playing time, Mourning's defense at the back of the Miami zone was enormous. He rejected five shots all told, and even briefly guarded Dirk Nowitzki during the fourth quarter. Mourning's final line -- 3-of-4, eight points, six rebounds -- was simply awesome for only 14 minutes of action. And on a night when neither team could make a jump shot, Mourning's intimidation at the basket was crucial.Not that we were surprised. Mourning isn't able to play extended minutes as the result of a kidney transplant two years ago, but in spurts he's still amazing. He led the league in blocked shots per minute, and he led it by a lot -- his 5.31 blocks per 40 minutes was nearly a full block ahead of the rate of the next best shot-blocker, Minnesota's Eddie Griffin.
|2005-06 Blocks Per 40 Minutes|