With the whole talk being about LeBron's meltdown in the Finals, Dallas' championship run in '11 doesn't get the recognition it deserves. Let me remind you of their path to lifting the Larry O'Brien trophy.
They first went through the Trail Blazers in a 6 games series. This one didn't come as a surprise, as the Mavs were a better team overall. Portland taking them six didn't indicate that Dallas would later go all the way. In fact, nobody expected it in the first place. There was nothing flashy about them, as they established themselves as a 'sneaky good team' before the start of the post-season.
However, they asserted their dominance in the second round, after they swept none other than the defending champs in Lakers. Kobe and his guys didn't have an answer for a team-first system Rick Carlisle implemented. The series ended with a 36 points blowout in the American Airlines Center, marking the end of LA's run of making the finals for three consecutive years. They simply ran into a much better set of players.
So, Dallas beat the defending champs. By then, people have started seeing them as a contender but knew they would be challenged in the WCF against the young trio of Durant-Westbrook-Harden. But to be honest, I'm not sure that was the case. Dirk and the Mavs bounced the Thunder in 5 games, as the series wasn't particularly a close one. The Thunder were a few years away and didn't have the answer for the veteran team that were the Mavericks.
You all know how the Finals went, and I'm not even going to talk about it. Instead, let's focus on the series vs. the Thunder. You know what? Let's get even more specific. Let's focus on a single performance in that series—a performance by Dirk Nowitzki.
I'll take you back to game 1 of the series - the game that was a perfect representation of the whole series. As you probably know by now, the Mavs won the game and set the tone for the entire WCF. The story of the game was none other than Dirk Nowitzki.
Dirk put up a historically great individual performance. He dropped 48 points in 40 minutes of action. What's even more impressive is he did it on 15 shots! Let that sink in! But I'm not done, and neither was Dirk that night. He went to the charity stripe 24 times and hadn't missed a single opportunity from there. That means he scored 48, and only missed 3 shots in the process. Amazing.
Dirk didn't take a single three-point shot. He did it all with his inside game, sealing the win with two mid-range fallaway jumpers from the right block in Serge Ibaka's face. That's another thing. He was guarded by Ibaka, one of the league's best defenders at the time. It's not like his points were given to him. Ibaka played an elite defense the whole night, as absurd as that may seem. But Dirk was on another level.
"If I'm Serge Ibaka, I'm naming my first son Dirk. This has been unbelievable. This is just so good. He has mastered his craft. Rick Carlisle might have underestimated him being in the top 10. He may be in the top 5 of All-Time after this performance. I'm wrong, but I'm right."
Jeff Van Gundy
This is what Jeff Van Gundy said while watching Dirk's unbelievable offensive display. He may have gone overboard with a Dirk praise, but I guess he couldn' help it. Because let's face it, Dirk certainly isn't in the top 5 of All-time. He probably isn't even in most people's top 10. But when he was in the zone, there was no way of stopping him.
He had that unguardable element to him. Like whatever you do, he's going to score. He just had that playstyle combined with his frame. Another thing Dirk had is The shot. That patented fadeaway jumper that there was no counter to—something we haven't seen since Kareem's skyhook. Dirk's fadeaway was in that same league of shots you can't do anything about. And he perfected it, to the point it will forever remain his trademark.
This game vs. Thunder was the perfect display of greatness that was Dirk Nowitzki. In fact, the whole 2011 Playoffs were just that. He did it quietly, out from the shadows. But he did it in such a dominant fashion. Because that's what Nowitzki was – a pure dominance.