Then again, the Mavs’ title a few seasons ago at the Miami Heat’s expense helped create this monster.
Those 2011 NBA Finals, when the Mavs put on a clutch clinic and King James wilted in crunch time, forced the NBA’s most impressive physical specimen to take a harsh look in the mirror and work hard to maximize his immense talent. That series gave a major motivational boost to a man who has a reasonable goal to bump a legend off the league’s mythical Mount Rushmore.
“This team has been a reason why I am the player that I am today, because they beat us,” James said after putting on a 42-point, nine-rebound, six-assist show in the Heat’s 117-106 victory Tuesday night on the Mavs’ home floor. “When they beat us, I went into a place I haven’t been before in a long time. I went back to the fundamentals of the game. I went into breaking down every aspect of my game to get better, because I didn’t perform at the level I knew I could have or should have during those Finals.
“The Mavericks are probably the reason why I am who I am today.”
That’s a force that the Mavs simply can’t reckon with, especially not when James is knocking down jumpers.
That was the case Tuesday night, when James was 16-of-23 from the floor and hit half of his eight 3-point attempts.
Somebody on the Mavs’ bench yapped at James in the third quarter, telling him he wasn’t going to hit another 3. Well, this isn’t 2011, when Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson talked trash to James and lived to tell about it. The four-time MVP knocked down 3s on back-to-back possession during his personal 8-0 run in the fourth quarter, tying the score with the first and giving the Heat the lead for good with the second.
“He’s been the best player in the world the last two years, carried them to a championship,” said Dirk Nowitzki, the best player in the world during the 2011 playoffs. “I mean, if he shoots the ball like that, you can’t guard him.”
You sure can’t guard James if he’s uncontested in transition. A spectacular finish is guaranteed in that situation. That’s how James got his first couple of buckets in this game, starting with a half-court alley-oop from Dwyane Wade that got a crowd littered with lifelong (ha!) Heat fans buzzing.
“When we turned it over, he was gone,” said Shawn Marion, the only other Mav remaining from the 2011 Finals roster and Dallas’ primary defender on James, calling James a "freak of nature" and "a train" when he gets in transition. “He’s one of the fastest guys in the league in the open court. After his fourth open-court dunk, I guess the basket starts to look a little bit bigger for him. He starts trying to pull 3s and he hit some. It just opened the game up.”
That’s been the norm for James against the Mavs since his Finals failure.
The American Airlines Center was a house of horrors for James in that series. He averaged only 14 points on 31.8 percent shooting in three games here during that series.
His three visits to Dallas since then? All James has done is put up 34.3 points per outing while shooting 65.5 percent in three double-digit Heat wins.
Not that the Mavs have had much more success slowing down James in Miami over the last few seasons. His numbers are nearly as impressive (30 ppg, 61.1 field goal percentage) in the Heat’s three home wins over Dallas since the Mavs chugged champagne in Miami.
James had 39 points on 14-of-18 shooting in a Nov. 15 win over the Mavs in Miami. That was his season-high scoring total until this meeting with the Mavs.
“He is great and we know he is great,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “He scored a bundle of points on us last time and he was even better tonight.”
Dallas, starting with Marion and the Mavs’ coaching staff, deserves immense credit for making James look like a mere mortal when the stakes were highest. The living legend seems determined to never, ever let that happen again.