Dirk Nowitzki deserves to be remembered as the hero of the Dallas Mavericks' 2011 NBA Finals win, and really, the entire 2011 playoffs. Nowitzki led comeback after comeback in the postseason, and his Game 2 Finals performance stands out among the greatest ever. But this series was as much about stopping the powerful Miami Heat -- and their ace LeBron James -- as anything. And Dallas succeeded in that beautifully.
The Mavericks made keeping LeBron out of the paint a top priority, using early help to convince James to pull up for a jumper or pass the ball. It worked. For the series, James -- the NBA's top perimeter foul-drawer over the past several years -- attempted just 20 free throws. As noted earlier, LeBron has had 14 single games in his NBA career where he's attempted 20 or more free throws. Even this season, as a dual threat with Dwyane Wade, LeBron drew 22 free throws in a regulation game against the Boston Celtics back in November.
LeBron averaged 8.4 free throws a game in the regular season; that would have projected to about 50 over a six-game series. He had fewer than half. Not only did Dwyane Wade (49) and Chris Bosh (45) shoot more than twice as many free throws as James, but even Mario Chalmers (23) had more attempts despite roughly half of many field goal attempts and 100 fewer minutes played. Three Mavericks -- Dirk Nowitzki (46), Tyson Chandler (32) and Jason Terry (28) took more free throws than James; that Chandler made exactly as many as James took is something out of a sci-fi novel.
Credit the awesome Mavericks defense and coach Rick Carlisle for finding a way to shut down a two-time MVP in his prime on the biggest stage in basketball.