The Dallas Wheelchair Mavericks held off a determined RHI Indiana Pacers 67-53 to claim the four-peat at the 2013 National Wheelchair Basketball Association's National Championships Saturday at the Expo Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
It was the second consecutive year that the Mavericks and Pacers played for the NWBA's top prize. This time, the Pacers were only two hours from home and had the crowd clearly on their side.
The Mavs start the biggest front line at the tournament. Dallas' backcourt created their own perils in the form of US National Team guard and tournament MVP Jason Nelms.
Inside-outside—pick your poison.
The Pacers were not going to hand the Mavericks the trophy without a fight, and they jumped out to an early 8-4 lead before Rodney Hawkins' inside presence started to take its toll.
The Pacers tried double-teaming Dallas' big man away from the ball to keep him out of the paint. The Mavericks were ready for this and set baseline screens to get Hawkins open on the blocks or brought Hawkins up high to pick-and-roll for the Maverick guards.
Dallas took the lead at the 10-minute mark, 16-14, as the Pacers suffered with 0-for-8 shooting. By the time the Pacers found the bottom of the net again, they trailed 20-16.
The Pacers cold shooting continued until they found a 6-0 spurt with one minute left in the half, as their defense was doing a better job of defending the high pick-and-roll.
After a Maverick timeout, the Pacers produced a steal and a four-pass fast break to tie the game at 28 with 30 seconds remaining.
But, the three-time champions held their nerve and hit an open shot at the buzzer to lead 30-28 at the half.
Indy opened the second half with a three, part of a 7-0 run. They led by six, 42-36, at the 16-minute mark, after Brian Bell electrified the crowd with a stunning move. After riding out a challenge that left his defender crashing to the floor, Bell made a hesitation move to get to the baseline where he was rammed hard by the Mavs' Bobbie Nickleberry. Bell kept his concentration and scooped the ball in as he was blasted out of bounds.
The Mavs kept their cool and kept running their offense, tying the game at 42 before Bell hit a trey to go back up 45-42.
After a Dallas timeout, the Pacers tried to surprise the defending champs with full-court pressure. Dallas handled it old-school, putting their big man in the center of the floor for the guards to find.
This was a consistent story throughout the game, as the Pacers tried every tactic in the basketball universe to stop a bigger opponent, but the Mavericks had all of the classic counter-moves in their repertoire. Indy's tactics never worked for more than a couple of possessions before the Mavericks adjusted.
These adjustments and some good outside shooting put the Mavs back in the lead, as the basket spat out every ball the Pacers shot at it. Dallas took the lead for good, 54-51, around the seven-minute mark.
Dallas extended the lead to 58-51 with four minutes to go when another classical basketball theme played out. Badly in need of a stop and a bucket, Indy got a defensive rebound and started the break, but play was stopped when the trailing official called a technical foul on the Pacers' bench.
Dallas sank the technical free throws and forced Indy to start fouling in the hopes of lengthening the game. But the Mavs hit their free throws and broke the Pacers' press. Dallas' class showed, as they put the game away and rushed onto the floor chanting "Four-peat, four-peat, four-peat!"
The Pacers did their basketball-obsessed state proud by grinding the Mavericks on the defensive end and taking whatever offensive opportunities they could find. But in the end, the Dallas guards simply out shot the Pacers' guards, and Indy's good defensive work in the post was all for naught.
I had a great time covering this event and learning about the sport. These are phenomenal athletes, and the "mainstream" sports world needs to take a closer look at what these folks are accomplishing.
It would be really great to see this event on ESPN some day, though it will most likely be one of the upstart sports networks trying to dethrone the king of sports programming who will take advantage of this opportunity first.
And it will be on TV in the not-too-distant future—the product is that good.
Special thanks to Michael DeZarn and Shaina Koren for the pictures from the championship game.