Several factors and influences determine the effect age has on a vintage bottle of wine. It’s a science; more specifically, the chemistry of sugars, acids and water, and how they ultimately influence the seeds, stems and skin of the grapes. It takes time, but also a solid foundation that precedes time. And for all the fuss about aging, it’s also important that the wine doesn’t go “over the hill,” past the peak of its steady maturation process.
The Dallas Mavericks of the 2011 NBA Playoffs–a team of well-traveled, playoff-tested league veterans, led by a superstar defying his age-biased skeptics–are that vintage bottle of red, “aged to perfection.”
The cork has been popped for what’s been an unbelievable playoff run of will and determination, in which a very good regular season team has turned into a surefire title contender. A team that many analysts predicted would be upset by the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in Round 1. A team that no one really gave a chance against the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers in Round 2 (present company included).
By the start of Round 3, as they faced the equally surprising–albeit for their collective youth and inexperience–Oklahoma City Thunder, the Mavs were done fooling people. The Thunder’s run was impressive in itself; they took down two very deep teams, and were challenged offensively and defensively.
OKC was fronted by Kevin Durant, an offensive phenom that had as good of a chance matching death-defying buckets with Dirk Nowitzki than anyone else in the Association. The team also had size, as well as enough athletic, floor-spacing wings on the perimeter to keep the Jasons (Kidd and Terry, age 38 and 34 respectively) on their battle-tested toes.
Still, it wasn’t nearly enough, and the Mavs handled the Thunder in five games. It wasn’t always easy, and took back-to-back fourth quarter comebacks to seal the young Thunder’s fate. And while the Mavs displayed the maturation and poise of a vintage Cabernet; the Thunder were disjointed, and lacked the refined polish that years of experience will someday bring to Durant, Russell Westbrook and co.
Westbrook, the 22-year-old, third-year emerging star, took way too many bad shots before the ball even touched two of his teammates’ hands. The Mavs seemed to rotate the ball around the floor to the point of delirium; destined to find the best shot possible and avoid selfish play-making.
Even Durant, who shined at times in the series, went 5-25 from beyond the arc, and took too many shots way past the three-point line. The Mavs seemed to never attempt a three that wasn’t at the edge of the arched paint, and constantly got good to wide-open looks, thanks to their superior ball movement.
In many ways, the Mavs have been a team that refuses to beat themselves in these playoffs. They are, in fact, hell-bent on not letting it become tomorrow morning’s headline; after years of coming up short have collectively led to one single push of unfazed determination.
Between the current eight-man rotation that Dallas has used these playoffs, are a combined 102 seasons played, 658 playoff games–and 0 NBA titles. Never before has such a veteran-laden team had so much on the line in one season.
Likely to be in the Western Conference champs way will be the Miami Heat, the team that defeated Dallas in the 2006 Finals. If age wins out this time around, victory will taste especially sweet. Much like a perfectly aged Aleatico, waiting for the masses in Dallas to toast in celebration.