Even though the Dallas Mavericks had recently engineered a miracle comeback against Oklahoma City Thunder...lightning doesn't strike twice. Dallas trailed the Miami Heat by 15 points with just over six minutes to go in Game Two of the 2011 NBA Championships. They seemingly had few workable options. Dirk Nowitzki wasn't shooting well. The bench wasn't doing much. D-Wade was on fire. Miami felt that this was their moment. They had established superiority. On destiny's doorstep. (cue music from "Rocky").
6:18: Jason Terry makes a jumper for Dallas to cut an 88-73 deficit to 88-75. Terry had only made two baskets on the night to this point...and had been enduring a slump the past few games. Nice to see the guy with the trophy tattooed on his arm join the series. (Using ESPN's play-by-play rundown as a guide, it may have been updated by the time you read this)
5:50: Mario Chalmers misses a three-pointer. On the prior Miami possession, D-Wade had missed a three-pointer. The team was settling for bombs figuring the game was won. If one goes in, a big lead gets bigger and the crowd goes nuts. If not, big deal! They're so far ahead it's not going to matter.
5:45: Jason Terry makes an uncontested snowbird layup on a long pass from Jason Kidd (who had rebounded the Chalmers miss). This cuts the lead to 11. Erik Spoelstra calls a quick timeout. I'm thinking "smart timeout from the Miami perspective, don't let Dallas think they have a chance." Miami just had two lazy offensive possessions, and then lost track of Terry. Spoelstra was right on top of it.
5:28: LeBron James misses a driving layup. He thought he was fouled, but he always thinks he's fouled. This would be the last time in a while Miami was able to fly at the basket.
5:20: Jason Terry is fouled and makes two free throws. After being invisible for most of the night, Terry now has six points in less than a minute to cut a 15-point lead to nine.
4:54: Chris Bosh misses a 21-foot jumper. That's a 26-second possession, which isn't possible...but sometimes the play-by-play stuff is off by a tick or two. You can tell Miami's trying to treasure their possessions since Dallas is back within single digits. But, if you've been following the team all year, you're already thinking back to all of those games where they stalled down the stretch with a sluggish offense. That couldn't happen again could it? So many in the media had assured us that Miami now knew how to run an offense late in close games. I'm putting the distances on missed jumpers in italics to help emphasize how much this mattered.
4:33: Shawn Marion makes a driving layup to cut the lead to 88-81. Marion was an unsung hero tonight. He would finish with 20 points on 9 of 14 shooting. Dallas looked to be out of it...then it was mostly Terry and Dirk doing post-game interviews because of their history making finish. Marion's scoring kept it from being an insurmountable deficit.
4:09: LeBron James draws a foul and makes two free throws. The Miami lead is back to nine points. These are the only points the Heat would score in about seven minutes.
3:54: Jason Kidd makes a three-pointer...with MUCH more room to shoot than Dallas has normally been seeing in this series. Miami isn't rotating now with the same intensity they had been in the first 7.5 quarters of the series. Spoelstra calls another immediate timeout. You can't take your foot off the gas against Dallas...on either side of the ball. Miami looks to be doing that on BOTH sides of the ball.
3:27: LeBron James misses a 16-foot jumper. Obviously this is late in the shot clock (again with tick issues). Another possession that takes a long time and leads to something forced up with time running out.
3:11: Jason Terry makes a 14-foot jumper. The defense was again slow to react. Dallas can hit an open look! The slacking of the Miami defense is creating them all over the floor. It's now just a 4-point game and Spoelstra calls another timeout. You can imagine him saying, "Five minutes ago I reminded you that Dallas came from way down to beat Oklahoma City. Wake the heck up!" It's hard to express this visually with words and numbers. A lot of the shots both teams were taking involved similar distances. Dallas was taking open shots while Miami was forcing guarded shots.
2:53: Chris Bosh loses the ball out of bounds trying to drive to the basket. One of the issues Miami has late in close games is that they're just giving the ball to one of their stars and asking him to do something. Turnovers are more common with that approach against fired up defenses. A penetrating point guard wreaks havoc and forces rotations. That's why Chris Paul's teams are so successful late in close games, while the superstar "scorers" often have trouble (as Henry Abbott has been showing all season at TrueHoop).
2:44: Dirk Nowitzki makes an 18-footer. He wasn't wide open (going from memory) but it was an easier shot than it needed to be. Miami's no longer reacting with defensive aggression. More like defensive fear. It's 90-88. It's a two-point game with just under three minutes to go. Against Oklahoma City, Dallas still had a lot of work to do in the final minute, and didn't tie the game until the final seconds. They're within a bucket already and there's plenty of time left. I've probably uttered my fifth "unbelievable" by this point already.
2:20: Udonis Haslem misses a 15-footer. Again, we're deep in the shot clock. Again, it's a jumper instead of anything at the basket. This time, it's Haslem taking the shot...which is something Dallas would pray for any time down the floor. He would go 1 of 3 tonight, and is now 4 of 20 the last four games. Some of this has to be rust from his tremendously long layoff. His form looks very sluggish on any jumper away from the basket. And his shots are hitting the wrong side of the rim. Where's D-Wade? Dallas is doing a good job encouraging the ball to go elsewhere. Miami still doesn't have a way to get the ball where THEY want it to go...beyond letting LeBron or Wade gain possession out by the arc and hoping they hit a guarded trey. That was going to bite them in the butt eventually.
2:00: Dirk Nowitzki has a jumper blocked by LeBron. Jason Kidd gets the rebound but loses the ball to Haslem. Miami gets a stop! It's still 90-88...but suddenly the Dallas run is over because the Heat defense made a couple of plays. Nice try Mavericks. Try that old OKC magic on us. Ha! You had us going there for awhile. This is Miami and we've got a championship to win.
1:31: LeBron misses a guarded three pointer. But, Miami gets the rebound.
1:05: LeBron misses another guarded three pointer. Bit and bitten. It's frustrating that there's kind of a mini-debate going between some statheads saying "We told you back when Miami was losing close games during the regular season that they'd be fine in the playoffs," and others saying "hoping guarded three-pointers go in isn't a plan." When the bombs go in, it looks like Miami knows how to win close games. When they don't, Miami looks lost. Maybe we can stop debating how flipped coins land and talk about HAVING A PLAN WHEN YOU NEED TO SCORE.
Haslem would grab the board off that second miss, but immediately turn it over to Kidd. That triggered a fast break that's finished off by Dirk from a Marion pass. WE'RE TIED WITH 57 SECONDS LEFT!
Time out Miami. This is their third time out during the comeback.
0:36: D-Wade misses a guarded three-pointer late in the shot clock. Amazing. Dallas gets the rebound and doesn't call a timeout. They can think about trying to get something quick to force a two-for-one possession sequence. But that's squeezing it pretty tight unless you get something in the first few seconds. It looks at first like they're going to work for a good shot rather than sweat the two for one. Then, inexplicably, Dirk finds himself with the ball and plenty of space outside the arc.
0:26: DIRK FOR THREE! That's what I yelled so loud that my wife fell out of her recliner. Historical moments deserve that kind of volume or you're not a sports fan. Similar volume last week when LeBron hit the tying trey in the comeback at Chicago (though it was earlier in the evening). Seems like the prior time was when Northern Iowa hit that "go for the jugular" trey against Kansas two Marches ago. Dallas leads 93-90, finishing off a 20-2 run that will surely go down in the...
0:24: MARIO CHALMERS FOR THREE! OH MY GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! This was beautiful. It's easy to blame Jason Terry for losing track of Chalmers. But, Terry and Dallas were most worried about D-Wade rotating to the top of the key...and then LeBron on the old "pass it back to the inbounds passer so he can shoot" play. Chalmers ran to the far corner in case the shot was there. LeBron saw him and threw a perfect strike. Chalmers had been 0 of 5 for the night. He finished 1 of 6 with a clutch trey that temporarily saved the day. The camera angle made it seem like you could see the X's and O's diagrammed in human form. Art.
Dallas calls a timeout and sets up their play. They want the last shot. They know Miami has a foul to give. They're going to hold the ball to drain at least half of the clock off...then see if they can make something happen. Dirk gets the ball with about 8 seconds left (going from memory). He's on the left side of the floor...meaning any drive to the basket would involve his injured hand. He can try to shoot a jumper in traffic right-handed. He can attack and try to draw a foul. Can he score with a torn finger tendon on his left hand?
0:03: Dirk scores a left-handed layup!
Miami didn't give their foul. Once Dirk has the ball you don't want to risk fouling on a quick shooting motion that puts him on the line. Bosh wasn't up to the defensive challenge. With no timeouts left, Miami is forced to launch a desperation three that doesn't go in...
DALLAS 95, MIAMI 93
2-point pct: Dallas 52%, Miami 58%
Three-pointers: Dallas 6/17, Miami 9/30
Free Throws: Dallas 17/21, Miami 16/24
Rebounds: Dallas 41, Miami 30
Turnovers: Dallas 18, Miami 12
1's and 2's: Dallas 77, Miami 66
During the part of the game that Miami was dominating, it seemed like the key stats were going to be treys and turnovers. The Heat had once again neutralized the Dallas danger from long range. The Mavericks were sloppy with the basketball much of the night. Even though they fixed the offensive rebounding issue from the other evening (Miami only had six tonight after grabbing 16 in the series opener), Dallas was clearly the inferior side through the first 42 minutes.
With the Dallas comeback, the important stat looks to be rebounding. And, those 30 attempts from behind the arc for Miami are way too many. You want to neutralize Dallas, but you don't want to euthanize your own offense down the stretch.
We've seen a few big comebacks in Dallas playoff games this year. The Mavs survived one against Portland...regathered themselves...and dominated ther rest of the series. The Mavs inflicted one on Oklahoma City...and the Thunder are still shellshocked from the experience as we speak. How will Miami handle it?
It still seems that, when both teams are going pedal to the metal, Miami is the better side. If either slacks off on defense, then the other can put points on the board quickly. Will Miami be committed to 48 minutes of defense every game from this point forward? Will they get discouraged and lose defensive intensity if things start to go the other way (we saw that during the regular season slump, but not really at all in the playoffs...nothing's happened until tonight that could discourage them). Maybe Miami's still on destiny's doorstep. Dallas has made it clear they're not going to hold the door open for them.
Answers will become clear in Sunday's Game Three. Back with numbers and notes Sunday before midnight...