Fighting a sinus infection and a reported fever of 102, Dirk Nowitzki once again led the Dallas Mavericks to a come-from-behind victory over the Miami Heat to even the NBA Championship series at two games apiece.
It wasn't quite as dramatic as rallying from 15 points down with less than seven minutes to go in Game Two (a 22-5 finish). Dallas trailed tonight 74-65 with 10:11 to go, and was staring at this scenario...
*Their star Dirk Nowitzki was as sick as a dog. He hit his first three attempts of the game at peak adrenaline...but was just 1 of 11 over his last 12 shots at this juncture. It didn't look like he was going to be able to carry the Mavs on his back this time around.
*Nobody was making any treys. The team would finish 4 of 18 from long range. You can make up for an ailing star if role players make some buckets from behind the arc. Dallas was well below its norms on this evening.
*Jason Kidd had either lost his legs or lost confidence in his shot. Kidd would only take three shots on the evening (all missed treys). He was on the floor providing leadership, and toughness on the defensive end. You didn't get the sense he was going to make a big shot because he was shying away from taking any shots.
*Dwyane Wade of Miami was having another strong shooting game. He would finish 13 of 20 from the field for 32 points. The Heat weren't particularly on fire from the field as a team...but they had a workable option who wasn't sick, and wasn't shying away from the basket.
*Jason Terry was 3 of 9 shooting at this point in the game. Given his recent history trying to score against LeBron James, there had to be skepticism that he was about to ignite and lead a comeback.
But, just like in Game Two...Terry DID ignite with two quick baskets that cut the deficit to three points with 9:22 left. Wade made a jumper to take it back to five points at 76-69. A Wade layup with 7:24 made it 78-73. That was the high water mark for Miami from that point forward. Dirk rose to the occasion. Miami shrunk.
DALLAS 86, MIAMI 83
2-point pct: Miami 49%, Dallas 46%
3-pointers: Miami 2/14, Dallas 4/18
Free Throws: Miami 17/24, Dallas 24/30
Rebounds: Miami 43, Dallas 41
Turnovers: Miami 13, Dallas 10
1's and 2's: Miami 77, Dallas 74
Both teams showed signs of fatigue tonight from long range. This had been a series with some pretty good production on treys. Miami and Dallas combined to go 6 of 32 this evening, with a lot of bombs that weren't exactly honing in on their target from the moment of release. Miami had the superior two-point shooting percentage again (4-0 in that stat this series if you don't round off Game One). Dallas made up for that by earning more trips to the free throw line again (4-0 in makes this series, with a 88-74 edge in points, and a 110-89 edge in attempts).
A big difference for Dallas came in the turnover department. They won that category for the first time all series, reducing what had been 18 and 14 giveaways in the last two games to just 10 tonight. This obviously isn't a series with a lot of margin for error. Dallas did a good job of plugging that leak on this evening.
A game like this presents a million possible topics of discussion. I've had the post-game interviews on TV in the background as I write. I think everyone's done a good job of outlining the Dirk drama, marveling at the ACTUAL shrinkage of LeBron tonight rather than the illusory shrinkage from Game Three....and Jason Whitlock just listed the successful coaching moves from Rick Carlisle in a question because he knew Carlisle wouldn't mention those himself (changing the starting lineup, getting Dirk more rest than normal because of the illness at a time when Dallas had been struggling badly whenever he sat, going to the zone in the fourth quarter, leaving Peja on the bench for 99% of the night, etc...). What's missing I think is this:
MIAMI'S POSSESSIONS THE LAST 7 MINUTES
6:50: Bosh misses 18-footer
6:05: Bosh misses 18-footer
5:15: Bosh commits turnover
4:48: Wade commits turnover
4:18: Miller commits turnover
3:33: Miller misses 3-pointer
2:59: Wade misses 24-footer
2:25: James misses 17-footer
2:16: Miller rebounds that miss and misses a layup
1:53: Bosh MAKES two free-throws, thanks to an insane foul from Stevenson on another jumper
1:09: Haslem misses jumper
That takes us to the point on the clock where Miami does get some stuff on the board thanks to a foul on a fast break, and a dunk when Dallas was giving away the inside to make sure Miami didn't shoot a trey.
As we saw in the other collapse, Miami is settling for jumpers. The good news is that the team just didn't run clock then launch a low percentage guarded trey. The bad news if you're a Miami fan is that this team STILL doesn't know how to consistently get points on the board late in close games vs. good teams (beyond hoping that guarded treys go in). The sampling above was very heavy on jumpers and very light on forays to the basket. Yes, Dallas was playing a zone. Zones arent unbeatable!
Let's take a look at the final six minutes from each of the four games played so far. That will give us a 24-minute "half" of basketball we can use for a crunch time comparison.
FINAL 6 MINUTE "SCORES" IN EACH GAME:
Game One: Miami 17, Dallas 15
Game Two: Dallas 20, Miami 5
Game Three: Dallas 12, Miami 7
Game Four: Dallas 11, Miami 5
Total: Dallas 58, Miami 34
How's that for a "halftime score?!" Let that register for a minute. Dallas is up 24 points IN CRUNCH TIME, putting points on the board consistently against a defense that now, suddenly, isn't looking so scary. And, Miami should be pretty humiliated that they just popped 5, 7, and 5 points in the final six minutes of the last three games. It took a huge first game just to get them to 34! Dallas is up 43-17 in the final six minutes of action during the last three games.
Miami led all four games at the 42-minute mark (75-69, 88-75, 81-74, and 78-75).
Basketball Prospectus ran an interesting article yesterday about Miami showing signs of fatigue. You can make the case tonight that a lot of players were showing signs of fatigue. That fourth quarter slopfest from the Miami perspective (particularly the turnovers) looked tired (foreshadowed very nicely by that BP article). Scroll back up to that listing of late-game Miami possessions. It's just SCREAMING fatigue. Jason Kidd stopped shooting for Dallas. The Mavs got complacent on the boards for stretches and shot poorly on treys. The next game comes up quickly on Thursday, suggesting another tired fourth quarter may be imminent.
Who can handle the fatigue challenge better? Which role players will step up and be heard? Does the fact that LeBron James has been quieter than expected early on mean he'll be more fresh than everyone else the rest of the way? Or, has that quietness been a result of playing so hard on defense that he's just as worn down as everyone else?
And, let's not forget the plus/minus story with Dirk Nowitzki. The late surge tonight continued the theme.
The updated breakdown in plus-minuses so far from the Dallas perspective:
Game One: with Dirk -2, without Dirk -6
Game Two: with Dirk +13, without Dirk -11
Game Three: with Dirk +12, without Dirk -14
Game Four: with Dirk +7, without Dirk -4
Total: with Dirk +30, without Dirk -35
Will Nowitski have recovered enough to keep those positives so prominent? Back Thursday after midnight with numbers and notes...