Hurt Dirk still has hot hand as Mavs make comeback
Posted: Friday, June 3, 2011 9:01 pm
By: By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI (AP) — Tie game, seconds to go. Time for the Dallas Mavericks to put the ball in Dirk Nowitzki’s hands.
In this case, the one with a splint protecting a torn-up finger.
Nowitzki had insisted the injury wouldn’t affect him — and the Mavericks weren’t going to change their strategy even if it had.
“Dirk knew it was coming to him,” teammate Jason Terry said. “He does what he always does. He comes through in a big way.”
Nowitzki shook off a torn tendon in the middle finger of his left hand to make the tie-breaking layup with 3.6 seconds left, and the Mavericks roared back from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to stun the Miami Heat 95-93 on Thursday night and tie the NBA finals at one game apiece. Game 3 is Sunday night in Dallas.
Capping a furious rally by scoring Dallas’ final nine points, Nowitzki made two late baskets with that left hand and finished with 24 points, saying the finger felt fine.
Hurt in Game 1 when he slapped at the ball trying to make a steal from Chris Bosh, he fiddled with various braces and splints over the past two days before settling on a small one that sat lower on the finger and allowed him to keep a good feel of the ball.
And when the Heat added insult to the injury, it became the catalyst for the Mavericks’ latest and most important playoff comeback.
“I think in this league you have to play til the end. Especially, it’s the finals,” Nowitzki said. “You can be down 20. You have to keep plugging. You never know what’s going to happen in this league. And we kept on fighting.”
Dwyane Wade had 36 points for Miami, but some Mavericks were angry when they felt he and LeBron James celebrated too much after his 3-pointer gave the Heat an 88-73 lead with 7:15 remaining.
James and Wade — who have already endured plenty of criticism for premature partying — denied that was the case this time.
“There was no celebration at all,” James said. “I was excited about the fact that he hit a big shot and we went up 15.”
Wade grew annoyed when he and James were asked repeatedly about the play that happened right in front of the Dallas bench.
“First of all, every team in the league, when they go on a run, they do something, whether it’s a signal, whether it’s a chest bump,” Wade said. “It’s a part of the game of basketball. A celebration is confetti, champagne bottles.”
Dallas held the Heat to just one field goal from there, a 3-pointer by Mario Chalmers with 24.5 seconds that tied it just 2 seconds after Nowitzki’s 3 had made it 93-90.
But after a timeout, Jason Kidd ran the clock down before getting the ball to Nowitzki, who drove into the lane, spun back to the left and made the layup. Out of timeouts, the Heat could only get a desperation 3 by Wade that bounced off the back rim.
Terry, largely silent since the first half of Game 1, fueled the comeback with a couple of jumpers and finished with 16 points. Shawn Marion had 20 points for the Mavericks, who had lost four straight finals games in Miami since taking a 2-0 lead in the 2006 series.
They were about to go down 2-0 this time before Nowitzki led a rally even more amazing than the one that won Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, when the Mavs trailed Oklahoma City by 15 in the fourth quarter before pulling it out in overtime.
“Just a different series, but we always believe we can come back regardless of the score,” Marion said. “The game is over when the final buzzer rings.”
James scored 20 points.
He and Wade were running by the older Mavs for three quarters, and it appeared the only thing that could slow them down was that big trophy they would soon be holding.
Not so fast.
The Heat suddenly went cold, holding the ball too long on possessions and forcing James and Wade to attempt deep jumpers with the shot clock winding down, instead of playing to their strengths and driving into the lane.
“We just didn’t execute down the stretch,” Bosh said. “There’s no shock. There’s disappointment. But the reality is the reality. We might as well get used to it and focus on the next one.”
A series of those missed jumpers eventually ended with the Mavs getting possession, and Nowitzki making a layup that tied it at 90 with 57 seconds to play.
The Heat lost for the first time in 10 games at home in the playoffs and will have to win at least once in Dallas to force the series back here.
“That’s about as tough a fourth quarter as you can have,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When it started to slide, it just kept on going.”
The Heat held the Mavs, whose offense was so precise in their victories over the Lakers and Oklahoma City, to one of their worst performances of the postseason in their 92-84 Game 1 win. Spoelstra said before the game he thought the Mavs would “hit back.”
But Miami weathered the early storm and appeared to have nothing to worry about in the second half.
A 29-10 burst spanning halftime showed off the Heat at their athletic best: A dunk by James, a dunk by Wade, and a long alley-oop pass from Wade to James on the fast break that turned a 51-all halftime tie into a 57-52 lead.
And just when Dallas got it down to four late in the period, James drove right for a powerful slam that left Tyson Chandler throwing his hands up in the air as if to say “How do we stop that?”
Eventually they did.
And they turned the tables on the Heat, who pulled off a stunning comeback of their own to spark the turnaround in the 2006 series. Dallas had a double-digit lead midway through the fourth quarter of Game 3 of that one, Wade brought Miami back, and the Heat never looked back.
Considering he has more help now with James and Bosh, the Heat’s inability to put this one away is even more amazing.
“We didn’t play the way that we normally play, so they deserved it and we didn’t,” Wade said.
The focus was back on the Heat’s stars in a finals where some attention during Wednesday’s day off was diverted to a former Heat player when Shaquille O’Neal, the center on their 2006 team who announced on a Twitter video he was retiring from the NBA. Also a teammate of James in Cleveland, O’Neal posted another video Thursday encouraging the duo to “go get that ring.”
The Heat played a video tribute showing some of O’Neal’s highlights in Miami during a first-quarter timeout and received nice applause, but not a standing ovation.
Tied at 28 after one quarter, the game got heated late in the half and Miami appeared set to lose its cool. Mike Miller was called for a technical but Wade was spared one, when after appearing to be fouled by Chandler on a layup attempt, he bumped Chandler while trying to get at the referee to protest.
Yet down nine and with James on the bench with three fouls, the Heat held the Mavs scoreless the final 3 minutes and tied it at 51 on Wade’s 3-pointer with 25 seconds to go.
Notes: Wade became the Heat’s career leader in postseason games with his 83rd. He had been tied with Alonzo Mourning. Teammate Udonis Haslem is third with 74 appearances. … Mavs backup center Brendan Haywood committed a foul 47 seconds into the fourth quarter and went immediately to the locker room with an apparent injury. … Miami has held opponents below 100 points in 16 of 17 games this postseason. … The 1995-96 Bulls are the only team to go 10-0 at home on the way to a championship.