Game 3 Preview: The Battle Of Resiliency
When Dwyane Wade kept his right arm in the air for literally eight seconds directly in front of the Dallas Mavericks bench after hitting a 3-pointer most thought was a game-clinching dagger, he may have inadvertently awakened a beast that would soon seek it's third feast of these playoffs.
First, let's clear up one thing; this was a "celebration." Any form of physically expressing joy in response to a positive moment is a celebration of that moment. If Wade and LeBron James sporadically mimic these precise actions regardless of outside stimulus, making this a particularly unlucky instance of coincidental timing, perhaps there is a chance the term "celebration" is misplaced.
That said, other than the location of the "celebration," and perhaps the duration, there was nothing particularly egregious about it. If you watch any two games at random over the course of a season, the odds are high that you'll see a similar response from a host of different players multiple times. It wasn't directly the act itself, but what it may have helped cause that should garner attention.
For the third time this postseason, the Mavericks erased a deficit of at least 15 points in the second half, including one in the final seven minutes and one in the final five. On two of those three occasions the scoreboard resurgence appeared to begin after an act of celebration from an opponent following "dagger" 3-pointers.
To find one of the possible origins to this resiliency you need look a few games further back, to Game 4 of the first round. It was then that Dallas sat at the wrong end of an improbable comeback as Portland overcame a 23-point lead in just under 15 minutes. Enduring the pain of that moment may be what first gave the beast its breath.
"You can always, after the fact, talk about what you could have done or should have done," Dirk Nowitzki said after that loss. "You can go a million ways about it, and afterward you're a lot smarter, but that doesn't help anybody right now."
Old demons were once again thrust upon these Mavs in the form of their past (including losing in the first round three of the previous four years), but Dallas had lived what could of or should have been done. They had felt that pain, and now embraced their situation as an opportunity, and as a possible turning point. In response, they put together the comeback that would feed the next three by closing out the Blazers with consecutive wins, leading to …
In Game 1 of the Lakers' series, the Mavericks found themselves down 16 in the third quarter, but also found the lesson Portland had given them still fresh: the game's not over until the final buzzer sounds.
The bulk of the lead had been shaved away as Kobe Bryant rose to sink a jumper that pushed the lead back to five with 3:32 to play. After a pair of baskets, an alley-oop finished by Tyson Chandler and a Shawn Marion jumpshot, Kobe once again tried to put the Mavs away, pushing the Lakers' lead to three with a minute to go. As it has been in all three comebacks, Dirk Nowitzki displayed a fierce refusal to lose, scoring the next four points for the Mavs and granting them their first lead of the second half. Jason Kidd would add one more point from the free-throw line, and Kobe would miss his last-ditch effort. What had been a 16-point deficit was a 2-point win.
Next came Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against OKC.
Through 43 minutes, the Thunder was doing everything right. They were destroying the Mavs on the boards (48-22 late in the fourth), were moving the ball, outworking, outhustling, out-desiring and out-playing a Dallas team that seemed more than willing to see the series tied at 2-2.
With 5:05 to play, Kevin Durant mercilessly drained a 3 to push the OKC lead to 15. And in a moment of celebration eerily similar to Wade's, he mimed the act of strapping a championship belt around his waist, and something snapped in the fortunes of the Mavs.
As it has been in all three instances, it would be Dirk who finally evened the score, drilling both of his free throws with six seconds to play in regulation. Marion blocked Durant's final desperation three, forcing overtime.
After a slow start from both teams, Dallas pulled away. This time the biggest play wasn't a Dirk shot, but a Dirk pass to Jason Kidd who calmly allowed Russell Westbrook to fly by before sinking a game clinching three.
Discarding the wisdom of the odds, we arrive at Game 2 of the Finals against the Miami Heat.
Miami was creating a collection of highlights with huge dunks and displays of unbridled athleticism in what felt like an utter blowout. Yet, continual checks of the scoreboard showed Dallas working, making smart basketball plays and keeping the game well within reach until a spurt of turnovers fed a Heat surge in the fourth quarter, and in a blink the lead was up to 15 with just over seven minutes to play.
Just as Durant had chosen the moment after a huge 3-pointer that put his team up 15 to celebrate what felt like a game-deciding shot, Wade did precisely the same thing by leaving his arm in the air for eight seconds, posing directly before the Mavs bench.
"I mean, (Wade) celebrated in front of our bench," Tyson Chandler said. "I think it angered a lot of us, and, you know, we came out there with a spark."
Perhaps it's happenstance, but this moment seemed to mark the instant the game shifted on its axis, just as it had against OKC.
Jason Terry scored six straight points, Marion added a basket, Kidd hit a 3-pointer, Terry added another jumper; and Dirk took it from there, scoring the final nine points for Dallas prying a victory from certain defeat.
The opponent's celebration may be an odd coincidence in two of the games, but one factor present in all three games, and undoubtedly not the product of luck, happenstance or coincidence: a cast of contributing veterans unwilling to lose focus or give up hope and Dirk Nowitzki.
Dirk hit the shot that would tie the game to cap the impossible resurgence in all three contests, and took the lead for good in two of them. The only thing that may have stood in his way of doing so in all three was the opportunity, as he did not get another shot in regulation after tying the Thunder game.
Interestingly, in the Game 2 postgame visits, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra trumpeted HIS team's resiliency, even using the exact same word that Dallas folks were using across the hall.
When Caron Butler was lost for the season, the Mavs did not fold. When they lost their pristine 24-5 record as Dirk was forced to miss nine games with a knee injury, they did not wilt. When they lost to nine consecutive Western Playoff teams before stomping the Hornets in the final game of the regular season, they did not cling to doubt. When the Blazers erased their 23-point lead in 15 minutes to steal a game, they absorbed a lesson.
They've proven their resiliency. The Mavs would prefer to not test that tonight, to not tempt 15-point-deficit fate.
But they've proven their resiliency. The Blazers, Lakers, Thunder and now the Heat can all attest to that.
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