Dirk's 101 Degrees Become Mavs' 180 Degrees
"The doctors tried to get (Dirk's fever) down, they really couldn't keep it under control,'' said teammate Tyson Chandler. "He's got unbelievable heart. We all saw him go through (practice). He was barely able to talk ... coughing and wheezing ... We knew the supporting cast would have to step it up and get it for him.''
The UberMan – who made his first three shots, then missed 10 of his next 11 and went 21 minutes without making a basket before capping a 10-point fourth quarter his game-sealing layup with 14.4 seconds remaining -- did indeed play the sort of "grit-and-guts game'' that Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle demanded in the pregame locker room.
"He's one of the greatest ever,'' Carlisle said of Dirk Nowitzki, "and he wants the responsibility of winning it or losing it at the end."
But in evening this series 2-2, every Mav called upon contributed their hearts, every Mav was responsible, as Dallas' trademark unselfishness and balance overcame what was a one-man Heat show.
That one man, by the way, wasn't LeBron James, who thrusts himself into every spotlight and responded unhappily to accusations that he was guilty of "shrinking'' in previous outings and this time ...
LeBron James on the floor was George Costanza at the beach.
Wade (32 points) was magnificent, leading Miami to a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter that, given the Heat's finisher-combo of Wade and LeBron, should've been enough. But Dallas used a stifling zone defense for most of the quarter, preventing Miami from scoring a field goal for a notable seven minutes and 15 seconds.
How does a team featuring Wade and LeBron and Chris Bosh (24 points) fail to score for a more than half a quarter?
Wade moved into iso mode and eventually missed a chance at a game-tying free throw with 29 seconds left. LeBron (just eight points, his lowest-scoring playoff effort ever) moved into the corner and stood there. Miami's other players were reduced to spectators as well.
Meanwhile, Dallas used all the cards in its deck, opting to start J.J. Barea (for just the third time all year) in place of DeShawn Stevenson and moving Brian Cardinal up in the rotation in place of Peja Stojakovic. The JJB experiment worked well enough that Dallas avoided an early hole. Stevenson, too focused to pout, came off the bench and not only blanketed LeBron but also contributed 11 points. Shawn Marion scored 16 and was also key to a defense that limited Miami to 42.7-percent shooting. And Chandler was huge, a singular figure for the Mavs inside with 13 points and 16 rebounds.
Nowitzki opted to single out the contributions of Jason Terry, his little buddy who he'd early called out, saying Jet hadn't been a "crunch-time clutch player'' in this series.
"The crew was outstanding, and Jet,'' Dirk said of Terry, who scored 17, "took it upon himself to get us back in the game. He was phenomenal.''
Nowitzki's day-before stance – and Jet's cocky responses regarding his belief that James couldn't effectively guard him over the course of a long series – was among the many storylines of the day. They included LeBron's shrinkage, the lineup change, Stevenson accusation of the Heat stars of being "great actors" (I'd say they're more at the "Waiting For Guffman'' level) and questions about the health of backup center Brendan Haywood, who tried to give it a go briefly but may not be able to help much going forward with that hip problem. But ultimately, as it so often is with the Mavericks, the main storyline is a good one and a happy one and a Dirk one.
"He did everything he could do,'' said Carlisle of Dirk, who ended up with a team-high 21 points and 11 rebounds. "I I love the way he played. Fighting through that was not easy."
The outcome was ultimately determined by Dirk, who was nursing a one-point lead and 20 seconds on the clock with plans to run the time to the nub. ... but then seeing that he had an opportunity to cross up the Heat.
Miami's Udonis Haslem shaded him to the left. So Dirk went early and to the right, lifting a layup over Haslem and the knack-for-the-block Wade. That gave Dallas an 84-81 lead. Miami responded with a Wade dunk. Terry made his two clutch free throws – I bet Dirk won't again say Jet is "not crunch-time and clutch'' any time soon – and Dallas got one more stop to finish, as Miami, despite all the SuperFriends' superness, couldn't get off a decent shot.
Nowitzki admitted his legs couldn't give him lift, especially around the rim, where he missed a bunch of bunnies. And boy, he went early on that layup try, maybe giving Miami too much time to respond.
So why go for it?
"I was going to play the clock down,'' said The UberMan, "but I saw a little opening so I went for it. I went for it.''
The little opening just got bigger. The 101 degrees just turned 180 degrees.
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