Game 3 First Impressions: Miami 88, Mavs 86

Maybe the Heat has some justifiable concerns about barely hanging onto its leads. But that's a better place to be than where the Mavs are, as they have even more justifiable concerns about having to consistently overcome deficits. 'It was difficult,' said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle after the Mavs' 88-86 loss in Sunday's Game 3 of the NBA Finals, 'playing from behind all the time tonight.'

But it wasn't just this night, which provides the Heat a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. The Mavs habitually enter the fourth quarter of this spring's playoff games trailing their opponent and are reliant on their ability to recover from 15- and 16-point late-game holes, as was the case in their Game 2 win at Miami.

It's monumental stuff ... when it works out.

But all of that creates little margin of error for Dallas, which fell behind in this game by 14 points in the second period and again by 13 points in the third but then fought back to position Dirk Nowitzki for a game-tying shot in the final seconds that banged off the heel of the rim.

Dirk makes that final shot "nine times out of 10,'' said teammate Jason Terry of The UberMan's 17-foot One-Legged Euro Lean-Back. "This was the time he didn't."

Nowitzki scored 34 to get the individual edge over Dwyane Wade and his 29 for Miami. But of course there will be focus on his miss … and on his turnover on the previous possession … and on a positive note, the job Dallas and Shawn Marion are doing on LeBron James, who insists that "no one man can guard me'' but was nevertheless limited to 17 points.

A few other issues: After a poor first half, Chris Bosh totaled 7-of-18 shooting, including what turned out to be the game-winner on a baseline jumper on Miami's last possession. And Mario Chalmers grossly outplayed his opposite number at backup point guard, J.J. Barea, Chalmers the single guy on Miami's bench who did anything – but the thing he did was make four 3-pointers.

It was a Chalmers 3-pointer that pushed the Heat to a 79-72 lead with 7:18 to play, but everyone in the gym – and everyone across the country who is familiar with Dallas' resiliency this spring – sensed there would be another run. What we couldn't anticipate was the lack of crisp decision-making by the Mavs down the stretch, with turnovers giving Miami the ball in the middle of the floor, putting them into transition …

"Where they are the best in the league at that,'' said Carlisle of turning the steal into often-spectacular conversions at the other end.

Nowitzki worked his way to the line and into the score sheet (in the last 4:56, Dirk had all 12 of Dallas' points), including a backdoor dunk that made it 84-all – that play coming after a stifling Dallas defensive sequence forced Miami into one of two late-game shot-clock violation and a bit of a griping match involving LeBron and Wade.

A Jason Terry missed jumper (maybe ill-advised as he tried to shoot over James) led to Bosh's chance to hit his own baseline shot. Nowitzki said the Mavs botched their defensive assignment to free Bosh.

A Miami double-team on Dirk forced a turnover -- but once again the Dallas defense controlled James, who missed a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds to play to give Dallas one more shot.

Would Nowitzki have time to work inside for the game-winning layup as was the case in Game 2? No. But he agreed with Terry and said he felt his shot was "as good as it gets.''


The next look: The Mavs must look ahead, ahead into the face of numbers that seem hard to escape:

Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 scheduling format in 1985, in series that were tied 1-1, the team that won Game 3 had gone 11-0 entering this series.

The Mavs know about that; it's why Dirk labeled Game 4 a "must-win.'' But Carlisle and the Mavs must remain focused on a more specific task. "I don't know the number of times we climbed out of holes,'' Rick said of the commonplace deficits. "But it's just always going to make the game harder."

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