It bears repeating that this isn’t your dad’s Dallas Mavericks anymore. Dallas, who played a woeful first game against the Miami Heat on Miami’s floor, elevated the old adage “sick and tired of being sick and tired” to a brand new level, with an improbable, come-from-behind 95-93 win Thursday night in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
In fact, a National Public Radio story Friday morning cited two professional statisticians who estimated that with Miami up 15 points with just over six minutes to play on their home court, the chances of Dallas pulling off an upset were under one percent. But led by the inspired play of Dirk Nowitzki in the waning minutes, Dallas’s odds of winning improved dramatically - and in a hurry.
All the intense speculation before Game 2 about the injury Nowitzki sustained in a collision with Miami’s Chris Bosh in the first game was rendered moot when, with under a minute left, the German forward hit a silky-smooth three-pointer to give Dallas the lead, 93-90. Then, in the final three seconds, he made a pirouette into the paint that would make former ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov jealous, tossing in a soft layup with his left hand to close it out.
Just six minutes before, Miami and their fans were chest-bumping and thumping after Dwyane Wade hit a 3-pointer in front of the Dallas bench to put the Heat up, 88-73. Most of the Mavericks, at least openly, appeared to take it in stride; but not Dallas center Tyson Chandler, or guard Jason Terry, who later said “Just watching them celebrate like that was disheartening for us.”
That seemed to light a bonfire under the Mavericks, who, at that point must have felt as pathetic as the Bad News Bears watching yet another little league opponent show them up. But Wade, who had 36 points following that three-ball, wouldn’t score again for the remainder of the game.
Then, in complete contrast to his first half performance (3 of 10 from the floor), Nowitzki, who led Dallas in scoring with 24 points to complement his 11 rebounds, summoned the intensity that helped Dallas come back late from a similar deficit in a game against Oklahoma City during their last playoff round. The Mavericks closed out the game on a 22-5 scoring run.
Miami’s LeBron James, who finished with 20 points, and Chris Bosh, who scored 12, were as irrelevant as Wade in the final minutes, with Miami guard Mario Chalmers’ three-pointer in the last seconds one of their only buckets in the six-minute stretch.
Dallas, which at one point in the first half held a 9-point lead, was poised for another epic collapse akin to their Game 1 implosion. But the Mavs remained diligent in their scoring – getting four players: Nowitzki, Chandler, Terry and Shawn Marion into double-figures.
Not only Nowitzki’s, but Marion’s performance was stellar. He finished with 20 points and 8 rebounds and kept the Mavericks close to Miami at a crucial juncture between the end of the third and early fourth quarter. Dallas’s bench, led by Jason Terry’s 16 points, outscored Miami’s, 23-11. Terry also hit some important baskets with time running out. Dallas helped their cause by hitting the boards hard, grabbing 41 rebounds to Miami’s 30.
And Dallas’s superiority wasn’t limited just to the boards and points; but also to overall shooting. Their 48 percent from the floor was a marked contrast to Game 1's production (37%), and they also hit 81% of their 21 foul shots.
But even with these impressive statistics, one non-stat stands out above all others: mental toughness. Dallas’s clutch play this postseason has been inspiring – and even more so when you consider that their Finals opponent clearly see themselves as a championship team in waiting. If Miami continues to fall apart in the remainder of the series like they did Thursday night, they’re going to have to postpone the pyrotechnics on South Beach for at least another year.