Doubters of the Dallas Mavericks have always looked to their NBA Finals matchup against the Miami Heat with two numbers in mind: 3 versus 1. Miami’s “big three” of lightning-quick, pinpoint shooting scorers, versus Dallas’s prodigious seven-foot German forward, Dirk Nowitzki.
However, after five games, the veteran Mavericks have confounded critics and established a reputation for hard-fought comebacks and clutch wins. This was once again the case in Game 5 Thursday night in Dallas, where the Mavericks ended the fourth period on a 17-4 scoring run that gave them their largest winning margin (9 points) of the Finals, 112-103.
And apparently, those who have dismissed the Mavericks as too slow in transition and too reliant on one player’s performance have missed where Dallas has had back-to-back games getting five players scoring in double figures. The Mavericks have distributed the ball well and, in addition to Nowitzki’s gutsy play, have gotten some outstanding performances inside by Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler as well as clutch scoring outside by Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea.
Defensively, Dallas has allowed Miami only 91.8 points per game so far, which is over four points below their season average of 96.1. For a team that in the playoffs routinely scored and allowed over 100 points per game and was widely thought to wither in the face of Miami’s sixth-rated NBA defense, Dallas has themselves become incredibly stingy in that area.
After a few games of mixed results from beyond the arc, the Mavericks managed 68.4 percent (13-for-19) from 3-point distance – which offset a 36-26 rebounding deficit. Six Dallas players had at least one three-pointer, led by J.J. Barea (4-for-5), Terry (3-for-5) and Kidd (3-for-5).
Once again, Miami’s perimeter offense went cold as ice when it counted most. With four and a half minutes remaining in the game, Miami went up 99-95, but LeBron James scored their next points with only a half-minute remaining. And that was his only bucket of the entire fourth period.
Although James had a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in the game, his shooting trouble has persisted. He was only 8-for-19 from the field, including 0-for-4 behind the three-point line. During the three games played in Dallas, James has shot just 38.6 percent from the field (17-for-44) and 1-for-11 from 3-point range.
Chris Bosh added 19 points and 10 rebounds and Dwyane Wade was high scorer with 23. But once again, turnovers spelled trouble for the Heat, particularly down the stretch. They had 16 giveaways versus Dallas’s 11, which contributed directly to 21 Maverick points and completely erased the Heat’s advantage on the boards. Miami’s “big three” committed 12 of those turnovers, and they negated a strong 40-point output by Miami’s bench, led by Mario Chalmers (15 points) and Udonis Haslem’s 10.
On the other side of the ball, Dallas’ ball-handlers, Terry, Kidd and Barea, scored a combined 51 points, versus only 6 turnovers. This is the second consecutive game Dallas coach Rick Carlisle has started J.J. Barea over DeShawn Stevenson, and it’s been paying strong dividends. Also, for the second consecutive game, Carlisle has strategically inserted muscular forward Brian Cardinal to soften up the Miami interior. This has also proved to be a successful strategy.
The series now shifts to Miami on Sunday night, where the biggest question of all in Game 6 is which LeBron James will show up – the two-time NBA MVP, or the relatively lackluster version of the past few games? James himself called Game 5 “now or never;” but the Mavericks have to be aware in the back of their minds that there’s at least one more game to be played and that James is always a threat to break out in the clutch.
Nowitzki, who led all Dallas scorers with 29 points in Game 5, was stoical about the return to South Beach: “… Now we have to go down there and basically approach Sunday’s game as Game 7.”
Game 6 will be broadcast on ABC this coming Sunday night, 8 p.m., Eastern time.