Mavericks alive, kicking
DALLAS — With their best player laboring with a 102-degree fever, unable to drain his customary step-back jumpers and irritable with the officials, the Dallas Mavericks desperately needed an offensive salvo to prevent the Miami Heat from taking control of the NBA Finals.
With the Heat leading by 9 points early in the fourth quarter and perhaps a few buckets from being one step from an NBA title, the Mavericks used mouthy but erratic Jason Terry to spark a fourth-quarter rally that resulted in a thrilling, mistake-filled, 86-83 victory at American Airlines Center.
The series is tied at 2 as Terry scored 8 of his 17 points in the final 9:58, including 2 free throws with 6.7 seconds left. The Heat had one last chance to tie, but Dwyane Wade bobbled the inbounds pass, then flipped the ball to Mike Miller, who missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The offensive numbers were ugly overall, but pretty when it counted. The ill Nowitzki scored a series-low 21 points on 6-for-19 shooting but his running layup with 14.4 seconds left gave Dallas an 84-81 lead. It was a similar drive he used to seal the Game 2 win, although last night he scored with his right hand.
“Had a couple of good looks but just really no lift,’’ said Nowitzki, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. “But like I said, the crew was outstanding. I thought Jet [Terry] took it really upon himself in the fourth when we were down 9. This is the Finals. You are going to leave it out there. We’ve been playing on a high level for eight, nine months, so everybody has a little something going.’’
Wade, who missed a free throw that could have tied the game with 30.1 seconds left, followed with an uncontested dunk at the nine-second mark and LeBron James chased down Terry for a foul, giving the maligned veteran two free throws.
Terry drilled them, capping another improbable comeback for the never-say-die Mavericks.
“The aggression was there for me personally,’’ Terry said. “It’s not going to be easy. They’re a great defensive team, they close out to the shooters very well. It’s the same story for us. All four games have been close. We’re playing from behind. I would like to see us play from in front . . . it’s not happening. So we’re just going to continue to grind it out.’’
Besides the fourth quarter of Game 2, Terry has been silenced by James’s defense. And Terry didn’t produce much last night until the final period. But a breakaway layup with 5:12 left gave the Mavericks a 79-78 lead, an edge they did not relinquish.
And for those who criticized James for playing wingman to Wade now have more material. James scored just 8 points on 3-for-11 shooting and he had four turnovers. He did not score in the fourth quarter and points were a career playoff low. James’s previous low was 12 in Game 1 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals against the Celtics.
“Definitely didn’t play great offensively,’’ he said. “I got to do a better job of being more assertive offensively, not staying out of rhythm offensively the whole game. I’m confident with my ability. It’s about going out there and knocking them down.
“If I had 8 points and we won the game, I could be satisfied. The fact I could have done more offensively to help our team, that’s the anger part about it. I’ll come back in Game 5 and do things that need to be done to help our team win.’’
The Heat began the fourth with two buckets to race to a 74-65 lead and the crowd was silent. But Terry, who offered nothing offensively in the second and third quarters, countered with two baskets that began a 17-4 Dallas run that appeared to take the energy out of the Heat, who made just 5 of 15 shots in the final period.
In the fourth quarters of Games 2 and 4, the Heat are a combined 10-for-33 shooting (30 percent) and James has 2 combined points.
“This series is a jump ball,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And they outplayed us obviously there in the fourth quarter. You have to give them credit, their defense is good. This is a possession series. We’ll be better in Game 5.’’
Nowitzki was not his normal efficient self. He missed all four shots in the third quarter and scored just 3 points, but the Mavericks managed to stay close thanks to Shawn Marion, who scored 10 points in the period.
Terry, who was criticized for his lack of contribution in Games 1 and 3, scored 7 points in the first quarter and just 2 in the next two quarters. Marion and Tyson Chandler kept Dallas close as Wade scored 25 points through the three quarters, including a thunderous alley-oop from James for a 67-64 Miami lead.
A sense of discouragement began to creep into the Mavericks huddle because they couldn’t score with consistency against the Miami defense. Every basket was difficult. James used his athleticism to harass Terry. Nowitzki’s open jumpers weren’t falling and he was bothered by double teams as he drove to the hoop.
Carlisle’s best move of the series might have been benching DeShawn Stevenson in favor of J.J. Barea. Stevenson came off the bench in the second quarter to save the Mavericks, who had fallen behind, 28-21, after Miami began the period with a 7-0 run.
Stevenson drained three 3-pointers in a four-plus-minute span as the Mavericks responded with a 9-0 run to take a 38-34 lead with four minutes left in the quarter. Stevenson scored 11 points in the quarter as the stifling Miami defense bottled up Nowitzki.
Stevenson finished with 11 points in 25 minutes and Chandler was critical in the paint with 13 points and 16 rebounds, including nine offensive rebounds.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.