Mavericks handle Heat
DALLAS — The Dallas Maverick spent the first four games in these NBA Finals scraping for everything. Their high-scoring, proficient offense had abandoned them, and they were competing with the Miami Heat because of a series of defensive stops and the stellar down-the-stretch play of Dirk Nowitzki.
That offense that torched the Lakers and Thunder finally arrived at American Airlines Center, about 10 days later than expected. With the series tied at 2 and the Mavericks wanting to avoid heading back to Miami behind, they overcame the Heat with a stellar offensive performance.
Against perhaps the toughest defense in recent years, the Mavericks shot a blistering 56.5 percent, received double figures from five players and used a late Jason Kidd 3-pointer for a 112-103 victory, forging ahead in the series, 3-2.
Nowitzki led Dallas with 29 points, but his teammates also produced, especially Jason Terry, who added 21, and former Northeastern standout J.J. Barea scored 17.
LeBron James, who promised a more inspired and forceful performance after his 8-point Game 4, came through with a triple-double (17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) but scored just 2 points in the fourth quarter and missed 11 of 19 shots.
Asked if he was succumbing to the pressure of the NBA Finals, James said, “No, I don’t think so. I don’t believe so. I know I’m not. We as a team, we played good enough to win again. Put ourself in position to win down the stretch. Everyone, guys made plays. They just made a few more than we did. That’s what it came down to.
“I don’t think it was a case of offense again tonight. We shot 52 percent. The offense wasn’t a problem,’
Dwyane Wade, battling a left hip contusion, led the Heat with 23 points, including 10 in the final quarter. But he lacked the explosion to the basket and labored the entire evening, favoring his left side.
“I don’t talk about injuries,’’ Wade said. “It was unfortunate I had to leave the game. But I came back and I finished it. Once you’re on the court, you’re on the court. I don’t have no excuses. I was on the court. I was able to help my team get an opportunity to win. And I’ll be fine Sunday.’’
The Mavericks used an 8-0 run over a three-minute period to seize a 105-100 lead with 1:26 left. Dallas has rallied from fourth-quarter deficits in all three of its series wins.
Game 6 is Sunday in Miami, and the Mavericks have a chance to clinch their first NBA title. The Celtics were in an identical situation last season, but lost Game 6 in a putrid performance, 89-67, and also lost Game 7, 83-79. Nowitzki said he wants to treat Game 6 as a must-win.
“We didn’t want to go to Miami and give them basically two shots to close us out,’’ he said. “So kept plugging there in the fourth. Definitely a big win for us. And now we have to go down there and basically approach Sunday’s game as Game 7. You don’t want to give this great team any hope or anything. So there’s really nothing to celebrate. We’re going in there Sunday swinging, like we did today, from the jump.’’
The teams traded haymakers early in the fourth quarter, but Udonis Haslem’s slicing layup cut the Dallas lead to 90-88 with 8:23 left. Barea followed with perhaps the biggest shot of his career, a 3-pointer for a 5-point lead.
But the Heat were relentless, despite the ailing Wade and an erratic James. Miami countered with a 9-0 run, as the Heat used Haslem off the pick-and-roll while Wade capped the run with one of his momentum-changing 3-pointers.
The Mavericks, as they have countless times in the series, rallied with two free throws from Nowitzki and a tying 3-pointer from Terry to tie the score at 100 with 3:23 left. Miami scored 3 points the rest of the way, including a meaningless layup from James, his only points of the quarter, to the jeers of the soldout crowd.
After eliminating three previous playoff opponents in five games, the Heat have to win the final two games of the series to complete their heavily publicized quest for an NBA title.
“We still had an opportunity to close this out,’’ Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We weren’t able to do it, and so now when we go back to Miami we wouldn’t have it any other way. We worked extremely hard to get that home court. Nothing that we’ve achieved this year has been easy. So we’re certainly not going to start now.’’
The Heat had to respond in losing their leading scorer when Wade was unable to come out for the second half. Mike Miller helped out with two 3-pointers in the first 1:44 and James’s jumper tied the score at 65. Nowitzki began to get into a rhythm and Barea turned in his best offensive stretch of the series with 5 straight points for a 75-69 lead.
Wade returned at the 4:33 mark but was obviously far from his usual fearless self. He roamed around the perimeter and assumed the role as distributor, scoring just 2 points in the period. With a chance to take over the offense, James appeared tentative. He insisted on passing, going scoreless for the final 3:26 of the quarter.
The Heat used strong defense and rebounding to stay close.
“The good thing about life and the good thing about this game, we get another opportunity, another crack at it,’’ Wade said. “We know it’s the thing that’s going to either lose or win us a championship. It comes down to either not closing out games or closing it out. We have another game Sunday to be able to do that.’’ Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.