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On Basketball

One road map not to follow

In LA, Celtics were a lost cause

By Gary Washburn
June 12, 2011

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MIAMI — The Mavericks-Heat NBA Finals has displayed hints of last year’s Celtics-Lakers seven-game epic, with the teams going back and forth because they are so evenly matched.

The biggest similarity between the series comes right now, as the Mavericks enter Game 6 needing one game for the title, but facing the last two games on the road.

The Mavericks have two games to win one, and the question is whether they should really view the series in that light. The Celtics defeated the Lakers, 92-86, in Game 5 at TD Garden and headed back to Los Angeles to finish the job.

Paul Pierce said the Celtics had two chances to win one game and, in theory, they held the advantage. But there is a reason teams fight so hard for home-court advantage during the regular season. And, upon reflection, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said several times this season that he realized it probably cost Boston its 18th title.

What angered team president Danny Ainge about last year’s Finals was not losing in seven games, it was losing the sixth game without much resistance, 89-67. The Celtics were devastated when Kendrick Perkins tore his right anterior cruciate ligament during the first quarter, but that was no excuse for that putrid effort.

Boston shot 33 percent, the bench missed 22 of 26 shots and it trailed by 20 points at halftime. The Celtics seemingly entered that game with little desperation, overconfident that they could win at least one game in Los Angeles, even if it happened to be Game 7.

Of course, we know what happened in Game 7. The Celtics played a brilliant defensive game for 3 1/2½ quarters and then faded into the night because of exhaustion, losing, 83-79. Rivers could haven’t asked anything more from his team in Game 7, but he certainly could have in Game 6, a game that still bothers many in the organization.

So the Mavericks are coming off their biggest win in team history, 112-103 in Game 5 Thursday, and the Heat’s vulnerabilities have been exposed. But the entire momentum of the series could change tonight with a dominant Miami performance, as it did last season during Game 6 in Los Angeles.

“We got to treat this like it’s Game 7,’’ Dallas forward Shawn Marion said. “That’s all we’ve been saying. That’s all everybody’s been saying.’’

The Mavericks are a mature enough team to understand that chances such as these don’t come along often. But like the Celtics, they are an aging squad whose bodies may not allow for such consistent execution and intensity against the younger and motivated Heat.

But what has stunned Miami and NBA observers is Dallas’s ability to withstand furious Heat runs and its ability to rally from those down the stretch. Dallas has appeared to be the more energetic and precise team in the fourth quarter, something Miami has not faced in the playoffs.

Game 6 will be the most difficult game for the Mavericks because it’s the close-out game and Miami realizes it can recapture the emotional momentum with a victory. Coincidentally, Miami guard Dwyane Wade faced an identical situation with the Heat five years ago in Dallas.

The Mavericks began that Game 6 with a 30-point quarter, before the Heat methodically chopped down the deficit and wore down the discouraged Mavericks for a 95-92 win.

Now Wade has to prevent such a breakdown on his club.

“That’s exactly it. We came into that game with the mind-set we have to survive the emotional rush at the beginning of the game,’’ Wade said. “As now being the home team, just understanding you have to keep that pressure on. You have to keep that emotional high going. Because this team right here [the Mavericks], as they’ve shown, they’re very resilient. They’re not going to give up, no matter the score. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you win by 15 or half a point, it’s about winning this ballgame. There’s no tomorrow in that sense.

“I think we’re very confident in this situation. It’s not a situation we’re not used to. So we have to go out there and perform.’’

How the Heat will react to such adversity will depend on how much pressure the Mavericks apply. The Celtics offered barely a pulse last year in Game 6 and the Lakers cruised, regained their confidence, and then broke Boston’s hearts.

The lesson set for the Mavericks is never taking the opportunity for granted. They have proven three times that they the can beat the Heat, but that fourth win requires complete focus and execution, something the Celtics were unable to achieve last year.

“We come here to finish off a job that we need to do,’’ said center Tyson Chandler, who is averaging nine rebounds in the series.

“We understand we’re that close but we’re that far. Everybody has to turn it up a notch. This is our Game 7, that’s a dangerous team over there, not a team that you want to give an opportunity to beat you in a Game 7. So when you have the opportunity to close it out, you close it out.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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