In 2006, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks were seemingly on their way to 3-0 series lead over the Miami Heat. With 6 minutes left, they had a 13-point lead and visions of raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in their heads. But then Dwyane Wade took over the game and ultimately the series, leading a comeback that swung the momentum in Miami’s favor for good.
Last night, Dirk returned the favor.
Ok, so we'll gloss over the fact that I failed to write any sort of preview for this series and now I'm already calling it over, but it’s impossible to overstate just how big a win this was for Dallas. The obvious facts are that it evens the series at 1-1 and gives the Mavericks home-court advantage. But the intangible factor is far greater. Now Dallas knows that their gameplan can work when executed properly, even if only for a short period of time. Their confidence level will never be higher. And Dirk has once and for all squashed the notion that he is a “soft” player. He had a horrible shooting night for most of the game, by his standards, up until those last minutes when he scored his team’s last 7 points.
At some point during the four timeouts Spoelstra burned as he watched their lead get flushed down the toilet, maybe he should’ve implored his players to not give away possesions. Not to mention, the questionable timing of his timeouts. Hindsight is always 20-20, but one more timeout would’ve been awfully handy with 3.4 seconds left when Dirk hit that layup. Rather than sprinting down the court for a desperation heave, the Heat easily could’ve wound up tying or even winning the game had they had one more timeout to use.
At that point, the game was almost over already. Every player on the Heat was looking for someone else to take over the game, while every player on the Mavericks was ready to take their shot. Only you knew only one guy was going to touch it for the rest of the game. And if you’re a Heat fan, this was exactly what you didn’t want to see.
The biggest advantage the Mavericks have over the Heat is that the Mavericks know who their closer is. 30 seconds left, game on the line, give the ball to Dirk. And he has demonstrated repeatedly that he is more than capable of pulling through in these playoffs. The Heat seemed as though they had found their closing balance between Dwyane & LeBron. In their series against Boston & Chicago, the two usually combined for their teams total offensive output in the closing minutes when they drove the nails into their Eastern opponents’ coffins. But tonight was all too reminiscent of earlier moments in the regular season when neither player seemed eager to seize the moment. And that’s why this seems like not just a loss, but a series changer. Miami now has to rediscover their “swagger”, while Dallas just needs to keep doing what they’ve been doing all along.
Yes, the series is not over yet. If Miami can win just one in Dallas and return to Miami at 2-2, then it’s wide open. But losses like this are extremely hard to put behind you. And I’m finding it hard to believe there’s enough talent in South Beach to get over this one.