Well, so much for that last post.
After Game 2, I became enamored with the idea that the Dallas Mavericks had driven a stake through the collective heart of the Miami Heat. After cruising to a 15-point lead with a little under 7 minutes remaining, the Heat took their foot off the gas pedal for a moment and the Mavericks roared to life, going on a 22-5 run featuring an array of spectacular shots from Dirk Nowitzki that swept me off my feet.
I thought to myself, “Good God. The Heat have no answer for Dirk. Jason Terry has found his shot again. And the Mavs are doing all this on the ROAD! Just imagine how well they’ll play when they get back home to Dallas!!”
Weeeelllll, not so much…
After watching the embarrassing way in which the Heat had gagged up their victory, I felt like there was no way it couldn’t have some affect on their performance in Game 3. And I was right about it having a big affect, but wrong about what kind.
I thought that perhaps that loss would push the 2 and a half men to infighting and second-guessing. Instead, it pushed Dwyane Wade to reestablish himself as the late-game leader of the team. In meetings and practices after the game, Wade let it be known that he was unhappy with their performance and the fact that he didn’t have the ball in his hands more at the end of the game.
Certainly, that was the biggest criticism one could draw from their Game 2 loss. After thrashing Dallas for 36 points through the first three and a half quarters, Wade only took two shots (both 3’s, including his desperation heave at the end) during the Mavs’ 22-5 run that stole the game and it was LeBron controlling the ball for most of that time. But in Game 3, Wade was the one controlling the ball, the pace and the game in the closing moments. He even went so far as to admonish James on the court for passing the ball to Mario Chalmers late in the 4th. Some people wanted to call this LeBron “shrinking” from the big stage, which I totally disagree with. Say what you will about LeBron, but there has been no sign of the quitter who reared his ugly head in Cleveland last season. To me, this came down to a few simple things. Wade has a ring and James doesn’t. Dallas has answers for James defensively, but none for Wade. And last, but not least, when Wade has controlled the ball at the end of the game, they've won.
Sometimes sports is as simple as that.
And speaking of Barea, what the heck happened to the Mavericks’ supporting cast? As I said before, after watching them shoot their way back into Game 2, I figured they would certainly be able to carry that good shooting back home with them. Clearly I was wrong. The Heat play suffocating defense, the best of the playoffs thus far, but on Sunday there were more than a few wide-open shots that became nothing more than bricks. After Dirk, the rest of the starting 5 (including Jason Terry because, c’mon, he’s not a bench player) shot a woeful 13-37. Meanwhile, their true bench, which I thought would get a boost from returning home, contributed almost nothing. The aforementioned J.J. Barea was the only one to make any kind of dent with his ball movement, but his shot was nowhere to be found.
Still, the way things were going for Dallas, overtime simply would’ve meant delaying the inevitable. Maybe they would’ve found a way to jump-start their offense, but they had given their fans no reason to believe they would.
Now part of me would love to say this was all a perilous omen for the Mavericks and Heat-Haters everywhere. Dallas simply cannot keep putting themselves in deep holes and expect that Dirk’s greatness will put them over the top. It got them this far, but this Miami Heat team is the best they’ve faced in the playoffs and is playing their best basketball right now. It’s one thing to need to make up a 15-point deficit once on the road, but it’s another if you fall into that hole every game.
Still, if the Mavericks can find a way to take Game 4 and even the series at 2 apiece, then perhaps there’s a chance. But they must find an answer for Dwyane Wade or else this will start to feel a lot like 2006.