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Steve Aschburner

Dirk Nowitzki
Dirk Nowitzki scored the last nine points for the Mavs, including the winning layup, in Game 2.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Stunner? For the Mavs, this comeback thing becoming ho-hum

Posted Jun 3 2011 1:22PM

MIAMI -- Pick a precedent, any precedent.

Given what the Dallas Mavericks pulled off Thursday night on the banks of Biscayne Bay -- a dazzling and perhaps series-altering comeback from 15 points down against the Miami Heat over the final seven minutes of Game 2 of The Finals -- it's worth knowing this: It's what they do.

On the great scale of surmounting fat deficits, with desperation at one extreme and routine at the other, the Mavericks are a lot closer to the latter, thanks to all their recent (or not-so-recent) experience. Do something often enough, it starts to become a habit.

Like, you know, the Heat's tendency toward premature celebrations, whether back in July before the first tipoff of a long grinding season or with an 88-73 lead with 7:14 left in a game.

Here are some of the Mavericks' greatest hits, in terms of picking themselves off the canvas:

Video April 28 at Portland: Down 12 points in Game 6 of the first round, the Mavericks fired back for a 103-96 victory in what became the series clincher for them. They had missed 22 of their first 30 shots (26.7 percent) to dig the 31-19 hole early in the second quarter, then went 31-of-48 (64.6) the rest of the way.

Video May 2 at Los Angeles: The Lakers had Dallas down by 16 points in the second half, but let Dirk Nowitzki loose for 11 points in the fourth quarter, then melted down near the end of the Mavericks' relentless run-down in the second-round opener. It came at the end of what proved to be the beginning of the end, sweep style, for the defending NBA champions. A stunned Staples Center crowd watched their team score just two points over the final 3:32.

Video May 23 at Oklahoma City: Trailing 99-84 in the fourth quarter, already up in games in the Western Conference finals 2-1, Dallas could have settled for a split on the Thunder's floor and leaned on home court advantage in a best-of-three situation. Nope. The Mavericks grabbed the game and the series by the throat, closing 17-2 to tie in regulation and then blowing by the new kids 11-4 in overtime.

Three times down by double digits, all on the road. Then there were the "lesser" comebacks, down eight against L.A. in Game 3 and dowsn eight against OKC in Game 5, both in the final quarter, both turned into victories. And that's just in these 2011 playoffs.

Dallas won 18 times in the regular season when it trailed at halftime and 12 times after being behind at the start of the fourth quarter. They did so 12 and eight times on the road, respectively. And don't forget, the Mavericks' 28-13 overall record in other people's buildings tied for tops in the NBA with Miami.

In other words, if any team was going to be able to rally from the predicament in which the Heat had them Thursday, Dallas was it.

"'Hang out. Hang around. Keep believing,' " Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said, sharing some of Dallas' timeout-huddle chatter late in this one. "This team has been through some difficult situations. We have shown we have the ability to come back and the guys believe that if we get stops, we'll always give ourselves a chance. It wasn't gonna happen unless we got stops."

Well, no, that's true. Stops alone weren't going to get it done. Miami, so confident defensively, could have been fine if it never scored again -- if it had been able to lock down the Mavericks the way it often does with opponents these days. As LeBron James said later, "We're up 15. If they go on a 12-0 run for the rest of the game, if we don't score another basket, we still win by three."

Give up a 22-5 run in a span of 6:19 near the end, though, and you lose by two.

Much was, and will be, made of the antics that James and Dwyane Wade pulled in the seconds immediately after their team took its 88-73 lead, courtesy of Wade's 3-pointer from the right corner. Right there, in front of the Dallas bench, Wade held his bent-wrist follow-through for an exaggeratedly long time and then James met him for some playful chest punches. As an emotional trigger or a wake-up call, it might have helped the visitors. Guard Jason Terry yapped back in the moment, and he and center Tyson Chandler were the most open in mentioning it.

"It angered a lot of us," Chandler said.

Said Terry: "We looked at each guy in the huddle, to a man. Me specifically, looked at Dirk and said, 'There's no way we're going out like this.' "

Others? Not so much. "As far as somebody posing, I didn't see that," Mavs Shawn Marion said. "I was so tuned into the game."

That's really what it came down to anyway: A business-like response to a long-journey, small-steps situation.

The start of it, to Carlisle and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, probably was the most essential part of Dallas' comeback. Actually, the Mavericks missed a couple of shots initially, extending a cold shooting streak to start the fourth to 1-of-11. But Miami missed, too, including a pull-up 3-pointer by Wade.

Dallas worked the ball to Terry for an open jumper from the right baseline, then turned another Miami 3-point miss into a breakout layup for their veteran sixth man. What could have been an 18-point Heat lead was down to 11. "That put them at least in striking distance," Spoelstra said.

From Miami timeout to Miami timeout, 5:45 left to 3:11, it was an ensemble effort for Dallas in a 9-2 spurt. From Marion's driving layup and Jason Kidd's 3-pointer to Terry's pull-up jumper from 14 feet, with Dirk Nowitzki as facilitator.

Then it was Nowitzki doing what he did against the Blazkers, the Lakers and the Thunder. Taped-off middle finger on his non-shooting hand be damned. He scored the Mavericks' final nine points to bring them all the way back. Plus.

He went from 19 feet at 1:55. He finished a 3-on-1 break with a layup. He canned a 3-pointer from behind Chandler, who was holding off a rushing Udonis Haslem as if this were a rusher-lineman-quarterback play. That one made it 93-90 with 26.7 seconds left.

Nowitzki even had time to scorch Terry a little moments later. The Dallas guard had lost Mario Chalmers on the Heat's inbounds play, allowing Chalmers to catch James' remarkable cross-court chest pass and sink an uncontested 3-pointer to tie at 24.5 seconds.

"A lot of curse words," Terry said. "In that timeout, Dirk is like, 'What were you thinking?' And really, honestly, it was my mistake ... Big fellow told me he had my back. And he did."

Miami had a foul to give but never gave it, not with Nowitzki getting his hips around Chris Bosh for a lefthanded look and layup. All timeouts were gone and Wade's running 3-pointer from just inside midcourt bounced off.

The Mavericks didn't do any shadowboxing or posing, as far as anyone saw. OK, so they didn't just yawn and punch a time clock on the way off the floor either. But their reaction was closer to that.

"It's just as hard every time," Terry said of the repeated rallies. "This group doesn't surprise me, though. We're very resilient.

"We don't want to get into these situations. But if this situations does present itself, we're a veteran team. And we pride ourselves on being calm, being even-keeled. And if there's time on that clock, there's still time for us."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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