With visions of a sweep dancing through their heads ...
The One That Got Away
By John Schuhmann and Rob Peterson
MIAMI, June 13 -- Fourth quarter of Game 3, 6:34 on the clock. The Mavs are up by 13 points. The Heat have four team fouls, so Dallas is shooting free throws on every foul the rest of the way. Dwyane Wade has five personals. The Mavs have outscored the Heat by 22 points through the first 17 and a half minutes of the second half.
They could taste it. No team in NBA history has ever come back from 3-0. A win tonight would virtually guarantee a championship and likely, a sweep.
The dads in the media were thinking that they might be home for Father's Day for once. The single guys were thinking that they were going to miss their opportunity for an all-expense paid weekend in South Beach.
Did the Mavs lose focus?
"Maybe we started to relax too early or celebrate," Dirk Nowitzki said. "I don't know what it was. But we didn't defend them the way we did before and we couldn't get anything to drop. So it's obviously frustrating."
Frustrating indeed. They shot 2-for-7. They committed five turnovers. They were outrebounded 6-2, giving up two crucial offensive boards.
"I just think we relaxed," Josh Howard said. "I mean, that's the only thing I can say. They competed, they came back and fought hard, but for the most part we relaxed. There were a lot of shots they made that we should have been able to contest."
The pick-and-roll that was providing Jason Terry with open looks throughout most of the second half wasn't as sharp. Most importantly, on the other end of the floor, they couldn't stop Dwyane Wade. He took it to the basket. He hit the jumper when they gave it to him. He was the Dwyane Wade that brought the Heat to the Finals for the first time in franchise history.
"He really had it on his mind that he was going to be aggressive getting to the basket," Jason Terry said. "Especially in that fourth quarter, he really, really took over."
Still, the Mavs had a chance to tie it with Dirk on the line at the end, or even with the final play of the game. They failed on both opportunities, but looking back, that is not when the game was lost.
It was lost when they let their guard down, took their foot off the pedal and several other clichés that one could apply to the situation.
They were so close. So close to making Shaq answer even more criticism. So close to seeing the Heat squirm in front of the media one more time. So close to ordering up the champagne for Thursday night.
Cancel those flights for Friday morning everybody. We're spending the weekend here in South Florida.
Outworked on the Glass
Moments before Game 1, Mavericks coach Avery Johnson noted that they wanted to play their style on offense, play hard-nosed defense and "try to win the rebound game."
"They really crashed the offensive glass," Dirk Nowitzki said. "Haslem did a great job getting in there. Obviously usually when we rebound the ball well, we win games. That really puts us in transition and we're able to, you know, play a faster game if we dominate the boards."
Josh Howard noted the Heat came out with a little extra fire.
"They came out and fought hard," Howard said. "Every time I saw a missed shot they were around it."
But even then, the Mavericks still believe they'll get bushells full of boards.
"The ball can bounce either way," Mavericks center Eric Dampier said. "Just got their hands on a couple of loose balls and a couple of rebounds. If we'd had gotten our hands on those it would've been a different game."
It's the type of collapse that could change a series. It could kill their confidence or it could make them more focused in Game 4 on Thursday. They took longer than usual to open the locker room doors after the game, perhaps to start getting motivated for Game 4, or perhaps to absorb a tounge-lashing from their coach.
The fourth quarter of Game 3 was the moment of truth for Miami. The first quarter of Game 4 may be the moment of truth for the Mavs.
"We've been great through adversity all season long," Terry said. "And this is no different."
This isn't the worst situation they've been all year though. After all, they were down three in the final minute of Game 7 in San Antonio. And as Dirk Nowitzki noted, "We're still up 2-1."
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