HEAT 83 - Mavs 86 Game 4 Recap

DALLAS – The unusual is the usual in this NBA Finals series, now tied 2-2 after the Miami HEAT dropped Game 4 to the Dallas Mavericks despite a nine-point fourth quarter lead. Strange was in abundance Tuesday night, but strange is becoming all too familiar against one of the most mentally tough teams in recent memory.

With Dallas, comebacks are to be expected, and there’s little to criticize when a team comes out of a timeout down nine with ten minutes to go and puts on one of its best defensive performances of the season. That intensity, the HEAT cannot control.

But of the things they could control in that fourth quarter, they came up empty.

It would be demeaning to the Mavericks to run with the old adage about one group losing a game more than another winning. That’s an unfair generalization. But the HEAT had opportunity after opportunity go to waste, whether due to poor execution, unforced turnovers or simple lack of aggression. And that’s on them.

“They outplayed us obviously there in the fourth quarter,” Erik Spoelstra said. “We did not take care of business, on both ends of the court.”

For the fourth quarter to make sense, we have to discuss the journey to get there. The Mavericks started Jose Juan Barea in the stead of DeShawn Stevenson, which seemingly left Miami always working with a size advantage somewhere on the floor. And Dallas had to send its double teams. So, just as they did in Game 3, the HEAT practiced patience, using the aggression of the Mavericks against themselves, passing out of double teams for open looks, attacking the seams left by rotating defenders and putting pressure on the weakside help by cutting in straight lines at the rim.

That’s where Miami’s 19 assists in an 85 possession game came from, and why it was shooting 45 percent through three quarters, a good number for such a grind-it-out series.

This continued through the opening minutes of the fourth, with Mario Chalmers creating open looks for both Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. Then Dallas called timeout, ratcheted up its stopping power and things got weird.

“It was our game to take at that point, and we didn’t close out,” Spoelstra said.

Right out of that timeout, the Mavericks ran the same staggered-screen set they’ve used before to free a driving lane for Jason Terry, who got a layup. Seconds later, LeBron James, as much a facilitator in this game as in any other game this season, was called for traveling. Then more screens for Terry and another good look.

The lead was down to five.

Dwyane Wade, deserving of heaps of lyrical narrative for however you care to label his drive in this one, staved off Dallas for a brief moment, rebounding a missed three with both Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki nearby and floating the ball back in. But the respite was as brief as it was fleeting. Nowitzki follows with two free throws and makes a driving layup a possession later. Three-point game.

From this point on, eight minutes to go, there were only two positive sequences for Miami’s offense. An incredible find from James to hit Wade for an alley-oop out of a hard double team, and later, with Miami trailing, an on-target fly route from James to Wade that stretched two thirds of the floor to put Wade on the line with a chance to tie the game.

Otherwise, the HEAT were back in survival mode. Dallas, not doing anything new on the defensive end, constantly pushed the ball away from the basket, but with such speed that Miami was unable to capitalize with simple patience. They attacked the same zones of the floor with high pick-and-rolls, and with the shot clock working against them, were often stuck with isolations.

“It was either contested jumpers or we were turning the ball over,” Chris Bosh said. “That got the crowd back into it and fed their offense.”

Five turnovers in this final stretch, but even with those adding to Dallas’ momentum, Miami had the possession totals necessary for success. From Wade’s dunk with 7:24 to play until there was a minute remaining, there were six possessions that didn’t end with a Miami turnover. The results of those were four missed jumpers and two missed threes to go with a missed putback.

In those six minutes, Miami scored two points from Chris Bosh free throws. But they only trailed by two after those. Over this same period, Dallas missed eight shots in a row.

Missed opportunities.

It’s difficult to put much weight on anything else. There’s no good karma from a balanced first half, for being the team playing from ahead most of the series and no grand scheme the game played in to. As Spoelstra has said this postseason, these games are win or lose. That’s it. And after a 15-4 Dallas run, the Mavericks missed eight shots in a row.

With teams as mentally durable as these, as capable in all aspects of the game as these, running out of ammunition during a stretch like is all it takes to turn a potential 3-1 series lead into a best-of-three series for the title.