Earl K. Sneed recaps Game 3 of the NBA Finals, after the Mavericks couldn't stop Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat from stealing a game at the American Airlines Center to take back the home-court advantage and seize a 2-1 series lead in the first of three games held in Dallas.
DALLAS — Game 3. In many cases it means everything to a NBA Finals series.
Eleven times a Finals series has reached the third game tied at 1-1 since the league switched to a 2-3-2 format to decide its champion in 1985. And 11 times the winner of Game 3 has gone on to win the championship series.
Taking the court Sunday night looking to start a stretch of three straight home games with a win while also feeding off the momentum of an epic 95-93 comeback victory in Game 2, the Dallas Mavericks took the American Airlines Center hardwood hoping to down the Miami Heat in the all-important third matchup to put themselves on pace to be No. 12 on that list.
Now, the Mavs will try to become the first team to buck the trend after falling on their home floor in an 88-86 defeat to slide into a 1-2 hole.
“Look, it’s seven games,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after suffering the last, acknowledging that the series is nowhere near being over. “Any notion that it was going to be easy would have been foolhardy by us or anybody else. Every game has been extremely difficult.”
“My view hasn’t changed,” forward Dirk Nowitzki added. “This definitely was a big game, and a very tough loss. Emotional game, fought back, and to fall short at the end is tough. But they need two more.”
The Mavs headed out to the floor minus one of their prized big man, with center Brendan Haywood ruled inactive for the matchup after straining his right hip flexor in the second half of Thursday night’s Game 2.
“[Haywood] is definitely missed, because he brings a big presence for us. But I don’t want to say that’s the reason why we lost, because we definitely had opportunities to win,” starting center Tyson Chandler pointed out.
A stellar block by Chandler on Heat big man Chris Bosh got the Mavericks started in the right direction, leading to a 3-pointer at the other end of the floor for swingman DeShawn Stevenson to give the home team a 14-9 advantage.
But the Heat’s All-Star trio of two-time MVP LeBron James, 2006 Finals MVP Dwyane Wade and Bosh would lead their team in its comeback efforts, while James’ thunderous slam over backup center Ian Mahinmi sucked some of the air out of the Mavs’ sails before Mario Chalmers’ halfcourt heave gave the visiting Miami team a 29-22 advantage after the opening quarter.
“Well, I thought we had opportunities,” Nowitzki explained. “First of all, we can’t always fall down behind. I think we’re always reacting. We did in the first quarter. We fell down big. … We all know that basketball is a game of runs. We have to stop the runs a little quicker. We can’t get down 15 all the time and battle back. You can get like a five, six-point swing here and there. We can’t get in a deep hole like that.”
“Right now in the series, that’s pretty much what we’re doing. We have to figure out how to get in front and play from up front,” point guard Jason Kidd added.
The former Kansas point guard, Chalmers, struck the Mavericks again early in the second quarter, draining another triple to give the Heat a double-digit advantage. Meanwhile, Mahinmi picked up a quick three fouls to force him back to the sideline, bringing Chandler back to the floor sooner than Carlisle preferred.
Instead the Mavs turned to Nowitzki and his series of moves around the rim, although not even the 7-footer’s transition block on a breaking Bosh could prevent the Mavericks from finding themselves in a 14-point hole, as Wade and James capitalized off Dallas’ untimely giveaways. But after an 11-2 run sent the Mavs into the halftime intermission, the hometown squad trailed by just five, 47-42, with a second half left to play.
Wade’s 19 first-half points led all scorers at the break. Meanwhile, Nowitzki and James matched each other with 10 points apiece, as Miami’s 41.5 percent shooting through two quarters bettered Dallas’ 38.9 percent. And although both teams committed six turnovers in the first half, the Heat’s 14 points scored off Dallas’ miscues proved to be the difference at the midway mark, with the Mavs scoring only eight points at the other way.
“They were the best in the league during the season. No. 1 at converting steals into points,” Carlisle said of the Heat’s attention to scoring off turnovers. “In many cases it’s just turnovers in general. So, you know, we only had six in the first half. It led to 14 points, which is an inordinate number. So, it’s a good example of the importance of taking care of the ball.”
Miami, however, wouldn’t need any Dallas turnovers to begin the third quarter on an 8-0 run capped by another explosive dunk by James in transition.
“I think tonight one of the things that hurt us was we were digging out of holes all night, with the exception of the very beginning of the game. We get down five or seven, climb back into it, get a one-point lead or get it tied, and then we were a minute or two later back digging ourselves back again. It’s very difficult playing from behind,” Carlisle explained.
The Mavericks responded with nine unanswered of their own ending with a Nowitzki 3-pointer. At the same time, the Heat’s fouls amassed, sending the Mavericks into the penalty with 5:45 left in the period. It would all lead to the Mavs tying the game at 57-all with 4:36 left in the quarter after a vintage Nowitzki turnaround jumper was followed by a defensive stop and long bounce pass from Kidd right in stride to a streaking Shawn Marion.
A lucky roll for sixth man Jason Terry briefly gave the Mavericks a one-point edge to complete a 17-3 run, but the Heat immediately responded with back-to-back 3-pointers by James and Chalmers to regain the lead. And fittingly the team that made the last run, the Heat, was the one heading into the final 12 minutes of play with a 67-64 edge.
After James stripped Marion and went end to end for a breakaway score to start the game’s final period, the Mavs were even more in a hole and looking for a spark. However, the Mavericks showed that they were up to the challenge, with the ball swinging from Terry to backup point guard J.J. Barea in the corner for a 3 to keep the Mavs within an arm’s reach before the undersized guard fed Nowitzki for another triple to tie the game at 70-all.
But the Heat continued to find success from the perimeter, with Chalmers swishing a 3 from the left wing to lift the visitors to a 79-72 lead with 7:18 left. That’s around the time Nowitzki tried to take over, scoring with an array of offensive moves and getting to the foul line to hack into the Miami lead.
Nowitzki’s offense and empty offensive possessions for the Heat translated to an 84-82 game inside of the final three minutes, before Kidd found the cutting 7-footer for a backdoor cut and slam to tie the game. With things knotted at 86-all in the final minute, Wade and James executed a high pick-and-roll, with the ’06 Finals MVP dishing it to the backside to Bosh to give the Heat a two-point margin with 39.6 seconds left.
“We had a mental breakdown that one play Bosh gets the wide-open jumper in the last minute,” Nowitzki admitted. “We messed up on the pick-and-roll in the middle and left I think James wide open. Tyson left the basket, had to rotate to LeBron, and he kicked it over to Bosh. I was over there with two-on-one, with Haslem and Bosh. Got to give Haslem credit, he set a good pick and Bosh was wide open. I don’t really know what happened there in the screen-and-roll, but we definitely messed it up,” Nowitzki said of the play.
At the other end, Nowitzki tried to feed out of a double team, but his pass sailed out of bounce, before being bailed out by a quick jumper from James leading to Nowitzki’s rebound and a timeout with 4.4 seconds remaining.
Carlisle drew up a play with Kidd inbounding to Nowitzki, who hit the game-winner in Game 2 when matched up with Bosh in the finals seconds. But the 7-footer’s jump shot from 16 feet over Haslem clanked off the rim at the buzzer this time around to give the win and a 2-1 series lead to the visiting Heat.
“I thought [Haslem] made me shoot a contested shot and a shot I can make, but unfortunately it didn’t go,” Nowitzki said of the final play.
Despite missing the final shot, Nowitzki finished with a game-high 34 points (15 in the fourth and the Mavs’ last 12 in the final 6:47 of game action) on 11-of-21 shooting and a perfect 9-for-9 at the foul line while matching Chandler and Wade with 11 rebounds.
Off the bench, Terry pitched in 15 points on 5-for-13 from the floor, while Marion was the only other Mavericks’ starter outside of Nowitzki to score in double figures with 10 points. Meanwhile, Kidd finished just shy of a double-double with nine point and 10 assists.
“[Nowitzki] loves that stage late. He wants the ball, and he’s always come through. So, again … somebody else has to step up and help him on the offensive end,” Kidd confessed.
Wade led the way for the Heat, tallying 29 points on 12-of-21 to go along with his double-digit rebounding effort. Bosh added the 18 points and the go-ahead bucket, while James finished with 17 points and nine assists on a sluggish 6-for-14 night. And off the Heat bench, Chalmers registered 12 points as he connected on 4-of-6 from 3-point range, boosting Miami to 8-for-19 from behind the arc compared to Dallas’ 8-of-21 from long range.
With their aerial display and above-the-rim finishes, the Heat’s Big Three carried its team to a 40-22 advantage in points in the paint. And after scoring 31 points off the Mavs’ 20 turnovers in Game 2, the Heat turned 14 Dallas giveaways into 19 points at the other end en route to the victory, overcoming a 42-36 rebounding disadvantage by outshooting Nowitzki and his teammates, 43.6 percent to 40 percent.
The Mavericks will now try to get back on track, hosting Game 4 on Tuesday night while trying to even the series once again.
“We have to be a little sharper at the beginning and not let them get their rhythm,” Nowitzki said when looking ahead to Tuesday night’s matchup. “And I thought the crowd pushed us forward. So, we’re going to need the same effort out of them. It’s basically a must-win situation.
“Hopefully we can play a better all-around game and finally get some shots to go down here at home and see what happens Tuesday. Like I said, this is a tough loss, and it’s basically a must-win situation on Tuesday. We can’t go down 3-1.”
Note: The Mavericks will host Game 4 at the American Airlines Center on Tuesday night, in a game that tip off at 8 p.m. CT and air nationally on ABC. Tickets for the Finals are on sale now. Visit Mavs.com for details or call 214-747-MAVS (6287).
All of the Mavs home Finals games at American Airlines Center will be a MAVS ROYAL BLUE-OUT!
Every seat at the American Airlines Center will have a MAVS ROYAL BLUE playoff T-shirt placed in it. We need for you and every Mavs fan to show their Mavs pride. So, dress ready to put on your MAVS ROYAL BLUE playoff T-shirt when you get to your seat.