DALLAS – Coughing and wheezing, his temperature spiking to 101, worn out from hardly sleeping the night before, Dirk Nowitzki went through three miserable quarters in Game 4 of the NBA finals.
Yet the fourth quarter was his time to shine. Again.
And now the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat are starting over in the NBA finals, this best-of-7 series reduced to a best-of-3.
Nowitzki fought through a sinus infection and everything else that ailed him and his team to power a 21-9 run over the final 10:12, lifting the Mavericks to a memorable 86-83 victory Tuesday night. He scored 10 of his 21 points – including a driving right-handed layup that spun in off the backboard with 14.4 seconds left – and grabbed five of his 11 rebounds in the final period as Dallas pulled off its second stunning finish this series.
“Just battle it out,” Nowitzki said, sniffing throughout his postgame interview. “This is the finals. You have to go out there and compete and try your best for your team. So that’s what I did.”
The Mavs avoided going down 3-1, a deficit no team has overcome in the finals, and guaranteed the series will return to Miami for a Game 6 on Sunday night.
Game 5 is Thursday night in Dallas, and Nowitzki vowed to be ready.
“There’s no long term,” Nowitzki said. “I’ll be all right on Thursday. … Hopefully I’ll get some sleep tonight, take some meds and be ready to go on Thursday.”
Nowitzki wasn’t as dominant as Michael Jordan when he scored 38 points despite a 103-degree fever in Game 5 of the 1997 finals – but it was that kind of performance down the stretch. If the Mavericks wind up winning their first championship, this performance will go down in NBA lore.
By comparison, consider how meek a healthy LeBron James played Tuesday.
James scored only eight points, ending a double-figure scoring streak of 433 consecutive games, regular season and postseason. It was the first time in 90 playoff games that he scored such few points.
He made only 3 of 11 shots – a tip-in, a 15-foot jumper and a breakaway dunk. Not only did he not score in the fourth quarter, he took only one shot while playing all 12 minutes.
“I’ve got to do a better job of being more assertive offensively,” said James, who nonetheless contributed nine rebounds and seven assists.
Dwyane Wade led Miami with 32 points, but missed a free throw with 30.1 seconds left and fumbled an inbounds pass with 6.7 seconds left. He knocked the ball back to Mike Miller for a potential tying 3-pointer, but it wasn’t even close to hitting the rim.
Nowitzki’s condition was kept a secret, and he helped keep it that way by hitting his first three shots. Then he missed 10 of 11 and it was obvious something was wrong.
The biggest giveaway: He also missed a free throw for the first time since Game 4 of the conference finals.
This series is now more fascinating.
After the last two games were decided by two points, the first time that happened in the finals since 1998, this one was decided by three.
The Heat seemed to have taken control when they led 74-65, their biggest lead of the night.
But Dallas went to a zone and Miami struggled.
Jason Terry – who kick-started that comeback with six straight points – made consecutive baskets, and the surge was on. Terry ended up capping it with two free throws with 6.7 seconds left that forced Miami to need a 3-pointer.
Dallas finally got the balanced scoring attack it wanted.
Terry had 17, Shawn Marion 16 and Chandler had 13 points and 16 rebounds.
DeShawn Stevenson, who moved to the bench so J.J. Barea could join the starting lineup, scored 11 points for Dallas.
Bosh scored 24 points for Miami.