NBA Finals 2011: Dallas Mavericks Can't Win with Dirk Nowitzki's Solo Act

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NBA Finals 2011: Dallas Mavericks Can't Win with Dirk Nowitzki's Solo Act
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The ball swung to Chris Bosh, and all Dirk Nowitzki could do was watch the Dallas native burn the hometown fans and sink the Mavericks with the biggest bucket of his career.

He couldn't free himself from Udonis Haslem's grasp to get to Bosh in time to prevent Game 3's deciding points. Haslem's broad shoulders and bulky body barricaded Nowitzki like a bouncer protecting a velvet rope.

The Miami Heat seized a 2-1 series lead with a 88-86 victory and may have hijacked Nowitzki's last chance at a title. He appears destined to remain outside the coveted champions club. In 2006, missed shots and free throws, a brainless Josh Howard timeout and a reprehensible blown call slammed the door shut.

The Heat have come at the Mavericks again with a different, reloaded, more explosive cast. Erik Spoelstra's roster isn't amongst the league's five most talented from top to bottom, but the all-world perimeter tandem of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade plus Bosh can compensate for any other personnel shortcomings.

James played 45 minutes, and Wade and Bosh each tallied 37 and 38 minutes. Pat Riley will need to lessen those workloads as the trio's mileage accumulates, but that excessive daylight didn't matter Sunday night.

Miami's plan, for now, seems indestructible: trot James out there for most of the ball game and force the opponent to contend with him, when a starter rests, from start to finish. Marion logged 43 arduous minutes himself, but even his tremendous, high-IQ defense could not corral the two-time MVP enough to make James' 6-of-14 night more of a problem.

A subpar 17-point effort was enough because Wade rescued the Heat offense with a 29-point magnum opus. Mario Chalmers threw in four timely long-distance grenades. Haslem supplied three baskets, and Bosh nailed the largest one of the evening to hush a packed American Airlines Center.

The Heat piled up 40 points in the paint to the Mavs' 22. That made Dallas winning the rebounding battle less meaningful.

Haslem pestered Nowitzki in the final four seconds to force a difficult game-tying attempt that skipped off the back rim. He has done so much for so many years to carry these Mavs to the brink of golden immortality. He shouldered that elephantine burden again in an intense fourth quarter but could not navigate the final climb to retaining home-court advantage.

He needs help if Dallas hopes to send this tight tussle back to South Florida. Wade and Bosh answered the final statements of his 34-point masterpiece with two of their own.

The Heat remain fatally flawed, yet a trio of elite defensive units have been helpless to stop the late bleeding. The Boston Celtics sputtered. The Chicago Bulls built several houses with all those final period bricks. The Mavs one-man show sits two defeats from the same fate.

The Mavs conquered the Western Conference with a heavy dose of Nowitzki and supreme balance from Marion to Peja Stojakovic. In this series, Dallas has mustered plenty of German-engineered makes, but insufficient hits from the other key actors spells doom in this familiar plot.

What supporting cast?

Nowitzki did it all in crunch time, and his ruthless heroics should mortar his bequest as an all-time great postseason performer. Even if he never hoists a trophy, a game-winning layup and 12 fourth-quarter points in Sunday's affair have afforded him timeless moments no basketball viewer should ever forget.

He started his run with a fadeaway. He cut baseline and slammed home a pinpoint feed from Jason Kidd. None of his clutch free throws even touched the rim. Swoosh after swoosh, he made carrying the Mavs look effortless. Then it became obvious his lack of a reliable sidekick makes his job anything but facile.

It all falls on him, and it shouldn't. James has Wade and Bosh. Who will come to Nowitzki's aid in his time of tremendous need?

Jason Terry has often been the accomplice, but he fell flat in his closing argument while Wade perfected his.

J.J. Barea finished 2-of-8 from the field, but he didn't finish much of anything. The same shots he bagged against the L.A. Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder tauntingly danced around the rim before bouncing off into the hands of Heat defenders.

Brendan Haywood's injury absence forced Tyson Chandler into 40 minutes of duty. He grabbed 11 rebounds but was too tentative at the start, perhaps saving his body to avoid foul trouble. His putback flush with 6:48 left was his lone offensive contribution.

Haywood's reserve replacement, Ian Mahinmi, was one hack and a few seconds away from setting the mark for the quickest foul out in an NBA Finals. He brought boundless energy and hustle, but his abbreviated pro curriculum vitae suggests he cannot keep his hands to himself.

Marion was 4-of-12 and not the same impactful cutter and driver that has ignited the Dallas offense throughout the playoffs. The Heat sagged off and dared him to nail jumpers. A strong-armed floater suggested he left his deft touch in South Beach.

Stojakovic's six minutes of daylight were disastrous. He made one shot and managed three boards, but the Mavs surrendered high-percentage scores on five of his first six defensive possessions. When he doesn't go bonkers from downtown, he becomes exposed.

Jason Kidd and DeShawn Stevenson hesitated too often and passed up numerous open looks. They combined for four makes, which amounts to bereft production from a starting backcourt.

The starters must do more to assist Nowitzki. A series of lapses and a dry spell pinned Dallas in a desperate corner where the franchise's leading man had to once again bail out an endangered squad. He almost did.

The Mavericks erased fourth-quarter deficits five times this postseason and won, but that reliance on the ability to come back cannot continue. Wade pulled up from the top of the key and beyond the arc and drilled two monstrous baskets. Bosh's baseline jumper was the final blow.

Miami triumphed despite 43 percent shooting and just 88 points. The Mavericks needed to parlay that stellar defensive grind into a victory. Instead, it became the latest outcome that will haunt Nowitzki.

Dallas can still emerge from this fight, and count on the series heading back to American Airlines Arena. Yet, the top-heavy Heat seem closer than ever to June nirvana, while Nowitzki's teammates are close to choking on the Three Me-Egos' dust.

Haslem's forceful hold on his wistful counterpart was more than a pick. It was fate perhaps telling Nowitzki again: No, you're not on the list.

One of four players to average 25 points and 10 rebounds for his playoff career may soon suffer his next desolating exit.

Sunday ended with a potential lasting image that doesn't fit with history or the rest of the fourth quarter. He threw the ball out of bounds just after a swift double team, could not catch Bosh and then clanged the shot that would have forced overtime.

As Rick Carlisle's team stares at a must-win Game 4, the key to getting Nowitzki beyond the velvet rope is clear. He has saved the franchise so many times with improbable daggers and winning plays.

Now it's time for one of his Maverick teammates to save him.

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