NBA Finals 2011: Defense Proves Dallas Mavs Are Special, Series Victory in Sight

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJune 8, 2011

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 07:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat looks to pass against Shawn Marion #0 of the Dallas Mavericks in Game Four of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center on June 7, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Jason Terry flapped his arms once more as his feet crossed the mid-court logo and approached a spot bearing the venue's name.

The Dallas Mavericks' boisterous, strutting guard was flying on familiar turf. The American Airlines Center hardwood was his runway, and the Miami Heat represented the traffic controllers and stormy weather trying to ground his crew on the tarmac.

Terry and his teammates took off anyway, holding off a star-crossed lineup for an 86-83 win to even the series 2-2. A day earlier, he attacked LeBron James from the comfort of a practice facility, with the self-proclaimed King left to answer a pompous declaration in a later interview session.

The slumping Jet's message: Just try and stop me seven times in a series.

It was a ridiculous behind-the-mic confrontation fit for two vainglorious personalities. The astonishing count after Game 4: Terry, 17 PTS, James, 8 PTS.

For one night, a 6'2" jumpshooting two guard in a floor general's body outscored a 6'8" transcendent talent aiming for rarefied air.

For the first time in 90 playoff contests, James failed to tally at least 10 points. The Heat came so close to securing a choke hold on a thrilling Finals matchup that could go the distance.

Now, Miami seems perilously close to waiting until next year.

A brick-tastic finish, low-lighted by a succession of wide open misfires, from DeShawn Stevenson to James, became a battle of endurance, rebounding and competence at the charity stripe. Dwyane Wade inflicted a 32-point, superhuman blow, but one late missed free throw set up an ill Dirk Nowitzki's contest-clinching drive.

Both squads abused the rims with horrendous shooting, and it's hard to know whether to assign the blame to the coverages, fatigue or a slew of individual power outages. In Dallas' case, credit the defense for gutting out a victory the offense, at times, tried to give away.

Stevenson hit three triples before missing two outstanding looks that would have iced the outcome. J.J. Barea's insertion into the starting lineup yielded a more energetic start, but the move didn't make his percentages any prettier. He missed six-of-nine shots, and eight of those were fantastic looks. The Puerto Rican slasher needed more English on several tries, including a gimme, botched fast-break conversion.

Tyson Chandler was heroic with 13 points and 16 rebounds, but Wade swatted a fourth-quarter slam, and Miami gained possession to create a runout. Terry was six-of-15 from the field, and Nowitzki labored through a 6-of-19 night.

These Mavs' mark of greatness: They survived another evening in the dumps and doldrums to eke out the sort of triumph reserved for the toughest groups. Rallying from 14 down in Oklahoma City suggested it.

Climbing out of a 15-point hole in Miami made the proposition impossible to ignore. Tuesday's conclusion sealed it.

This Dallas group is special and has earned its separation from the other iterations that could not close the deal. The difference has been defense, and limiting the nitroglycerin Heat's offense to 14 points in the fourth quarter was a Herculean feat.

Rick Carlisle's frequent return to a zone coverage left Miami scrambling and discombobulated. Let the finger pointing at the Three Me-Egos outside Erik Spoelstra's locker room continue.

Let the toasting of an underrated Dallas defense begin.

Wade turned on his afterburners for a driving lay-up off a James feed at the 7:23 mark in the final period. The Heat scored five points the rest of the way. Two of those came on a Wade dunk with the Mavs up three and nine seconds remaining. The other three came courtesy of Bosh and Wade freebies.

Before admonishing two superstars for not ambushing the basket enough in the clutch, consider buying stock in the Mavs team-wide stockade. The Heat have yet to top the century mark in this series, and James, Wade and Bosh have become volume jumpshooters for much of the previous three fourth quarters.

Talent guarantees nothing in the NBA. The team with more of it was not going to win a title based on that alone. Dallas entered the ring with a deeper cast, more supposed reliable role players and more of an axe to grind.

The Mavs showed Tuesday that three-to-one is not a trustworthy ratio. An assertive bench effort did not melt away 48 minutes of frigid shooting, and Dallas still found a way. Yes, Spoelstra has three stars to Carlisle's one, but the latter coach found a formula that could produce two more wins.

He used Chandler as a screener to initiate offensive sets and urged his guards to punish the Heat for surrounding Nowitzki. One brilliant sequence: With Nowitzki double teamed in a corner, Chandler drove to the hoop, drew a defender and fed a cutting Shawn Marion for a dunk.

It would be foolish to bury Dallas now. Aside from a runaway few minutes in Game 1, these two conference champions have been inseparable. Dubbing Miami the clear-cut better opponent is as feeble-minded as Terry's challenge to James.

Nothing is clear. The reserve units have alternated standout showings. Mario Chalmers went from dead-eye assassin to surprise playmaker to a crunch-time no show. Terry responded to a zero-point fourth quarter Sunday night with a splendid eight-point fourth quarter on Tuesday.

Home-court advantage provides the Heat with an undeniable edge, but nothing has been decided beyond that. Terry and his mates did more than delay an inevitable second-place finish in Game 4. They found new life by withstanding their own offensive ineptitude and Wade's all-around dominance.

Brendan Haywood, still ailing with a hip flexor, logged just three minutes. That forced marginal backup Brian Cardinal into seven minutes of action.

Wade's spellbinding scoring clinic kicked into overdrive and James nailed a big bucket. Dallas appeared ready to come unglued. In a sign of a changed demeanor, the Mavs instead refused to let the Elmer's dry before time expired.

When Wade blocked Chandler then ran the length of the floor for a lay-in, a toaster oven seemed to ding in the Heat's favor. Miami had backed Dallas into a familiar corner with a 78-73 lead, and it was fair to wonder how anyone could respond to such a flurry, when every costly miss added to the pressure.

All the favored Heat had to do was hang on to ensure supremacy. Wade opened the refrigerator to find the spread to butter up the Mavs, but he dropped the knife and broke the margarine dish.

From finished to flying, Terry's moxie matched his mouth. Calling out James was unnecessary and stolid, but Terry knows no other method. He pumps himself up this way, by viewing his foes' histrionics in a vacuum, while conveniently forgetting his own.

None of it matters when the Mavs win.

Chandler picked off Bosh, Stevenson corralled the loose ball, and he found Terry streaking for a go-ahead lay-up. After banking in his sixth bucket, Terry extended his arms for a prosaic gesture.

Yeah, he said to James with one motion, stop this flight path. In the end, though, the Mavs cleared the runway by stopping the Heat.

Stay on the tarmac? Wrong Dallas squad. Wrong time to book another championship parade down Biscayne Boulevard.