Imagine you are Dirk Nowitzki. You have carried your team to the precipice of a championship. Your team is down 2-1 in the NBA Finals and it is the biggest game of your career. You wake up to discover you have the flu and 102 degree fever.
One game after his fellow starters made a combined nine field goals (Dirk had 11) a potential 3-1 deficit was staring Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks right in the face. Things looked bleak.
Then something strange happened: His teammates remembered they were pretty good ball players themselves.
After all, this was how they got here, right? Run the offense through Dirk, while the other four players on the court chipped in as center Tyson Chandler anchored the defense.
It was Jason Terry who set an NBA playoff record for three-pointers made against the two-time defending champion Lakers, right?
It was Jason Kidd who hit clutch three after clutch three late in games against the Thunder, was it not? Didn't Tyson Chandler curtail every Russell Westbrook drive, forcing him into errant jump shots?
Yes it was.
Finally not able to depend solely on Dirk Nowitzki to outshine Miami's three All-Stars, the Mavericks remembered the game plan that had gotten them to the Finals and the only way they could beat the Heat.
They had to do it with Tyson Chandler leading the defense and cleaning up the boards. He responded with 16 rebounds—nine offensive—and three blocked shots.
The stats don't tell the whole story, as Chandler was simply a menace defensively. He was all over the court, culminating in forcing Mike Miller's desperation three to become an air ball at the end of regulation. Chandler has been the key to the Mavericks' defensive resurgence all season.
Against the two most explosive players in the league in Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, Chandler's presence is as important defensively as Nowitzki's is offensively. Finally escaping foul trouble, Chandler re-established himself down low.
If the Mavericks are going to finish off the upset and beat the Heat, they have to do it as a team. Chandler, Terry, DeShawn Stevenson and J.J. Barea stepped up with their personal scoring highs in these Finals. Stevenson took his turn as the three-point threat, hitting three of them and getting the offense going in the first half. Jason Terry still didn't have a great night shooting the ball, but was productive with 17 points, three big steals and some clutch free throws late.
Shawn Marion continued his strong play in the Finals, going 7-for-12 from the field while slashing through the vaunted Heat defense.
Dirk was hindered by the flu. That was evident as his shots were just a bit short, a sign of a player struggling with fatigue. But it was a blessing in disguise, as the Mavericks knew their fearless leader needed their help. They got back to playing Mavericks basketball, with each player contributing something here and there around their star.
And once again, flu or not, Dirk was there in the clutch, hitting the game-winning shot with one of his patented lanky drives to the basket, putting the layup just out of reach of the would-be shot-blocker, Dwyane Wade.
The Mavericks rediscovered how to beat the Heat. All it took was a little flu from their superstar. An off game from Dirk could have killed the Mavericks, putting them in a 3-1 hole and sealing the series for Miami. Instead, the Mavericks stepped up and made the Finals a best-of-three series with the next game in Dallas.
Your move, Miami.