Given up for done after Game 1, and treated as completely finished in the early part of the fourth quarter of Game 2, the Dallas Mavericks did what they have done against those other favored teams. Fighting back from a seemingly impossible margin to take Game 2 from the Miami Heat, turning the American Airlines Arena into a tomb, the full talent of this old team was on display. And no one shined brighter than its star, Dirk Nowitzki. Except perhaps Shawn Marion.
There were few ways to put a positive spin on Game 1, despite an effort that had the Mavericks within four points with about a minute left. Nowitzki was injured. The Heat were stomping the Mavs before everyone's eyes. It was domination in the extreme. And LeBron James was indeed King James.
Everyone said it. Dallas was toast.
Then came the comeback at the end of the first half of Game 2, when the Heat burned the Mavs with little more than a minute to go, tying up the game at 51 apiece at halftime. Expecting more, the Heat upped the ante right before the fourth quarter, leading only by four, but the margin seemed larger.
The fourth quarter was more of the same, extending their lead to 15 points with about seven minutes to go in the game. Magic Johnson was telling his team of analysts that it was all over. Miami was to be crowned champion. The next two games were a foregone conclusion.
Then a funny thing happened.
According to more than one pundit in the post-game analyses that predominate after every game, leaving coach and player interviews by the media largely a thing of the past, Miami reverted to the game they played earlier in the season when they were losing with regularity. When LeBron James intentionally bumped his head coach, letting us all know that only he matters in any game he plays and on any team he is with.
And in a comeback for the ages, Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks took Game 2 at the very end.
Despite a defensive lapse from Jason Terry at the end of the game. Eerily similar to his defensive lapses when he and the Mavs gave away the championship (or had it taken from them by the NBA and its referees) in 2006 to the Heat.
This time, Terry left Mario Chalmers completely open with about 26 seconds left in Game 2. Chalmers calmly made an uncontested three to tie the game.
There were several points in this comeback that made the Mavericks winners. Several critical turning points in the game that were worthy of entire stories.
Five seem most important.
The follow through.
Dwyane Wade holding his follow through and admiring his three-point shot that made the lead seem insurmountable, at 88-73. Fifteen huge points. In your face, Mavericks. Take that, said Wade, full of self-importance.
The chest thumping, self-indulgent LeBron James, proclaimed a Miami win seven minutes too soon. James' self-aggrandizing surely has begun to win very thin for everyone who watches him.
Yet he disagreed. There is no mirror for James, who never does anything wrong.
"There was no celebration at all," James said. "I was excited about the fact that he hit a big shot and we went up 15."
The technical foul.
During the third quarter, LeBron James elbowed Dirk Nowitzki but received no foul. The action was in clear sight of the referees, done in retaliation for Nowitzki's foul on James stopping him from scoring.
The Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle had seen enough. Arguing for his star player, Carlisle's technical foul has hopefully changed the woeful failure of the NBA referees to call fair games in several of the Mavericks playoff games. We will not know whether this has occurred until the Finals is over. But for now, there is hope.
Perhaps Rick Carlisle summed things up best when talking about his technical.
"It seemed to inspire the referees. Look, I’m not going to get into a big thing about the officiating. I stand up for my guys. If I think things are going on out there that aren’t fair, I’m going to fight for them. That’s just how I do business. If you get a technical once in a while, you get a technical once in a while. That was a long time ago, now."
Perhaps the best examples of this failure have been the merciless fouls and improper coverage permitted on Dirk Nowitzki. After Nick Collison held him on the left side for most of three games, a few fouls were called. Unlike other stars, Nowitzki has been often mugged by lesser players who have been allowed contact through his shot, something no other player much less star normally has to endure.
Other examples of the imbalance against the Mavericks are the flagrant fouls called on Tyson Chandler during these playoffs that the league had to rescind after they were reviewed, and the NBA referees' failures at other junctures to call fouls, some flagrant, against the Mavericks opponents despite being often right in front of referees.
It is possible if not likely that Shawn Marion was the best player on the floor for the entire game. He was 9-14 in scoring, had eight rebounds and three assists, including the key assists that allowed Nowitzki to score at the end of the fourth quarter. And he played steady if not incredible defense on LeBron James, denying him the ball and keeping him from driving to the basket.
What can you say now? He is no Larry Bird? He is not very good? He does not play defense? He is not tough? He is not one of the NBA's best in history?
They have all been said for years. One game does not make an athlete great. But it does if it is a microcosm of his career. And this game was just that.
He got his 10 rebounds career playoff average. He nearly got his career playoff average of more than 25 points a game. His playoff average of over 25 points and 10 or more rebounds per game is almost unique.
According to one source, Nowitzki is only one of four players to have averaged such numbers. Another says the other three players are Hakeem Olajuwon, Elgin Baylor and Bob Pettit. Only he and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have averaged four consecutive games in the playoffs with over 30 points and 15 rebounds.
In the end it was all Nowitzki. All 9 of the Mavs' last points were his. At least two shot with his left hand. The one that would have his last digit hanging loosely if it were not for the splint he is wearing.
So the Mavs won Game 2. On a shot with little more than three seconds left. Shot by Nowitzki using his bad hand.
There was no foul called on the flop by Dwyane Wade after his desperate, well-defended three point attempt. Who guarded Wade? Nowitzki, of course. By himself. Despite Wade's pleading toward one of the referees, none could call a foul inside of the last second of the game. No matter what they wanted to do.
The Mavs won despite the Three Kings and whatever other tags the Miami Heat and its media want to put on this team and its players, including "great" and "wonderful" and "the best."
The Mavs won despite the Miami fans, dressed in white. Their fans give the Heat games an odd, almost cult-like look. One could be easily spooked playing before them. And many were, with visitors losing 10 playoff games in a row until the game last night.
The Mavs won inside Miami's own home, the inner sanctum where Miami's Three Kings hold court.
The Dallas Mavericks had done what all had said they were incapable of doing. Won Game 2. With the old codgers punching Miami in the gut. Right where it hurts.
One game does not win or lose the playoffs. Dallas got off the floor after Game 1. And Miami can win in Dallas in Game 3.
But Dallas taking the first game on Miami's home floor in the playoffs tells all of us something we just could not believe. That Miami could lose this series. And that Dallas could win it.
As long as the NBA and its referees call an even game and do not give the Finals to Miami and its Three Kings.
Despite the chest thumping, self-indulgent LeBron James, whose proclamation of a Miami win came seven minutes too soon, and whose self-aggrandizing surely has begun to win very thin for everyone who watches him.