Game Four of the 2011 NBA Finals will be remember for two things: LeBron James's lack of fourth-quarter production, and Dirk Nowitzki's ability to play with a fever of 102 degrees.
Indeed, this surprising and resurgent Dallas Mavericks squad held off the Miami Heat to even the series, and for the third consecutive game the outcome was decided by a last-second shot.
Tonight's Game Five might be one for the ages, as two very evenly matched teams have their superstars on their minds.
After struggling for most of the game, Nowitzki scored the key basket. His supporting cast finally reappeared in the series and the Mavericks had the solid team effort they've been searching for, with five players scoring in double figures.
Nowitzki will be over his sinus ineffection and looking to pick up where he left off. The 7'0 star has been on a personal mission this postseason, and playing at 100 percent will mean that he won't have any struggles in Game Five.
Dwyane Wade, brilliant in this series, continued his strong play in Game Four, and scored 32 points, taking on the Mavericks almost single handedly at times and on defense he contributed two highlight-reel blocks, including one on Tyson Chandler to whom he surrenders nine inches of height.
Unfortunately for the Heat, the story going into Game Five is neither Wade's dominance nor Chris Bosh's solid contribution, but instead LeBron James's disappointing performance and apparent apathy.
James took just one shot in the fourth quarter, and missed it. He didn't score in the first five minutes of the game, and didn't score in the last five minutes, overshadowing Wade's great effort.
James finished with just eight points -- a career low in a playoff game. At times he appeared disinterested or dispirited, content to drift out to the perimeter and avoid getting involved in the offense.
Mental and physical fatigue may have set in for James. He often plays with a spring in his step, but he was left watching Wade go to work as opposed to begging for the ball.
The Heat can't continue to have Wade keep them in games. James needs to step up, and take the criticism he's been hearing personally. When DeShawn Stevenson is calling you out, it's a wake-up call. Dallas, a group of veteran players, might be in James's head.
Both teams have to believe the series with a win in Game Five. With the next two games in Miami, the Heat and the Mavs have to consider the implications of playing at their best tonight.
The Mavs may not necessarily need Nowitzki to carry them. They finally got the team effort they needed from key bench players. Jason Terry finally broke out of his fourth quarter funk, and scored 17 points in the game. It was Terry who helped spark the Mavericks' fourth quarter run in Game Four.
Quick piont guard J.J. Barea got a surprise start and scored eight points, giving the Mavs the lift they needed from the guard who has gave the Lakers and Thunder fits.
Shawn Marion, meanwhile, continues to be the defensive star the Mavericks needed to prevent the Heat from penetrating.
The Heat will need someone to step up other than their trio of superstars. Mario Chalmers, Mike Miller, and Mike Bibby have shown flashes of quality play, and Joel Anthony has been a solid defensive player.
How Game Five Should Go Down:
The Mavericks are battle tested after sparking fourth-quarter comebacks.
Dallas will have an in-form Nowitzki for Game Five, and that's bad news for Miami. The Heat have yet to come up with an answer for the Mavericks' All-Star, yet Udonis Haslem has done a very good job of preventing Nowitzki from going for a huge game. Expect Nowitzki to score more than he did in Game Four and do so more efficiently than just six-for-19 from the field.
Terry has finally reappeared, and his lack of productivity in previous fourth quarters was a big reason the Mavs trailed the series going into Game Four. Terry scored eight points in the fourth quarter and hit the free throws that put the Mavericks up by three with 6.7 seconds remaining. After his comments about whether James would be able to guard him in the fourth, Terry backed up his statements and helped give the Mavs the Game Four win.
Tyson Chandler was huge for the Mavericks, scoring 13 points and grabbing 16 boards while staying out of foul trouble. His success meant Dallas didn't miss injured Brendan Haywood quite so much.
Now that the Mavericks' one and two scoring options are going, the rest of the team has picked up their game as well. For Game Five expect Dallas to continue to get more of the same by spreading the ball around and trying to get lots of different guys good looks.
For the Heat, the worry has to be about James's absence in a clutch situation. In the final quarter of Game Four, he was scoreless and attempted only one field goal. Expect the Heat to get James more involved by using him as a primary pick-and-roll option early in the game to give him some confidence in his shot. James is too good to not get touches.
Bosh scored 24 points and was active all night long, giving the Heat a solid inside presence to ease pressure on Wade. In Game Five look for Bosh to have another solid performance as he is getting into his groove in the Finals.
Bosh has more help than many give the Heat credit for. Anthony and Haslem offer Bosh room to operate near the top of the key.
Except for missing a potentially tying free throw with 30 seconds remaining, and fumbling the inbounds pass on the Heat's final play, Wade was spectacular in Game Four, and the Heat avoided a blowout by his scoring binges. It might be asking for too much for Wade to continue this hot streak.
The Heat will continue to run high screens for Wade to allow him to attack the basket as he has done with so much success all series long.
PREDICTION: The Mavericks come into Game Five hungry to win for the last time on their home floor before the series switches back to Miami for the final two games. Nowitzki has one of his better playoff games, Terry hits some big shots, and the supporting cast gives an all-around effort.
For Miami, Wade continues to dominate offensively, by taking the ball to the rack hard, and scores in bunches. However, the rest of the Heat continue to struggle against stiff defense, or rely to heavily on Wade to carry them.
James is the new x-factor for Game Five. The Heat look to get him much more involved offensively by going to him as a finisher rather than facilitator on pick-and-rolls, but Marion and the Dallas defense manage to hold him under 25 points yet again.
This game will be a physical battle, as both teams desperately want to win. The Mavericks finally go into a fourth quarter with a lead and hold on it.
SCORE PREDICTION: Dallas 89, Miami 85