In Game Three, Dirk Nowitzki's looked like he was going to deliver in the clutch again but his last-second shot to send the game to overtime hit the heel of the rim and sent Mavericks' fans home dejected, and the Heat thankful they managed to escape with a tough win from a scrappy Dallas squad.
The Heat lead the series 2-1 thanks to two things: tough defense and the continued brilliance of Dwyane Wade.
On Dallas's last two possessions the ball ended up in Nowitzki's hands, but instead of punishing the Heat like he did in the closing minutes of Game Two, the 7'0 sharpshooter was forced into a turnover and a difficult last second shot.
Nowitzki still dropped 34 points, but only two other players on the Mavs scored in double digits.
On the other side of the ball, the Heat managed to survive rough nights from both LeBron James and Chris Bosh by counting on their captain to step up.
Wade not only picked up the slack, but it seemed like he was at times carrying the team on his shoulders. He scored 29 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and was unstoppable driving to the rim. He looked like the MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals whose name was...Dwyane Wade.
Dallas outrebounded Miami, but were outscored in the paint, 40-22. With Tyson Chandler clogging the middle, the Mavericks have no excuse to allow such scoring.
However, what's been most troubling for the Mavs has been their inability to score, overall. The speed and length of the Heat are giving Dallas's shooters fits.
In the series, Jason Terry has shot just 13-of-34 from the field, and Peja Stojakovic has only scored two points.
The Mavs swept the Lakers because of superior ball movement and great shooting, but Miami's defense has clamped down the interior and lightning-quick closeouts are forcing Mavs' misses.
WHAT TO EXPECT FOR GAME FOUR:
More of the same: a tough physical game with both teams scoring under 100.
The Heat will keep trying to run high screens to get the ball into Wade's hands so he can attack the basket, and Dallas will try to cheat those screens to force him to get rid of the ball earlier.
Nowitzki will find a way to get his points, but Miami is going to keep making him work for every single one. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will likely have Haslem guard Nowitzki more since the Miami big man is at least disrupting Nowitzki's shot. By forcing him to catch the ball further out than he wants to, and trying to muscle him off his spots, the Heat can limit Nowitzki's opportunities.
James won't be held below 20 points again. He's going to come out with guns blazing, trying to take the ball to the hoop, draw some fouls, and go to the line more than the four trips he managed in Game Three.
Expect Shawn Marion to contain James like he's done all series by forcing outside shots. So far, Marion's the only Maverick besides Nowitzki who has really stepped up on both ends of the floor.
Chris Bosh is the x-factor for the Heat. In Game Three he got poked in the eye and needed 18 shots to score 18 points, but he also hit the winning bucket. If he's rebounding on the offensive end and getting tip-ins and easy buckets in the paint, the Mavs have no answer for him.
For the Heat to win they need the same defensive intensity that's carried them in this series, one of their role players to score (Chalmers has been clutch so far), and a healthy dose of Wade.
The Mavs need to continue to force James into being a jump shooter, keep the Big Three off the foul line, and maintain the scoring punch from Nowitzki and Marion. Most importantly however, they need to slow down Dwyane Wade and get some of that magical shooting touch back from players like J.J. Barea and Stojakovic. Without one or both of those guys contributing, their chances of extending the series are slim.
The Mavs take a lead in the second quarter thanks to Nowitzki, Marion, and Barea's hot shooting. The game is close for the entire second half with the Heat taking a lead during the third quarter as James takes advantage of defensive mismatches. In the fourth, the Mavs battle back, as Terry finds his stroke, Nowitzki finds his way to the foul line, and tough defense in the closing holds off the Heat's last ditch efforts.
SCORE PREDICTION: Dallas 91, Miami 88