The phrase must win is perhaps the most over-used and abused tag given to a playoff series game there is.
But with the Mavericks surrendering Game Three, and in such gut-wrenching fashion, a loss in tonight's Game Four would probably end Dallas's chances of winning the NBA title.
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 best-of-seven series 2-1, and appeared to have survived Nowitzki's deadly shooting.
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.
The Heat, meanwhile, got the Game Three win because of an inspired performance from Dwayne Wade, while LeBron James and Chris Bosh somewhat languished.
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.
Dallas outrebounded Miami, but were outscored in the paint, 40-22, and the Mavs have been rather stifled by tough Heat defense. In the series, Jason Terry has shot just 13-of-34 from the field, and Peja Stojakovic has only scored two points.
The Mavericks are having trouble penetrating, and moving the ball, and it shows. Even in these low scoring games, the Mavs have yet to come up with 20 assists in a game.
WHAT TO EXPECT FOR GAME FOUR:
Unless this games goes to overtime, expect the score to stay under 100 points. Both teams are physical, and the referees are letting them play a bit more than in past Finals' series.
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