In Game Four of the NBA Finals, an under-the-weather Dirk Nowitzki and a resurgent Dallas Mavericks managed to hold off the Miami Heat for a victory in the third consecutive game in this series that has been decided by a last-second shot.
Nowitzki had a 102-degree fever, but after struggling for most of the night, he managed to score down the stretch when it mattered most. 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.
On the other end, Dwyane Wade was absolutely brilliant as he has been all series. He 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 finished with eight points, his career low in a playoff game, and an unacceptable total for a superstar in a Finals game. At times he appeared disinterested or dispirited, content to drift out to the perimeter and avoid getting involved in the offense.
Nowitzki has been playing above his head in the playoffs. Being so ill he could barely speak, Nowitzki still managed to score 21 points, 10 coming in the fourth quarter, to help the Mavs even the series. If Dallas ends up winning the title he is the guaranteed MVP.
The Mavericks have to be fired up, they finally got the team effort they needed and received solid contributions from key bench players. Jason Terry scored 17, and was pivotal in the run that gave the Mavericks the lead in the final two minutes of the game.
J.J. Barea got a surprise start and scored eight points. Meanwhile, Coach Rick Carlisle rested Shawn Marion more than he has all series and replaced him with DeShawn Stevenson, who has done an admirable defensive job on Wade and James.
By transitioning from man defense to zone, Dallas held Miami to just 14 points in the fourth quarter and besides Wade's isolations the Heat could get no offense going.
So what to expect for Game Five?
The Mavericks are ready. They've battled back twice now from fourth-quarter deficits to even the series and aren't going to give up an opportunity to go into Miami within a win of the title.
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 Haslem has done a very good job of attempting to limit him. 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.
Chris 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.
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. His turnovers were costly, but overall his performance is beyond reproach.
For Game Five 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.
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 x-factor for Game Five, after his miserable eight-point performance in Game Four is too underwhelming for the Heat to look past. 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.
The Mavericks finally go into a fourth quarter with a lead and hold on it.
Dallas 89, Miami 85