Miami is messing around.
That much is clear through four games.
The Heat has now allowed not one, but two games to slip away. And, after Tuesday’s latest gift in an 86-83 Game 4 loss, we’re talking about an NBA Finals series that’s deadlocked at two games apiece rather than one that ended in a clean sweep and forced us to shift our attention to the looming lockout.
Yes, Dallas’ defense deserves credit. It played a significant role in Miami’s meltdowns. But the Heat has inexplicably given away two games. In Game 2, Miami walked off the court after a 22-5 Mavs surge over the final seven minutes. In Game 4, the run was 21-9 over the final 10 minutes. Dallas is good. But no one can tell me the Mavs are that dominant defensively. Holding the Heat to 14 points in 17 crunch-time minutes? There’s not a team on the planet that has that much ice for the Heat’s firepower. The only thing that can stop Miami’s mojo that much is Miami. And that’s precisely what we’re witnessing.
The Heat had six turnovers in the fourth quarter. Miami had only five field goals in the final 12 minutes.
LeBron James’ passivity in the deciding period was at an all-time high. He took one shot and turned it over twice, both giveaways coming on trips in which he wasn’t anywhere close to thinking about making a play. He never got to the foul line despite playing all 12 minutes of the final frame.
“Definitely didn’t play great offensively,” said James, who scored a career playoff-low eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. “I got to do a better job of being more assertive offensively, not staying out of rhythm offensively all game.”
The Heat’s mistakes should haunt them until Thursday night.
Miami had three missteps in the final minute and a half. Udonis Haslem missed a wide open 15-footer. Dwyane Wade, who was largely fabulous all night, missed the second of two free throws that left Miami trailing by one with 30 seconds to play. And Wade then fumbled the ball on the Heat’s final inbounds play and allowed precious time to tick off the 6.7 seconds left showing on the clock. Three mistakes. Not a one having much to do with Miami.
“I just fumbled it,” Wade said of the final inbounds pass. “I was kind of anxious because I saw an opening really fast; trying to get there before I caught the ball. Obviously, I would love to have that play back. We would love to have a lot of plays back. It happened. It was unfortunate.”
Miami’s saving grace in this series is it still has homecourt advantage. Game 7, if necessary, must be played in Florida. It’s highly unlikely that Dallas, or any team for that matter, will win a Game 7 in the NBA Finals on the road. And because of the NBA Finals 2-3-2 format, the Mavs must now find a way to win one of the last two games in Miami. Instead of hosting Game 6, the Mavs will have to gut out another road win before they can hang their first championship banner.
The thing is, the Heat is giving the Mavs all the confidence they need to be able to do just that. Miami is developing — if it isn’t already well established — a reputation of disappearing. A worrisome habit of withering when the game is on the line and choking on cue when it’s crunch time. Keep at it, and something fluky just might happen. Dirk Nowitzki, who’s been relatively limited in this series and played through a sinus infection Tuesday, might just erupt and carry his team to an improbable win. The Mavs’ role players, who combined for 65 points in Game 4, might just find their touch and be the deciding factor by reminding us all of what we already know: Miami is the more talented team, but Dallas is the better team.
“The one thing about this series, you see no team is ever safe,” Wade said.
Keep this up, and not even the comfort that comes with hosting a potential Game 7 will be enough to save the Heat.