Everyone and their mothers pointed out that Game 3 was the deal-breaker, the game that both teams needed to win to take the series. History tells us this, but after a Miami Heat victory, more recent history also tells us that the Dallas Mavericks don’t fold, even when it appears they’re finished.
Comebacks against Portland and OKC in this year’s NBA Playoffs were in the midsts of single games, but don’t discount that the Mavs’ tough mindsets could help them come from behind over the course of a seven-game series.
The Heat know that this thing isn’t over. This is what they’ll have to go for Dallas’ jugular.
Key #1: Bury the Mavs when they have the chance
In Games 2 and 3, Miami dominated enough to put up double-digit leads. You know what happened each time; Dallas made a furious 22-5 run to steal Game 2 after the Heat’s largest lead of 15 came with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, and a 13-point lead with 10 minutes in the third quarter dissolved to a 57-all tie in less than six minutes during Game 3. Where’s the killer instinct?
The Heat can’t toy with Dirk Nowitzki down the stretch of games. He’s 1-for-2 on game-defining shots this series, and to avoid him being 2-for-3, Miami needs to build a lead and keep it. If they can push a 15-point lead to 18 or 20, that might be the extra few points that will make it just hard enough to keep the Mavericks from making another comeback.
Key #2: Keep up the bench plus/minus
Playing the plus/minus game is sometimes irrelevant, but in the case of Game 3, there was too much correlation between what happened on the floor and the silly little numbers to overlook said silly little numbers. Miami’s four bench players who saw minutes had +4 or better while four of Dallas’ five bench players were at -3 or worse. That’s because Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers completely outplayed the likes of Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic. Terry’s words to the media tossed LeBron James‘ way on Monday didn’t help Dallas’ cause either. If the Heat can focus on stomping out the Maverick bench scorers, Dirk’s scoring won’t be enough once again.
Key #3: James acts as the facilitator
James has said throughout this season he’s not a point guard, but the fact that he doesn’t bring the ball up the floor and set up the offense veils the fact that James is still the facilitator. Nine assists and few shot attempts in crunch time make that clear. Mike Bibby and Chalmers taking 10 combined three-pointers also hints that their role isn’t as much of the traditional point guard duties. Miami is best with Dwyane Wade being the timely scoring punch (he was efficient too), and James giving him the ball. And when Dallas starts doubling the heck out of Wade, James can just find the open man as he did in hooking Chris Bosh up with a wide open jumper in Game 3.
What do you think? Will Miami win Game 4?
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @offensivelyfoul.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.