From where we sit now, it’s so easy to look back at the dissipation of Miami’s 15-point fourth-quarter lead and point incredulously at what went wrong. The answers for what ails the Heat are always so obvious; their flaws are so glaring and fixable that armchair coaches across the country typically resolve them before Mark Jackson even finishes his outro heading into the commercial break.
Give it to LeBron. Give it to Wade. Run the pick-and-roll. Pass it to the open man. The answers are always right there in front of James, Wade, Erik Spoelstra, and the whole damn basketball-loving world, treated in retrospect as if an unbelievable Maverick comeback were some kind of inevitability. Treated as if all along, this one had been destined to end in a 95-93 Dallas victory.
As good as the Mavs have been while playing from behind in these playoffs, a 15-point lead is still a 15-point lead. The Mavs had plenty of time to erase each of those 15 points, but the idea that such an incredible run should be expected is flat-out delusional. There was no question that Dallas was going to execute to the best of their collective ability, but considering how disruptive the Heat defense had been throughout Game 2, this was a wholly unpredictable result.
“We’re up 15,” LeBron James said. “If they go on a 12-0 run for the rest of the game, if we don’t score another basket, we still win by three. Defensively we just have to be more in tune and not allow a great team — a great offensive team — to get as many great looks as they did down the stretch.”
Why didn’t the Heat double Dirk Nowitzki on the game-winning possession, as they had for much of the game?
“At that time, they had carved us up enough on that,” Erick Spoelstra said. “We left open some shooters, and they made us pay. We tried to do it with our normal defense. He made a heck of a drive. We cut him off one time, he spun, our help defense came, and he made a high-arcing lay-up — I believe with his left hand.”
Spoelstra’s decision makes sense, given the circumstances. Jason Kidd had just drained a three thanks to the opening granted him by a double on Nowitzki. Jason Terry had nailed a wide open baseline jumper just minutes prior because of another pass out of a double by Dirk. The Mavs had come back because the pressure on Nowitzki was perhaps too strong, too overt.
But why not use that oft ballyhooed ‘foul to give,’ that would undoubtedly have saved the game?
“It’s easy to say it right now,” Spoelstra said. “You know, we’re aware of it.”
“We talked about it. We’ve been in that situation before. We didn’t use the foul. Obviously, it looks like right now you could second-guess that, but we didn’t take it.”
With Nowitzki’s awareness, Spoelstra’s position is entirely defensible. Even if the Heat had attempted to take their foul to give, it’s possible that Dirk could have risen up above off-balance coverage to sink a jumper, or somehow turned a foul on the floor into a two-shot affair. Nowitzki shooting free throws would have been a miserable outcome of that defensive possession, even considering the look that the Heat eventually surrendered.
Basketball fans everywhere will have to be content with the fact that the Heat played well in Game 2, but simply not well enough. The defense was strong for so long, Dwyane Wade played some truly phenomenal basketball, and the Heat point guards even showed up in a big way — Mike Bibby connected on 4-of-7 three-point attempts, and Mario Chalmers hit a game-tying three in the final minute that very nearly sent the game to overtime. Then the Heat broke down, or imploded, or whatever term of self-destruction you prefer, but didn’t do so in any way that could be construed as simple or logically absurd. The only simplicity in Miami’s loss was the fact that guarding a fully functional offense is damn difficult, and that scoring on a Maverick team locked in and ready to attack the pick-and-roll is a serious challenge.
Maybe no elements of this game of this will carry over into the next, or maybe what transpired over the final seven minutes of this amazing comeback will generate an entirely different dynamic for the series going forward. All we know is that we don’t know, but once these Finals are said and done, fans across the country will argue that they always knew the Mavs’ Game 2 victory would change everything or nothing, with the wisdom that only hindsight provides.