The Mavericks have made a living off of big comebacks to get to this point in the postseason, but at some point, constantly fighting back from behind gets to be too much.
That point may have been reached in Game 3 of the Finals on Sunday, when Dallas, for the second consecutive game, erased all of a 14-point Miami lead in the second half, but couldn’t finish the job as the Heat held on for an 88-86 victory that put the Mavericks at a two games to one disadvantage in the series.
Instead of trailing big late and making a startling comeback as they did in Game 2, the Mavs were seemingly behind all night long, and had to make multiple runs to close the gaps.
“I really believe the fact that we were digging out of holes all night was something that, you know, it was difficult to overcome,” Rick Carlisle said afterward, in a press conference that was streamed live on NBA.com.
On this night, it proved to be impossible.
Dallas saw a seven-point deficit at the end of the first quarter increase to 12 early in the second. They cut it to five a few minutes later, and then Miami ran it up to 14, before Dallas shaved it down once again to five by halftime.
The Heat opened the second half on an 8-0 run to push it back to 13, before Dallas was finally able to take the lead with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Mavericks’ lead — the team’s first of the game since there was 3:28 to play in the first quarter — lasted exactly one possession, and was followed by back-to-back three-pointers from LeBron James and Mario Chalmers which quickly gave Miami yet another cushion.
The Heat’s lead reached as many as seven again in the final period before Dallas made its final run, and found itself down two with possession and 4.4 seconds remaining. Dirk Nowitzki got the ball as time was winding down, but went up for a tough fadeaway from 16 feet out that was heavily contested, and he threw it away trying to pass it off as time expired.
There’s no question that Dallas had its chances late, and in a game decided by just two points, there are a lot of things you can point to as reasons you came up short. But constantly having to battle back from behind all game long is physically and emotionally draining, and may have had a real effect on the missed open looks down the stretch.
“We can’t always fall down behind,” Nowitzki said. “I think we’re always reacting. We did in the first quarter, we fell down big. Third quarter we came out slow, fell down big. Obviously it takes a lot of energy for us to fight back.
“We all understand that basketball is a game of runs. We have to stop the runs a little quicker. We can’t go down 15 all the time and battle back. You can get like a five, six‑point swing here and there. We can’t always get in a deep hole like that.”
As always, there are plenty of tangible reasons that the Mavericks lost Game 3. Dwyane Wade was spectacular for the second straight game, and he got plenty of help from James and Chris Bosh, as well as some critical minutes from Mario Chalmers off the bench. Meanwhile, Dallas struggled to get anywhere near efficient production from anyone not named Nowitzki. The only other two Mavericks in double figures, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry, combined for 25 points, but needed 25 shots to get there.
Dallas has shown they can compete with Miami in this series. We can sit here and pick apart the Mavs’ woeful team offense beyond Dirk, and lament the fact that Wade and James got into the paint for easy opportunities seemingly at will, especially in the first half. But the bottom line is, it was a one-possession game in the final seconds, and the Mavs had the ball in the hands of their best player with a chance to tie or win the game at the buzzer.
I think if you told either team beforehand that’s how things would play out for them, they’d like their chances. The Mavericks have to like theirs as the series continues, but only if they can find a way to turn things around, and put the Heat on the wrong end of those early-game deficits.