Dirk Nowitzki was an inspiration, a guy with a triple-digit fever hitting what was essentially the game-winning bucket, the dagger shot on a scoop layup with 14 seconds left.
But he’s not why the Mavericks won. Or not primarily.
They won because of zone defense and Tyson Chandler and the pick-and-roll and a number of little things the Mavericks did right. Or at least right enough in what was an ugly yet compellingly entertaining game. Dallas did not get its usual night from Nowitzki, it had to compensate in other areas.
Here are a few things that did work:
Fourth quarter defense: The Mavericks have been a pretty good defensive team in the playoffs that has kept Miami to shooting 42 percent in the first three games, keeping the Heat to 10.5 fewer points per game than they scored in the regular season. But with the game on the line Dallas did a better job — Miami scored 14 fourth quarter points on just 33 percent shooting and Dallas also forced six turnovers. While the Mavs have struggled to contain Dwyane Wade they continued to be aggressive and take the ball out of LeBron James’ hands (he helped with that). The result is LeBron has 9 fourth quarter points all series. Dallas was able to play that fourth quarter defense in part because of …
Zone defense: Dallas tried this a few times in Game 1 and got torched, so they went away from it for a while. But in the key parts of Game 4 they returned to their matchup zone and it got Miami hesitating. In particular LeBron, who was not aggressive all night, saw a zone did not turn the corner on the pick-and-roll and attack, he rather held back looking to pass. His passivity and the aggressiveness of the Dallas defense meant turnovers and poor shots from Miami.
Tyson Chandler: He was arguably the best Mavs player Tuesday night. He had four offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, nine total and finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds. He is the biggest man on the court and while Dwyane Wade made a sensational block on one play it was Chandler attacking inside that stemmed the tide of Miami’s runs. He was, if not the best Mavericks player, the most aggressive.
Running pick-and-roll with Marion and Chandler: This was a brilliant adjustment by Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. Usually Dirk Nowitzki sets the picks late and Jason Terry comes off them. But the Mavs started using Dirk off the ball (maybe in part to conserve his energy) and having Chandler and Marion as the roll men. It worked to the tune of 16 points on 10 attempts (compared to 2 points the 9 times Dirk set the pick). Chandler has been a force to fear rolling to the hoop since Chris Paul was feeding him the rock and he had some strong moves to the basket in this one. Marion finished with 16 points and got all his made baskets inside of 10 feet. There was room to operate because with Dirk outside the Heat had to respect the shooter.
Fourth quarter execution: For the second time this series, Dallas was the better team in the final six minutes. They did it at both ends — every shot Miami took late was contested, where Dallas was getting good looks by running their offense. They weren’t hitting those shots because it was that kind of ugly game, but Dallas was getting better looks.
Ugly is fine by Dallas. Another comeback is as well. What matters is this is a best-of-three series now. And if Dallas keeps doing these little things they have a real chance at the franchise’s first title.