“Hang in. Hang around. Keep believing.”
Those were the messages that Rick Carlisle was preaching to his Mavericks in the timeout huddle, with his team facing a 15-point deficit with just over seven minutes remaining in Game 2 of the NBA Finals.
Apparently, Carlisle’s guys were listening.
Dallas put together a stunning comeback, closing the game on a 22-5 run that ended in a 95-93 victory, which evened the Finals at a game apiece. And the turnaround might not be limited to just this one game, either.
For a large portion of Game 2, it looked as though the Mavericks were simply overmatched. As Dirk Nowitzki struggled to find his shot, going just 6 of 15 from the field for 15 points through the game’s first three quarters, Dwyane Wade was having a monster of a game, and he and LeBron James were turning Mavericks’ mistakes into spectacular, momentum-seizing plays on the other end of the floor.
One of these plays, and the celebration that followed by Wade and James, might have been enough to spark the comeback. As the Heat were rolling in the fourth quarter and leading by 12, James found Mario Chalmers along the baseline, who kicked it to Wade in the corner. Wade drained the three, and honestly, it felt like a game-clinching dagger, even with so much time remaining.
Wade left his shooting hand up for several seconds, and as Dallas called timeout, James and Wade exchanged excited pleasantries on the sideline in front of the Dallas bench.
Since the Mavericks began their amazing comeback immediately after this occurred, it was only natural for a Dallas-based media member to play up this “celebration” in questions to players from both teams in the post-game press conference that was streamed live on NBA.com. Not surprisingly, Wade downplayed the reaction.
“A celebration is confetti, a celebration is champagne bottles,” Wade said. “That wasn’t a celebration. It had nothing to do with the outcome of the game.”
James was equally dismissive, and I couldn’t agree more with the Heat’s two superstars.
Wade had an absolutely ridiculous game. He finished with 36 points, was seen converting fantastic dunks in transition time and again, and this particular three-pointer seemed like, and really should have been, the nail in the coffin for Dallas. He and James felt it too, and their celebration was no more exaggerated than it would have been had it been done by players that people actually like from any other team in the league.
But because it’s the evil Miami Heat, and because Dallas was able to come back and get the win, now all of a sudden it was too much? Stop it.
That one play, and Miami’s reaction to it, wasn’t the reason Dallas found the motivation to come back. This is actually not a big deal for these Mavericks, who now have come back from double-digit deficits on the road in every postgame series this season. This is a veteran team that has proven it doesn’t give up, and doesn’t need to look long and hard at the other team’s “celebration” of a particular play to find its motivation.
What is valid, however, is the way that the Heat were beating Dallas up until that point. Miami has been deadly in transition all season long, and the Mavs kept turning the ball over, especially in the second half, leading to violent dunks from Wade or James that fired up the Heat and their home crowd.
That’s what affected Dallas, not any puffed-up sense of pride over a routine celebration of a big shot, at least by NBA standards. Jason Terry mentioned this specifically in his postage remarks.
“We looked at each guy in the huddle to a man,” Terry said, when asked what sparked the comeback with his team down 15 in the fourth. “Me specifically, I looked at Dirk, and said there’s no way we’re going out like this. There’s too much time left in this game, and for us to go out in a blowout-type fashion with them dunking on us, shooting threes on us, it would have really been disheartening.”
Instead, all the heart belonged to the Mavericks. As Dallas made big shot after big shot, Miami couldn’t get anything going in their halfcourt sets, after scoring easily and at will for most of the game off of their defense in transition. Once Dallas closed the gap late, the Heat could only launch long, contested three-pointers with the shot clock winding down on their last few possessions.
There are more details to the Mavericks’ comeback, of course, including Nowitzki’s fantastic game-winning left-handed layup after driving around Chris Bosh. But after spending the majority of Game 2 looking like they had no chance to win this series, Dallas changed everything before it was through.
Now, the Mavericks believe, and not only for one game as their coach had instructed them to do in that fateful timeout late in Game 2. The team believes it can win the whole thing. And that might be the biggest problem for the Heat as they head to Dallas for the next three games of this series.