Posted by: Earl K. Skeed

MIAMI — They overcame a 16-point deficit on the road en route to claiming a Game 1 victory and eventually sweeping the two-time champion Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the playoffs.

They came back from a 15-point deficit with a 17-2 run to close the fourth quarter and force overtime, where they eventually won a Game 4 in Oklahoma City before finishing off the Thunder in five games during the Western Conference Finals.

Thursday night, the comeback kids strike again.

Entering Game 2 of the NBA Finals trailing in a series for the first time this postseason, the Dallas Mavericks hoped to at least salvage a split of the first two games while trying to rebound from a 92-84 loss in Game 1. But with the Miami Heat 9-0 at home in playoff play entering Thursday night, the Mavs knew the challenge would be daunting, especially with leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki battling a torn tendon in his left middle finger.

Still, with three games scheduled in Dallas, the Mavericks looked to return home even in the series, while Nowitzki played on with a splint protecting the injured digit on his off hand. And with a ending only a Hollywood screenwriter could create, Nowitzki’s superhero legend grew even more than the stratospheric level it was at before the game, as the 10-time All-Star led a 22-5 run to close the game and wipe out a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit, scoring the game-winning basket with his injured left hand to give the Mavs a 95-93 win.

“Definitely a huge comeback for us. And we never gave up, so that was big,” Nowitzki said after the victory to tie the series. “Proud of the team, how they battled. To be down 15 against a great team like that and we kept plugging. … I think in this league, you’ve gotta play till the end, especially in the Finals. You can be down 20, you gotta keep plugging. You never know what’s gonna happen in this league. And we kept on fighting and we got some lucky bounces there.”

“Look, this was not a conventional game,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle added. “We all know that. If you’re going to win a championship, you’ve got to have the wherewithal to hang in when things are tough. You have to keep believing. All year our guys have believed, and tonight was another great example. They had to win the game. It wasn’t easy.”

The Mavericks came into the opening quarter looking for a quick start, and a trio of 3-pointers from point guard Jason Kidd and swingman DeShawn Stevenson provided just that. Stevenson continued to provide a spark, draining another 3 to keep the Mavs close. But after LeBron James’ thunderous putback dunk highlighted the quarter, the Heat and Mavericks found themselves tied at 28-all — much different from the 17-16 first-quarter score in Game 1 — after 12 minutes of play, with Nowitzki showing no ill effects to the injured hand.

Nowitzki would get a helping hand from his teammates early in the second stanza, with forward Shawn Marion providing the offense and reserve guard J.J. Barea — who looked to rebound from a 1-for-8 Game 1 — scoring at the rim. Chippiness then ensued with Barea and Heat forward Mike Miller involved in a scrum, leading to a technical foul call on Miami’s sharpshooter.

The sequence ignited a spark in Miami, with Dwyane Wade singlehandily lighting a fire in his team. Still, it wouldn’t be enough, as Stevenson rained in his third 3-pointer of the first half and a scrambling transition defense suffocated Wade while James found himself sitting with three fouls.

But with the two-time MVP on the bench, the Mavericks upped their advantage to 51-42, before Wade began to take over, forcing his way to the foul line to power a 9-0 spurt to close the half with the two teams knotted once again at 51-all.

“There’s two good defensive teams that also have great shot-making abilities, so you can see some runs,” Carlisle admitted.

With his henchmen in foul trouble, Wade exploded for 21 first-half points on 9-of-13 from the floor to lead all scorers. Meanwhile, Nowitzki hit just 3-for-10 from the floor in the first 24 minutes to lead the Mavericks with 10 points at the break, as the Heat’s 52.6 percent shooting bettered Dallas’ 48.6 percent at the midway point.

The Heat continued the momentum the home team took into the halftime intermission early in the third quarter, using a string of Dallas turnovers to spark a 6-1 spurt out of the locker room. And although Marion tried to engineer a comeback to stop the bleeding, the Heat continued to roll with point guard Mike Bibby’s deadly 3-point shooting from the corners, leading to a technical foul on Carlisle as his frustration built.

“I stand up for my guys. If I think things are going on out there that aren’t fair, I’m going to fight for them. That’s just how I do business. If you get a technical once in a while, you get a technical once in a while. But that was a long time ago now,” the coach joked.

However, after falling behind by as much as eight, the Mavericks continued to remain in the game behind Marion, Nowitzki and center Tyson Chandler, climbing to within four, 75-71, entering the final 12 minutes of play.

A strained right hip flexor injury to big man Brendan Haywood forced Carlisle to turn back to Chandler with the 7-footer resting on the sideline. But not even the high-energy five man could prevent Wade from lifting his team to a double-digit advantage as the Heat began to score in transition as well as with ease in the halfcourt, with the 2006 Finals MVP swishing a corner 3 to give Miami an 88-73 advantage to concluded a 13-0 run with 7:14 remaining for the Mavericks to respond.

“We looked at each guy in the huddle to a man,” sixth man Jason Terry said of the deficit. “Me specifically looked at Dirk and said, ‘There’s no way we’re going out like this. It’s too much time left in this game.’”

Dallas then refused to go quietly, with Terry keeping his team afloat while battling his own struggles, scoring eight as a spurt reached 17-2, with Nowitzki doing the honors of tying the game at 90-all on a transition layup with 57.6 seconds left.

“This team has been through some difficult situations,” Carlisle added. “We’ve been down big a couple of times in the playoffs. We have shown that we have the ability to come back and the guys believe that if we get stops, we’ll always give ourselves a chance. It wasn’t gonna happen unless we got stops.”

The run wasn’t stopping there, however, after the Dallas defense forced a missed Wade 3-pointer, leading to Nowitzki’s 3-point bomb to take the lead with 26.7 ticks still on the clock. But the spurt finally came to an end when Heat point guard Mario Chalmers answered Nowitzki with a triple of his on, tying the game at 93-93 with 24.5 seconds left to decide a winner.

“I don’t want to tell you what [Nowitzki] was saying in the huddle,” Terry explained after the Mavs surrendered the lead. “That was my mistake, my error that left Chalmers wide open for 3.”

“If you’re down 15 and you make an amazing run like that and you’re up three, you can’t give up a wide-open 3. It just can’t happen, so we’ve gotta go back and look at stuff like that,” Nowitzki said of the defensive possession.

After a Carlisle timeout, the ball worked its way from Kidd to Nowitzki on the left wing, where the 7-footer slowly picked his spot against Heat big man Chris Bosh. And with the Heat showing a double team from the right, Nowitzki was forced to go to his injured left hand, driving the ball to the hoop for a lay-in with 3.6 seconds left.

“Unbelievable, but these are shots, again, that he works on and practices. I don’t know how that finger felt, but I know how he didn’t care. He was gonna do whatever it took for us to get the win tonight,” Terry said of Nowitzki’s ability to perform in the clutch despite the injury.

“We talked about it. They had a foul to give, so I actually drove a little earlier than I would have, knowing they had a foul to give. Made a move and the foul never came, so I was able to get to the basket and lay it in,” Nowitzki said when breaking down the play. “That was a big play, and they didn’t have a timeout left, so we had to scramble back.”

Without a timeout, the Heat went to Wade, but after pacing the ball up the court the perennial All-Star’s desperation 3 hit off the front rim, sealing the Game 2 win for the Mavericks for Miami’s first home playoff defeat.

“We always believed that we could come back, regardless of the score. The game is over when the final buzzer rings,” Marion said after the come-from-behind win. “If you’ve watched us play all season, you know we’re a resilient team.”

“We continued to keep faith in ourselves. We went out and grinded it out and got it done,” Terry echoed.

Including the game-winner and the Mavs’ final nine points, Nowitzki finished with 24 points on 10-of-22 shooting, grabbing down a game-high 11 rebounds to boot.

“Guys like that don’t feel pain right now,” Carlisle said of his star player.

Marion added 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting, while Terry pitched in 16 points off the bench on 5-for-11 from the floor to go along with five assists. Chandler made it four Mavericks in double figures with 13 points and seven boards.

Doing much of his damage before the 7:14 mark of the fourth quarter, Wade finished with a game-high 36 points while hitting 13 of 20 shots, with James tallying 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting and eight rebounds. Bibby’s 4-for-7 from behind the 3-point line helped him collect 14 points, while the Mavs held Bosh to 12 points on just 4-for-16 from the floor.

As a team, the Mavericks ended the night outshooting the Heat, 48.0 percent to 46.6 percent, while reversing their fortunes from Game 1 on the glass, when Miami finished with a 46-36 rebounding advantage, as Dallas the second time around collected a 41-30 margin.

The Mavs also overcame 20 turnovers, which led to 31 Heat points, thanks to a 40-36 slight margin in points in the paint and a 15-8 separation in second-chance points.

Now, the Mavericks return home to host three games, looking to take a 2-1 series lead on Sunday in front of the Dallas fans at the American Airlines Center.

“We’re not gonna approach the next three, we’re gonna approach the next one like it’s our last,” Nowitzki simply said. “I mean, you can not get a split and a huge emotional win in Game 2 and then go home and lose Game 3. So, as far as I’m concerned, the next one is the biggest game of them all, and hopefully our fans will be rocking. They’ve been great to us and carried us throughout the playoffs so far, so we’re going home to a great building and hopefully can get Game 3.”

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