MIAMI — The celebration was in full swing late Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Heat dancers were gyrating, the crowd swaying and the players, perhaps, mulling some early morning revelry. Lively Latin music pumped through the speakers, and there was nary a sweaty palm in the building.
With Miami sporting a 15-point lead — and Dallas seemingly losing interest — why should there be? At that very moment, no one could have predicted the series of events to come.
Closing the game with a 22-5 run, the Mavericks shocked the Heat with a 95-93 win that left the best-of-seven NBA Finals tied at 1 as the scene shifts to Dallas for Games 3, 4 and 5.
The story of the game starts and ends with Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki who after playing one of his most uninspired games of the postseason finished with a championship-worthy performance capped by a driving layup against Chris Bosh with 3.6 seconds left.
After making six of his first 17 shots, Nowitzki made four of his final five to score Dallas' final nine. He finished with 24 points. But even more impressive was the fact that a couple of Nowitzki's late shots were finished with his left hand, the hand on which he has a torn tendon in the middle finger.
"I played with (Larry) Bird for three years when he was the best player in the world," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "Guys like that don't feel pain right now. You play, and if you're feeling pain, you make yourself numb. You've got to be a warrior."
Before Nowitzki upstaged him, Miami's Dwyane Wade seemed intent on winning another Finals most valuable player award. His 3-pointer with 7:14 left gave Miami an 88-73 lead and him 36 points.
He would not score again. Dallas' defense clamped down, and Miami folded.
Will the Heat recover?
"When it started to slide, it just kept on going," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We've had our moments where we feel uncomfortable and feel like our backs are against the wall. That's when we've responded and been at our best."
Thursday, there was a stark contrast to the in-your-face, no-room-to-breathe brand of defense exhibited by both clubs in Game 1. The pace of the game was quite different, featuring many more fastbreaks.
That's a style of play embraced by the Mavericks. Carlisle even conceded before the game they would be hard-pressed to win a series playing a halfcourt game.
The problem is Miami can play that game, too. There was no better evidence than the opening minutes of the third quarter, during which the Heat had three straight fastbreak baskets.
A Nowitzki turnover led to the first, a breakaway dunk for LeBron James. The next was one of the flashiest highlights of these playoffs, Wade grabbing the ball in the open court, racing past Nowitzki while wrapping the ball around his back and finishing with a two-handed reverse slam. Finally, Wade tossed an alley-oop to James, leaving Dallas trailing 57-52.
All night, Miami made runs, and Dallas didn't respond — until the end.
Miami still led by 10 with 5:21 left, but Dallas kept chipping away. Jason Kidd cut the lead to 90-84 with a 3-pointer. Then after a Miami miss, Jason Terry hit a pull-up jumper to slice the deficit to four.
Then Nowitzki happened. And this series got turned upside down.
Mavericks 95, Heat 93
DALLAS (95): Marion 9-14 2-2 20, Nowitzki 10-22 3-3 24, Chandler 4-6 5-8 13, Kidd 2-7 0-0 6, Stevenson 3-6 0-0 9, Stojakovic 0-0 0-0 0, Terry 5-11 6-6 16, Haywood 1-2 0-0 2, Barea 2-7 1-2 5, Cardinal 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 36-75 17-21 95.
MIAMI (93): James 8-15 2-4 20, Bosh 4-16 4-4 12, Anthony 0-0 0-0 0, Bibby 5-8 0-0 14, Wade 13-20 8-12 36, Haslem 1-3 0-0 2, Chalmers 3-8 2-4 9, Miller 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 34-73 16-24 93.
3-Point Goals—Dallas 6-17 (Stevenson 3-5, Kidd 2-5, Nowitzki 1-2, Terry 0-2, Barea 0-3), Miami 9-30 (Bibby 4-7, Wade 2-7, James 2-7, Chalmers 1-6, Miller 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Dallas 51 (Nowitzki 11), Miami 39 (Bosh, James 8). Assists—Dallas 18 (Kidd, Terry 5), Miami 13 (Wade 6). Total Fouls—Dallas 20, Miami 17. Technicals—Dallas Coach Carlisle, Miller. A—20,003 (19,600).