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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mavs square series

Nowitzki shines despite fever as James struggles

AP

DALLAS — Coughing and wheezing, his temperature spiking to 101 (38.3 C), worn out from hardly sleeping the night before, Dirk Nowitzki went through three miserable quarters in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

News photo
All square: Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki looks to shoot past Miami's Joel Anthony during the Mavericks' 86-83 win in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday. The series is tied at 2-2. AP

Yet the fourth quarter was his time to shine. Again.

And now the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat are starting over in the NBA Finals, this best-of-7 series reduced to a best-of-three.

Nowitzki fought through a sinus infection and everything else that ailed him and his team to power a 21-9 run over the final 10:12, lifting the Mavericks to a memorable 86-83 victory Tuesday night. He scored 10 of his 21 points — including a driving right-handed layup that spun in off the backboard with 14.4 seconds left — and grabbed five of his 11 rebounds in the final period as Dallas pulled off its second stunning finish this series.

"Just battle it out," Nowitzki said, sniffing throughout his postgame interview with his warmup jacket zipped all the way up, still in his uniform instead of changing into street clothes like the NBA prefers. "This is the finals. You have to go out there and compete and try your best for your team. So that's what I did."

The Mavs avoided going down 3-1, a deficit no team has ever overcome in the finals, and guaranteed the series will return to Miami for a Game 6 on Sunday night.

Game 5 is Thursday night in Dallas, and Nowitzki vowed to be ready.

"There's no long term," Nowitzki said. "I'll be all right on Thursday. . . . Hopefully I'll get some sleep tonight, take some meds and be ready to go on Thursday."

Nowitzki wasn't as dominant as Michael Jordan when he scored 38 points despite a 103-degree (39.4 C) fever in Game 5 of the 1997 finals — but it was that kind of performance down the stretch. If the Mavericks wind up winning their first championship, this performance will go down in NBA lore, topping his effort in Game 2, when he bounced back from a torn tendon in the tip of his left middle finger to score the final nine points in Dallas' 22-5 rally, including two left-handed layups.

By comparison, consider how meek a healthy LeBron James played Tuesday.

James scored only eight points, ending a double-figure scoring streak of 433 consecutive games, regular season and postseason. It was the first time in 90 playoff games that he scored such few points.

He made only 3 of 11 shots — a tip-in, a 15-foot jumper and a breakaway dunk. Not only did he not score in the fourth quarter, he took only one shot while playing all 12 minutes.

"I've got to do a better job of being more assertive offensively," said James, who nonetheless contributed nine rebounds and seven assists. "I'm confident in my ability. It's just about going out there and knocking them down."

Dwyane Wade led Miami with 32 points, but missed a free throw with 30.1 seconds left and fumbled an inbounds pass with 6.7 seconds left. He knocked the ball back to Mike Miller for a potential tying 3-pointer, but it wasn't even close to hitting the rim. Fans jumped to their feet and began roaring as soon as they could tell the ball was off-target.

Dallas players savored it, too, except for Nowitzki, who walked off looking sullen, obviously ready for a hot shower and a warm bed.



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