Throughout the NBA Finals, one of the most talked-about topics (other than the Heat's penchant for instant, unexpected meltdowns and LeBron's pattern of offensive disengagement and disappearances) has been, "Who for the Mavs is going to step up and help Dirk?"
Who will be Robin to Nowitzki's Dark Knight? The Phife to his Q-Tip? The LeBron to his Dwyane Wade?
Names have been thrown around like GOP presidential candidates.
Jason Terry shows up for a game (or two).
Jason Kidd might have at least one big game in him.
Tyson Chandler shows up in Game 4.
J.J. Barea maybe has one big performance in him.
And all the while, the one player who has been there to complement Nowitzki in almost every game is being overlooked like a terrace.
Code name: Matrix. Government name: Marion, Shawn.
For four games in this series, Shawn Marion has been the only player outside of Nowitzki who has shown he can consistently produce against Miami's defense. He's proven the Heat don't have an answer for him. They haven't figured out how to stop him. Or even contain him. He's become Miami coach Eric Spoelstra's real matchup nightmare.
"I'm just attacking them," Marion said after the Game 4 win. "At the same time, I'm just being aggressive and my teammates are looking for me. I'm doing what I do, and I get buckets if I get the opportunity to."
And at that, the 15.5 points per game he's averaging in the series (ahead of Thursday night's Game 5) is deceptive. It's a fact that doesn't tell the full story. The Mavs lost Game 1 despite Marion's 16 points and 10 rebounds. In Game 2, his 20 points were neglected amid the drama that was "The Comeback," while Dirk and JT were handed all the credit. Game 3 was his bad game; he scored only 10 on 4-of-12 shooting. But in Game 4, through three quarters, he carved his way through Miami's D like Kemba Walker in the Big East tournament.
Yet somehow, Marion's 16 points in three quarters Tuesday night got lost just like his performances in the other games thus far. Lost next to the eight points Terry dropped in the fourth, to Nowitzki finally being able to break a sweat and break through offensively, to Chandler's nine offensive rebounds and save-the-day performance during "The Comeback II."
Because after single-handedly keeping the Mavs in Game 4 in the third quarter (he scored 10 points in that quarter), Marion sat the bench in the fourth. Playing Eric B. to Dirk's Rakim, Teller to Terry's Penn.
Some say he had a minor calf injury. Others speculate it was an unexplained DNP, coach's decision. In Rick Carlisle's postgame presser late Tuesday evening, the coach said, "Marion can't play 43 minutes." The next day, Carlisle said he was "pleased that [he] could get Shawn some rest."
How Carlisle does this, I don't know. How -- in the middle of a Finals series, while desperately looking for a Kato for his team's Green Hornet -- has he not realized the answer is right there in plain view.
Are his eyes wide shut? Are we missing something?
Now Marion knows how Scottie Pippen must have felt all those years. Must still feel now.
About the supposed calf injury, Marion made it a nonissue. "I'm walking; I'm good," is all he had to say.
Of all the players the Mavs are going to need to depend upon to win two of the next three games, Marion is the one who can save them. They need to realize that.
He's the one Mav (outside of Dirk) who has shown he isn't the least bit affected by any/everything the Heat can throw at him defensively.
So Dallas: Stop searching. The player who is going to "help Dirk carry the load" for the remainder of the series is there among you. Been there. Just waiting for someone to call his name. He can't win it for you by himself, but he can be the reason you do.
"We can rest in the summertime," Marion said the other day in response to a question about his Carlisle-imposed "rest" time in the fourth quarter of Game 4. "If I cough up blood, it is what it is. It's that time of the year. The season is that much shorter. Within the next few days, the season will be over with. We can rest then."
Yes. But will the Mavs rest in peace?
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.