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DALLAS -- In a Game 4 the Dallas Mavericks considered a season-ender had they lost, another heart-stopping comeback victory emerged from a familiar collective resiliency -- this one bound together by multiple and remarkable individual battles of adversity and triumph.
|Despite an awful shooting night and a 101-degree fever, Dirk Nowitzki converted on a driving layup that put the Mavs up three points with 14.9 seconds left.|
Dirk Nowitzki never provided a clue that he was playing with a 101-degree fever and somehow shook an awful shooting night when it mattered most. He willed 10 of his team-high 21 points in the decisive fourth quarter. His powerful drive, ripping right and not to his favored left with 14.9 seconds left against rugged Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem, gave Dallas a three-point cushion after being down nine in the eventual 86-83 series-tying victory Tuesday.
The bucket came eight minutes after his only other field-goal of the fourth quarter, which was also a driving layup.
"It's a little sinus infection," Nowitzki said, typically downplaying an illness that kept him out of the morning shootaround. "Hopefully, I'll get some sleep, take some meds and be ready to go on Thursday."
DeShawn Stevenson lost his starting job earlier in the day yet jumped off the bench with supreme confidence and drained three consecutive 3-pointers. He finished with 11 points, all in the second quarter for his first double-digit scoring game of this crazy playoff push.
His move to the bench was less about J.J. Barea's offense and all about Stevenson's ability to back up Shawn Marion at small forward and shadow LeBron James.
Then for the first time this postseason, Stevenson played the entire fourth quarter. He and James finished it with the same number of points: zero. For the game Stevenson outscored the King, 11-8, marking James' first single-digit playoff game of his career.
"We have to look at the X-factors," Mavs guard Jason Terry said. "DeShawn Stevenson, for one, being taken out of the starting lineup prior to this game. He stayed with it. His confidence was there. He knew where his shots were going to come. And the defensive job he's doing in this series is very underrated."
If Nowitzki is Example 1A in courage, center Tyson Chandler is 1B. He eclipsed his season-high of 40 minutes two nights ago by going 43 on Tuesday. Backup Brendan Haywood's injured right hip wouldn't let him continue beyond a three-minute stint that ended early in the second quarter.
Sitting on the bench late in the first quarter, Chandler realized Haywood couldn't last. Before two minutes had elapsed in the second quarter, Chandler jumped out of his seat and told coach Rick Carlisle he needed in.
"I saw that he was just trying to battle it out there," Chandler said of Haywood. "But I told Coach, 'You have to get me back out there. I will play 48 if I need to.'"
Chandler walked away from a victory that often looked in doubt with 13 points and 16 rebounds, nine on the offensive glass. He and Nowitzki, who finished with 11 rebounds for the third consecutive game, teamed to hold Miami to six offensive boards over the final three quarters after the Heat stayed in a strange first quarter with nine offensive boards.
Then there's Terry, whose adversity was the usual self-induced kind with persistent off-day chatter. It was highlighted by his "Let's see if he can defend me like that for seven games" challenge to James, Terry's fourth-quarter nemesis.
Terry had been 0-of-7 in the fourth quarters of the Mavs' two losses, which didn't escape Nowitzki's public scrutiny. But the Mavs' sixth man walked the walk by taking James off the dribble for eight points, plus a pretty no-look feed inside to Chandler that got him to the free-throw line. Terry couldn't stick the dagger, missing three long jumpers in the final 3:18 of a two-point game, but he canned two huge free throws with 6.7 seconds left for the final margin.
"We needed everything and I think we got it," Stevenson said. "The lineup change, me coming off the bench and Jet being focused. I think he took the things that were said in the paper and came out and performed in the clutch."
Carlisle credited his players for pulling out yet another comeback in this playoff run of improbable rallies. But Carlisle again pushed all the right buttons. He made the call to move Stevenson to the bench and effectively turn the shooting guard into a small forward.
He turned to little-used Brian Cardinal in place of struggling 3-point shooter Peja Stojakovic, who sat the entire game until the final nine seconds, in case his long ball was needed in a pinch.
Carlisle then called for the zone defense for a majority of the fourth quarter. The Heat scored 14 points on five field goals. Dwyane Wade, superb again in carrying Miami with 32 points, helped the Mavs by missing the game-tying free throw with 30.1 seconds to go.
When it was all over, when it had all come together despite 39.7 percent shooting and basically a two-man bench, the ever-resilient Mavs found themselves back in the series and now with a chance to seize the momentum before heading back to Miami.
"We don't have the appearance of a physically, bruising-type team, but this is as mentally tough a group as I've ever had," Carlisle said. "I love this team more than any team I've had because of -- just what they stand for -- how they play together and how they trust."Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.