Dirk Nowitzki sparked Dallas to a stunning fourth-quarter comeback as the Mavericks fought back from a 15-point deficit to beat the Miami Heat 95-93 and even the NBA Finals series at 1-1 on Thursday.
Nowitzki, who injured the tendon in the middle finger of his left hand in Tuesday’s series opener, scored on a driving layup with three seconds remaining to seal a dramatic victory for the visitors.
Miami’s Dwyane Wade launched a 28-foot, three-point attempt at the buzzer, but his desperate shot hit the back of the rim, eliciting a collective groan from 20,000 home fans at American Airlines Arena.
“In this league, you have to play ‘til the end,” said Nowitzki, who overcame a woeful first half to finish with 24 points and 11 rebounds. “This is the finals. You can be down 20. You have to keep plugging. You never know what’s going to happen in this league and we kept on fighting.”
The best-of-seven series shifts to Dallas for the next three contests, with Game 3 at the American Airlines Center tomorrow.
Miami looked to have seized control of the game, and the series, with a 13-0 run in the fourth quarter that padded their two-point advantage into a 88-73 lead with just over seven minutes remaining.
Wade, who scored 36 points on a variety of long jump shots, running one-handers and fast breaks, scored nine points during the run, triggering a party atmosphere in South Florida.
“Seeing them celebrate like that, man, it really was disheartening for us,” said Dallas guard Jason Terry, who had eight of his 16 points in the final quarter. “Then I took another glance at the score and there was a lot of time left, and so in that huddle during a timeout we looked at each other to a man and said: ‘Hey, we have one more opportunity. Let’s go make a run at this.’”
Dallas embarked on a 20-2 run and Nowitzki’s 25-foot three-pointer with 26 seconds left gave the Mavericks an unlikely 93-90 lead.
“I don’t really know what happened,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh, who had just 12 points on four-of-16 shooting. “We had everything going. We had the momentum going. They took us out of our rhythm. They showed us some different looks and we were playing against the shot clock pretty much the whole end of the fourth quarter.”
Miami reserve guard Mario Chalmers nailed a three-pointer with 24 seconds left to knot the score at 93-93, setting the stage for Nowitzki’s game winner.
“Hang out. Hang around. Keep believing,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “This team has been through some difficult situations. 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.”
Miami’s LeBron James scored 20 points and grabbed eight -rebounds, but had five turnovers in a quiet night for the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player.
“We said in the huddle we were up 15, that this team is very capable of coming back,” Wade said. “They’ve proven it. They’ve shown it. We didn’t have to score another point to win the game. Our defense is what we lay our heads on. We didn’t play it the way we normally play. They deserved it and we didn’t.”
The Heat now have to win one on the road to extend the series back to Miami and deny the Mavericks their first NBA crown.
“All year, our guys have believed, and tonight was another good example,” Carlisle said. “They had to win the game. It wasn’t easy.”