DALLAS — In the event that they either need or ask for a little help from their supporting cast, Miami’s Big Three can rest easy knowing that Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller and even Joel Anthony will do something to make a contribution of some sort in The Finals.
The Heat’s 2-1 lead in this series has been a vivid illustration of that, with each and every one of those role players doing their part to push the Heat to within eight quarters of a championship, courtesy of the enormously powerful coat tails of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
On the flip side, if Dirk Nowitzki sends up a Bat-signal over American Airlines Center this week looking for a little crunch-time assistance, there is no guarantee his call will be answered. As good as Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic have been at times throughout this postseason, they’re not giving Nowitzki nearly enough support when he needs it — now.
Even the reliable Shawn Marion, who played above and beyond what anyone could have expected in the first two games of this series, struggled in the Mavericks’ Game 3 loss Sunday night. So it’s not just the bench that is coming up short; Nowitzki has outscored the other four Mavs starters 34-28.
As brilliant as Nowitzki has been at crunch time in this series (he scored the Mavericks’ final 12 points Sunday night), it’s clear he’s going to need a lot more help if this series is going back to Miami this weekend for a Game 6.
“Look, we’ve got a top nine guys that are rotation guys,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “I’ve consistently pointed out that we don’t have a specific pecking order. We’re a team built on balance. We’re a team where it may take seven guys scoring four points or more or five points or more, or eight [guys] scoring three points or more. We never know for sure.”
That same uncertainty that made the Mavericks so effective against the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder is what has led to them playing from behind consistently against a Heat team that plays defense at a higher level than any other outfit Carlisle’s crew has faced in these playoffs.
In Game 3, Nowitzki was a monster, shooting 52 percent (11-for-21) and putting the Mavericks in position to steal a second straight game in the final seconds only to come up short. His supporting cast shot a paltry 35 percent (17-for-49) and Barea and Stojakovic were particularly brutal off the bench, going a combined 3-for-10 in 25 joint minutes. That hurt as much offensively as they did on the other end of the floor, where the Heat can take advantage of mismatches against both players.
Even Terry’s 15-point Game 3 performance was a bit misleading. He was 0-for-4 in the fourth quarter, he played all 12 minutes, and clanked a wide open 21-footer from his sweet spot with 58.9 seconds to play that would have broken that 86-86 tie. Twenty seconds later, Bosh nailed what turned out to be the game-winning jumper.
“Well, we didn’t really give [Dirk] much help,” Terry said. “And I take a lot of that on my shoulders. That’s two out of three games, offensively in the fourth quarter, that I wasn’t able to come up with some big plays and big shots. I’m looking forward to Game 4, and we’re going to treat it like it’s a Game 7.”
Carlisle will settle for the supporting cast doing the same things that helped them get to this point, which is play within the context of their system and doing it from the start.
“Our guys are just going to have to be systematic and approach each game with the same kind of aggressiveness they approached every game leading up to this,” Carlisle said. “There’s going to be some nights you don’t shoot it good, but to sit up here and bellyache about missed shots, that’s never what the success of this team is going to be about. We held ourselves in the game in Game 2. We held ourselves in the game [Sunday night]. And we made some other mistakes that were uncharacteristic. So we’re going to have to eliminate some of those. We’re going to have to look at our overall disposition in the game. Again, I really believe the fact that we’re digging out of holes all night was something that … it was difficult to overcome.”