HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s obvious that the Mavericks’ season would be all but over if Dirk Nowitzki had not fought through the effects of fever to play the role of Lazarus in Game 4.
It was also timely and significant that Jason Terry used that clutch fourth quarter to finally pull his “JET” persona out of the hangar for the first time in The Finals.
But if Dallas is going to keep fooling the experts, bamboozling the Heat and have a real chance of clawing out its first NBA championship, the series will likely rest in the hands of Tyson Chandler.
Yes, that Tyson Chandler, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2001 Draft who was traded on Draft night by the Clippers and spent the next nine seasons bouncing from Chicago to New Orleans to Charlotte before finally becoming an anchor in the middle of the Mavs lineup.
As ESPNDallas.com’s Jeff Caplan points out, it was Chandler stepping up to have a monster Game 4 in the middle that set the table for the late-game heroics of Dirk and Jet:
In the first NBA Finals appearance of his 10-year career, Chandler has saved his most ferocious basketball for the Miami Heat’s dynamic duo. In fact, the three prior teams with which Chandler toiled had never advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
His monstrous 13-point, 16-rebound effort in the Mavericks’ 86-83 victory in Game 4 on Tuesday night was mandatory, what with Nowitzki under the weather, ailing backup center Brendan Haywood unable to stay in the game and coach Rick Carlisle gambling with an altered starting lineup.
It could go down as a defining performance in this incredibly competitive series that is now deadlocked heading into Game 5 on Thursday night in Dallas.
No team — ever — has rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals. And, with a helping hand from Chandler, the Mavs don’t have to try to become the first.
“It was all about effort,” Chandler said. “We knew that it was going to be a tough night … with the lineup change and then the way Dirk was feeling. We were going to have to step up and we were going to have to do whatever it took to get the win. I knew my guys would need more shots tonight, so I tried to crash the boards as well as get out in the lane and run and get some easy baskets.”
Chandler’s role as rebounder and opportunity scorer around the hoop increased in Game 4 when Haywood couldn’t contribute his usual backup minutes and Nowitzki was ailing. The Mavs used him far more than usual in pick-and-roll situations and it paid off big.
What the Mavs have been able to do with Chandler that the Sixers, Celtics and Bulls could not in the previous rounds of the playoffs is to take advantage of the undersized 6-foot-9 Joel Anthony in the middle of the Heat lineup.
None of this might have happened if the Thunder hadn’t gotten cold feet about a trade that would have delivered Chandler to Oklahoma City back on Feb. 17, 2009. One day later, the Thunder rescinded the trade after their medical staff expressed concerns about a toe injury.
Of course, if the trade had stuck, it could have turned the fortunes of the Thunder and the Mavs. Surely, Chandler wouldn’t be at center for the Mavs. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that he would have been doing battle against them in the Western Conference finals in the earlier round. Because if OKC had kept Chandler, chances are they wouldn’t have brought Serge Ibaka into the mix, traded for Kendrick Perkins or re-signed Nick Collison.
And according to our friend Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, Chandler still believes it was only dollars that made sense of blowing up the trade:
“I honestly feel it had more to do with the salary,” Chandler told The Oklahoman on Wednesday. “Because when I looked at it, it just didn’t make sense…I just didn’t see that being that big of an issue. It all seemed fishy, to be honest with you.”
Whatever the motivation, the Mavs are certainly reaping the benefits from a guy who was then swapped to Charlotte and then became a cast-off of the going-in-circles Bobcats. In his nine previous NBA seasons, he had never been past the semifinals; now, he could be the key to The Finals.
The Mavs need Dirk to be Dirk and Jet to be Jet to be themselves. But right now, they also need Chandler to become champions.