Nowitzki's Bad Finger Helps Silence Conga Beat of NBA's Heat

LeBron James in China
NBA superstar LeBron James arrives for a promotional event in Shenyang, northeast China's Liaoning province on August 26, 2009. Li Xin/AFP/Getty Images

Dwyane Wade had just hit a 3-point shot, sending the house band into overdrive with seven minutes and 14 seconds left in a game and championship series that tilted heavily toward the hometown Heat.

Miami, buoyed by Wade and LeBron James, built a 15-point lead. The conga drums reverberated, adding a thumping beat to a vociferous, clad-in-white crowd that believed their team was halfway home in the first-to-four wins it all series.

The Dallas Mavericks called time out. The Heat, James pounding on Wade’s chest, their teammates exchanging high-fives and hugs, bounded toward their bench, a display that irked some on the Dallas side.

The Mavericks, by contrast, walked toward their none-too-pleased coach, Rick Carlisle, who delivered a simple and stern message:

“Hang in. Hang around,” was the edict from Carlisle, whose players hung in and hung around, setting the stage for former Most Valuable Player Dirk Nowitzki to add a do-you-believe-that moment to a career resume missing only a National Basketball Association championship. “It wasn’t going to happen unless we got stops.”

The stops came. One after another after another after another. Miami missed. Again and again and again. James missed three times. Wade missed. Udonis Haslem missed. Chris Bosh turned it over. Nowitzki scored his 23rd and 24th points, which proved the final margin.

Final score: Dallas 95, Miami 93.

Dallas Games

The best-of-seven series, all square at one apiece, resumes June 5 in Dallas, site of Games 3, 4 and 5.

“That’s about as tough a fourth quarter as you can have,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When it started to slide, it just kept on going.”

Late in the game, while the Heat could do little right, Nowitzki opted to go left.

Much had been made about a torn ligament on the middle finger of Nowitzki’s left, non-shooting hand. Questions abounded whether the splint covering the finger would prevent Nowitzki from effectively using his left hand.

It was Nowitzki driving left, spinning past Bosh and laying the basketball into the net with 3.6 seconds left on the clock. The Heat had a foul to give, but chose not to use it. Game over.

“The foul never came so I was able to get to the basket,” Nowitzki said. “Definitely a huge comeback.”

No Early Celebration

Bosh quashed any notion of the Heat celebrating too early, of making the mistake of figuring the game was over before it was over.

“We’re not really guys that exhale much,” he said. “I don’t really know what happened.”

None of the Heat players could pinpoint what made their 15-point advantage disappear. For whatever reason the ball movement stopped, Spoelstra said. Fluidity became funk. More bothersome to James and Wade was their porous defense.

“We didn’t have to score another point to win the game,” Wade said. “Our defense, we didn’t play the way that we normally play.”

Dallas went on an 8-0 run after the timeout that followed Wade’s 3-pointer.

With the score 90-84 Miami, James missed a jumper. Jason Terry cut the Dallas deficit to four, prompting a Miami timeout. Bosh turned it over. Nowitzki made it a two-point game. James missed a pair of jumpers. Nowitzki tied it and then hit a 3-point shot, giving Dallas a 93-90 advantage.

Cussed Out

Miami’s Mario Chalmers hit a game-tying 3-point shot, taking advantage of a blown defensive assignment from Terry, who got a four-letter earful from Nowitzki during an ensuing timeout.

“I’m sure there was a little cussing,” Nowitzki said. “In this league you have to play until the end.”

Wade finished with a game-high 36 points. James had 20, only two of them in the fourth quarter.

After the game, James and Wade repeatedly were asked about their celebration, the one backed by drumbeats and a 15-point cushion.

“A celebration is confetti,” Wade said. “A celebration is champagne bottles.”

The conga section celebrated for much of the night. Until Nowitzki went left. The band didn’t play as the crowd headed for the exits.

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