DALLAS — Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks have pulled off another stunning comeback, tying the NBA finals at two games each.
And this time, Nowitzki did it while battling the flu.
Nowitzki shook off three poor quarters to score 10 of his 21 points in the final period as the Mavericks outscored the Miami Heat 21-9 over the final 10:12 for an 86-83 victory in a memorable Game 4 Tuesday night.
The Mavs avoided going down 3-1, a deficit no team has ever overcome in the finals, and guaranteed the series will return to Miami for a Game 6 on Sunday night.
“We just played with incredible heart and passion,” Dallas center Tyson Chandler said.
Dwyane Wade scored 32 points, but fumbled an inbounds pass with 6.7 seconds left. He knocked the ball back to Mike Miller for a potential tying 3-pointer, but it wasn’t even close to hitting the rim.
Chris Bosh scored 24 points for Miami, but the Heat got a stunningly unproductive game from their biggest star, LeBron James. He scored only eight points, making just 3 of 11 shots. He contributed nine rebounds and seven assists, but his lack of scoring sticks out because of the loss.
Nowitzki opened the game looking just fine, making his first three shots. But then he missed 10 of 11, and missed a free throw for the first time since Game 4 of the conference finals. By then, word spread of his illness.
With the game — and likely the series — on the line, Nowitzki found a way to come through. He made only 2 of 6 shots, but that included a terrific layup with 14.4 seconds left; he made all six of his free throws.
Hey, if he could win Game 2 with a left-handed layup two days after tearing a tendon in the tip of his middle finger, what’s a little temperature?
“We all seen him go through walkthroughs,” Chandler said. “Every time he started to talk he started coughing. He was wheezing.”
Miami was poised to take a commanding lead in the series when Udonis Haslem hit a jumper that made it 74-65 early in the fourth quarter. It was the Heat’s biggest lead and the way Nowitzki was playing, the Mavericks didn’t seem capable of pulling off another rally like the 22-5 finish that won Game 2.
Yet Jason Terry — who kick-started that comeback with six straight points — made consecutive baskets, and the surge was on. Terry ended up capping it with two free throws with 6.7 seconds left that forced Miami to need a 3-pointer.