By JAIME ARON (AP Sports Writer)
DALLAS (AP) – Coughing and wheezing, his temperature spiking to 101, worn out from hardly sleeping the night before, Dirk Nowitzki went through three miserable quarters in Game 4 of the NBA finals.
Yet the fourth quarter was his time to shine. Again.
And now the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat are starting over in the NBA finals, this best-of-seven series reduced to a best-of-three.
Nowitzki fought through a sinus infection and everything else that ailed him and his team to power a 21-9 run over the final 10:12, lifting the Mavericks to a memorable 86-83 victory on June 7.
In the final period, Nowitzki scored 10 of his 21 points – including a driving right-handed layup that spun in off the backboard with 14.4 seconds left – and grabbed five of his 11 rebounds as Dallas pulled off its second stunning finish this series.
“Just battle it out,” Nowitzki said, sniffing throughout his postgame interview with his warm-up jacket zipped all the way up, still in his uniform instead of changing into street clothes like the NBA prefers. “This is the finals. You have to go out there and compete and try your best for your team. So that’s what I did.”
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 June 12.
LeBron James made only 3-of-11 shots – a tip-in during the first quarter, then a 15-foot jumper and a breakaway dunk in the third quarter. Not only did he fail to score in the fourth, he took only one shot while playing all 12 minutes. He finished with eight points, ending a double-figure scoring streak of 433 consecutive games, regular season and postseason. It was his fewest points ever in the playoffs.
Dwyane Wade led Miami with 32 points, but missed a free throw with 30.1 seconds left and 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.
Dallas players savored it, too, except for Nowitzki, who walked off looking somewhat sullen, obviously ready for a hot shower and a warm bed.
His illness hit Monday night. After struggling to get any rest, he showed up for the shootaround but hardly did anything.
His condition was kept a secret, and he helped keep it that way by hitting his first three shots. Then he missed 10-of-11 and it was obvious something was wrong. The biggest giveaway: he also missed a free throw for the first time since Game 4 of the conference finals.
The Heat didn’t know, and didn’t care.
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle tried resting Nowitzki as much as he could. During timeouts, he stayed in his chair as long as possible, trying to conserve every ounce of energy.
Now it’s 2-2. Both teams are 1-1 at home, and all those stats about who wins under various circumstances seem pretty moot.
Miami seemed to have taken control when it went ahead 74-65, its biggest lead of the night. Then Dallas went to a zone and the Heat struggled.
They scored a series-low 14 points in the fourth quarter, committing six turnovers and making only 5-of-15 shots. They actually made their first two, so they missed 10 of their final 13.
Jason Terry – who kick-started Dallas’ Game 2 comeback with six straight points, but was 0-for-7 in the fourth quarter of the other two games – got the Mavs going with consecutive baskets. He capped the winning rally with two free throws with 6.7 seconds left that forced Miami to need a 3-pointer to force overtime.
Carlisle shook up Dallas’ lineup, starting J.J. Barea instead of DeShawn Stevenson, and made Brian Cardinal the primary backup for Nowitzki, instead of Peja Stojakovic. Like his late move to the zone, these changes worked out quite nicely. He also made an adjustment after Miami grabbed nine offensive rebounds in the first quarter; the Heat got just six more.
Stevenson scored 11 points, his first time in double-digits since Feb. 2. Cardinal drew a charge on James early and provided seven solid minutes, giving Nowitzki much-needed rest.
Terry scored 17, Shawn Marion 16 and Chandler had 13 points and 16 rebounds.