If the Dallas Mavericks are honest, they know it took nothing short of a basketball miracle to avoid a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals.
But sometimes, miracles happen. And when they do, you pay homage to the hoop gods by making sure you don’t waste said miracle.
That’s where the Mavericks find themselves during the longer, two-day break between Games 2 and 3. The Miami Heat may have awoken a sleeping monster when Dwyane Wade and LeBron James started celebrating a bit too early in Game 2, when they led by 15 points, but were outscored, 22-5, in the final 6:20.
And the No. 1 and No. 2 previously snoozing Mavericks were Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki.
In roughly the first 90 minutes of this series, they were 18-of-53 from the field, a lousy 34 percent.
In the 6-plus minutes at the end of Game 2, they were a combined 7-of-8 and led the shocking rally.
The Mavericks turned the ball over 20 times for 31 Miami points. It only seemed like every one of them came in the third quarter and early in the fourth when they were dropping almost out of sight.
With their late-game revival, they came back to Dallas for Game 3 on Sunday full of life and knowing they have planted more than just a seed of doubt in the Heat players’ minds.
“We did not want to go home down 0-2,” Terry said. “It would put tremendous pressure on us. For the last five minutes, we really showed Maverick basketball, getting stops, getting out in transition, taking advantage of every opportunity that presented itself. There is no other way for us to play.”
Terry and Nowitzki provided 17 of the 22 points in the closing surge, perhaps signaling their strong-willed arrival into this series.
The last time the Mavericks had this sort of forceful show, they were rebounding from a meltdown of their own in Game 4 of the first round at Portland. That sent them on a seven-game winning streak.
This time, they don’t need that many. And they are keenly aware that they had to be extremely fortunate to win Game 2. When James parted the Mavericks’ defense and had a point-blank shot early in the Heat collapse and couldn’t convert, it was the sort of play where you could sense the Mavericks were on to something big.
“LeBron went down the middle, had a wide-open layup, I thought,” Nowitzki said. “Short-armed it a little. We were able to get that rebound and go. So you have to be a little lucky, but we kept on plugging.
“I thought we got really lucky.”
But luck counts. After that, it was a steady climb for the Mavericks to the victory that came when Nowitzki finished a lefty layup while getting around Chris Bosh.
“For a split second, I just played bad defense,” Bosh said. “You know, it cost us two points.”
And a commanding 2-0 lead.
There can be no overstating the difference the Mavericks felt flying home Friday with a 1-1 split in Miami as opposed to being in a 2-0 hole. The police-escorted drive to the Miami airport seemed faster. The plane they are borrowing from the Phoenix Suns felt bigger and better.
Everything tasted sweeter after Thursday night’s remarkable comeback.
“Best-of-5 series now,” said Shawn Marion, who had two superb games in Miami. “And we have three at home.”
But the Mavericks refuse to look at it like that.
“We’re not going to approach it as the next three,” Nowitzki said. “We’re going to approach the next one like it’s our last. You cannot get a split and get a huge emotional win in Game 2 and then go home and lose Game 3. As far as I’m concerned, the next one is the biggest game of them all.”