Miami ‘D’ hangs on in fourth


DALLAS — All those days in the gym, Dirk Nowitzki has worked on all those moves and launched all those shots just for these moments.

The spins. The fadeaways. The impossibly high release. They were all there as the final seconds of Game 3 of the NBA Finals slipped away. And Nowitzki had been on a roll, scoring 12 consecutive points to give Dallas a chance.

But Udonis Haslem wasn’t at any of those workouts. With the game in Nowitzki’s hands, the Miami Heat put Haslem on Nowitzki, and he never let him loose. Haslem forced a turnover, then masterfully contested the shot Nowitzki missed at the buzzer as Miami held on for an 88-86 win Sunday at American Airlines Center to take a 2-1 series lead.

“The look with four seconds to go, I think it was as good as you can get it,” Nowitzki said.

Added Miami coach Erik Spoelstra: “That was a very similar situation to what we saw the other night. Had a different matchup. That’s a makeable shot. But (Haslem) did a great job keeping his chest in front of him and forcing him into a fadeaway. Nowitzki is a tough player.

“That shot hung up in the air about as long as it was in between Game 2 and Game 3. It was a good offensive play and a good defensive play. And he happened to miss.”

Of the 11 previous Finals in which the teams split the first two games in the current 2-3-2 format, the team that has won Game 3 won the series.

“This is a total win,” said Dwyane Wade, who led Miami with 29 points. “You want to win the game on the defensive end of the floor, and we got a stop.”

The Heat were burned in Game 2 after letting the ?Mavs erase a 15-point lead in the final seven minutes. Sunday, they were again up with seven minutes left, this time by seven.

And just as he had at the same point of Game 2, Nowitzki went to work. He scored the Mavericks’ next 12 points including when he cut to the rim for a slam with 2??1/2 minutes left.

“He knows he’s going to have to carry a certain load, not just a scoring load,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s going to have to make plays. We’d like to make it easier for him.”

After Wade hit a jumper, Nowitzki dropped in a fadeaway to tie the game with 1:40 remaining, giving him 34 points — 15 in the fourth quarter.

The Heat found a way to win partly because of a big shot from a struggling member of their Big 3.

Chris Bosh had made just 15 of 51 shots in the Finals, but he took a pass from LeBron James and swished a baseline jumper from 16 feet, giving Miami an 88-86 lead with 39.6 seconds left.

“That’s fundamental basketball at its best,” Spoelstra said. “You see an open man. You hit an open man.

“The important thing we did we didn’t necessarily do in Game 2 was trust. The ball moved. The play wasn’t designed for him. The ball moved, and we hit the open guy. I don’t care what happened to that point. He makes winning plans. He made a big one for us.”

In Game 2, Spoelstra had Bosh on Nowitzki during his string of clutch shots. This time, Haslem locked down Nowitzki as Bosh could not. After Bosh’s jumper, Haslem closed so quickly that Nowitzki looked for Shawn Marion in the corner, but threw his pass away with 30.2 seconds left.

The Mavericks, however, had a last chance after James missed a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds left.

Nowitzki created enough space to get his fadeaway off cleanly from 16 feet out. But the ball bounced harmlessly off the rim at the buzzer.

“He’s a great player, 7 feet, so he’s going to shoot over me,” Haslem said. “I’ve got to make it tough on him.”

Jason Kidd had nine points and 10 assists for the Mavericks, but also four turnovers. Giveaways haunted Dallas throughout the game, especially the first half, helping keep Miami comfortably ahead.

“We have to have somebody step up besides Dirk,” Kidd said. “We have to figure out how to get up front and play up front. The big thing is we’ve got to be able to make plays late in the game. Game 2 we made the plays, Game 3 we just didn’t.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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