It’s not often a team’s catalyst plays with a 102-degree fever in a Finals game.
Inefficient shooting nights from Dirk Nowitzki have been just as rare.
By allowing Dallas to survive one of its shakiest playoff performances this season, Miami has left the door ajar instead of slamming it shut with an almost insurmountable 3-1 series lead.
The Mavericks now go into Game Five with the chance to firmly grasp control of the series and leave Miami teetering on the brink of elimination.
The Heat again took a commanding lead — this time nine points — into the fourth quarter, only for Dallas to again launch a successful comeback.
It may not have been as painful as the more improbable Game Two defeat, but it could wind up being just as costly of a missed opportunity.
Miami had the more efficient shooting night and held the typically sniper-accurate Mavericks to just 21 percent shooting from long range, while also outrebounding Dallas.
But it was not enough.
The Heat simply needed more.
More from Chris Bosh. And a lot more from LeBron James.
Even Dwyane Wade, who lived up to his reputation as the most feared man in Dallas with another strong 32-point performance, missed a key free throw with 30 seconds left in the game and fumbled away the ball on Miami’s last possession.
THE EIGHT POINTS
After Game Three’s rather awkward postgame encounter between LeBron James and Gregg Doyel, you half expected James to turn into George Castanza and yell out “I WAS IN THE POOL!” if another reporter brought up the topic of Finals shrinkage after Game Four.
There are many explanations being offered for James’ single-digit scoring night.
One of them is his minutes.
James has played more minutes than anyone else in the playoffs.
After Miami took a 3-1 lead on Chicago, I wrote that James was playing more minutes this postseason than Michael Jordan did in all but one year (the ’86 first round sweep against the Celtics).
Could the heavy minutes finally be catching up to him?
It is very possible.
But at the same time, his 44 minutes per game, while incredibly high, is on par with past playoff pushes in Cleveland, even if it is the highest total since 2007.
And he is 26, not 36, despite having nearly hit the 700 game mark.
Just as significant as the number of minutes has been who he’s had to defend when he’s on the court, namely Jason Terry.
Terry, unlike the other players James has been assigned these past few weeks, runs around a lot more off the ball.
His game in some ways resembles Ray Allen, a man who wore Wade out so much in the second round that it took him the entire series against Chicago before he finally got his legs back.
Chasing a speedy guard through screens is far more fatiguing than defending, say, Derrick Rose, with the ball.
What this series has also shown us is just how badly James needs to continue working on an adept low post game.
Wade has done most of his damage in this series against Jason Kidd with his back to the basket. Last night, he even effectively backed down a bigger Shawn Marion on multiple occasions.
James, who easily has at least 50 pounds and four inches on Wade, should be even more effective in that position.
Against Dallas, it’s one of the easier ways to score.
Dallas plays zone defense better than just about any other team in the league. They take away direct lines to the basket.
James cannot slither around multiple defenders, contorting his body along the way, like Wade does.
His game is based far more on force than finesse.
Because of this, Dallas has been able to keep James away from the basket in a way that few else have been able to, which also keeps him off of the free throw line.
So instead, James often limits himself to one option: shoot a contested jump shot, something that hasn’t been working out for him nearly as well as it did against Chicago and Boston.
NOT JUST JAMES
While it’s hard to imagine Miami beating any elite team when James scores eight points, the blame cannot be placed squarely on his shoulders.
Maybe the brunt of it, but not all of it.
After a first half that saw Chris Bosh play with more aggression than at any point since the Chicago series, Bosh was largely a nonfactor when the game was in the balance.
Early on, Bosh attacked the rim decisively and with force. When he had an open look, he didn’t hesitate.
But in the fourth quarter, Bosh reverted to staying away from the basket, only settling for long jump shots.
The zone defense also affected him. In essence, it took away the pick and roll game and Bosh couldn’t find the same open lanes to the rim.
Miami simply needed more from him, both on the offensive end and in the rebounding department.
Time and time again, Marion or Tyson Chandler kept possessions alive for Dallas.
Miami kept the window open by forcing Dallas to miss countless shots in the last few minutes; the Heat players just couldn’t secure the ball.
Some might argue that Miami has already accomplished what it need to do: win one game in Dallas.
Because of that, regardless of Game Five’s outcome, the Heat can win the championship by winning its last two games in Miami, where the Heat has only lost once all postseason.
But that is an incredibly optimistic perspective.
Look, this series has been fluky.
For as much as many in the media wanted to crown the Heat after the first seven quarters of the series, these teams remain evenly matched.
Each of the last three games has been decided by two points.
Considering how shaky the Heat has looked in decisive moments, it would be silly to assume two games in Miami are anything close to sure things.
For Miami to feel confident on the flight back to their humid home, a 3-2 series lead has to be checked-in with the baggage.
The Heat missed out on possibly the most winnable game of the series.
With enough Vitamin C, Nowitzki will present even more of a challenge in Game Five.
And it will be up to Miami whether he feels even sicker tomorrow night.