DALLAS – The NBA finals are a best-of-three series now.
And LeBron James had a night to forget.
Dallas 86, Miami 83 is your final, despite 32 points from Dwyane Wade and 24 from Chris Bosh for the Heat. James had only eight, the first time in more than four years he was in single-digits.
To do it on the NBA's biggest stage, well, that's going to get scrutinized a tiny bit over the next 48 hours. Game 5 is Thursday night.
Dirk Nowitzki fought off a fever and scored 21 for Dallas, which doesn't have the home-court advantage, but plenty of momentum heading into Thursday.
See you then.
Down to the wire, again. You expected anything less?
Dallas 82, Miami 80, 1:53 left.
LeBron James has eight points. None in the fourth so far. Hard to imagine that Miami would be this close, with James struggling this much with his shot, 3 for 11 to this point.
Both teams relying a lot on the 3-pointer, looking for the knockout.
Mavs fans have awoken.
Who says defense is boring, anyway?
Looking for a season-saving win, Dallas has a 80-78 lead with 4:36 left in Game 4 of the NBA finals. The Mavs have held Miami to nine points so far in the final quarter.
And, yes, LeBronwatch has been reinstated. James has eight points. Hasn't been in single-digits since January 2007.
Dwyane Wade has been spectacular and just blocked Tyson Chandler — nearly a good foot taller than he is — at the rim as the Mavs' center tried a dunk. Wade also blocked a drive by Jason Terry at the rim, but Chandler got that rebound and scored, as the 2006 finals MVP reacted angrily in disappointment.
Big credit to Jason Terry. He might have just saved the Dallas Mavericks' season.
Miami had a nine-point lead when Udonis Haslem hit a baseline jumper, but Terry scored the next two hoops for Dallas, and the Mavs are within 74-69 with 9:22 left.
It's sort of now-or-never time for the Mavericks, and Terry — who flopped in the fourth quarter of Game 3 — knows it all too well. With Dirk Nowitzki hurting with a fever, Terry likely will have even more run through him than usual down the stretch for Dallas.
Your LeBron update: Still in single digits, eight points, eight rebounds, six assists. Mavs have five guys in double figures. Heat have two. And Miami's winning.
LeBronwatch is nearly over. He might have gotten going.
Just in time for the Miami Heat, too.
A dunk in transition, an alley-oop lob to Dwyane Wade for a ridiculous finish, a jumper ... they all came late in the third quarter, as the Heat took what will be an 69-65 lead entering the final 12 minutes.
Wade has 25, Chris Bosh has 22 for Miami.
It's real easy for the Heat now: Win the fourth quarter, take a stranglehold on this series.
And James has only eight points on 3-for-10 shooting. He also has seven rebounds and six assists, and the Heat are winning. So what he said this morning — "I could care less about numbers" — might be ringing true.
Dallas needs a spark and fast. Sure, it's only a four-point game. But the Heat confidence, you can plainly see, is rising. And Dirk Nowitzki, who missed what would have been a huge 3-pointer at the end of the third, is ailing with just 11 points.
Maybe Dirk Nowitzki really is sick.
He just missed a free throw. Considering he's roughly a 118 percent shooter for his career, this is major news.
Mavs up 64-61 with 3:52 left in the third. Much like in Game 3, you get the sense that this will be decided by either one little burst, or a shot at the end, and possibly both.
Shawn Marion doing his best Shawn-Marion-of-old impression, getting 10 so far in the third quarter on his way to 16 for the Mavs in just 23 minutes. Nowitzki has 11, while Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade have combined for 43 of Miami's 61 points.
Also, LeBronwatch continues: Still on four points. Which means my pregame prediction is off by a mere 31.
And a Twitter question from Toreno13: "Why dont someone just stand under basket when Barea drives and swat his shot?"
Answer: Because A) that would likely be a defensive three-second call and B) he's missing enough to keep the Heat happy.
If you told Rick Carlisle before the game that in the third quarter, Joel Anthony would have as many points as LeBron James, he likely would have dumped a bottle of champagne on himself.
Well, it's happened.
Joel 4, LeBron 4.
And somehow, it's Heat 53, Mavericks 53 with 8:10 left in the third quarter.
ABC's Doris Burke reported at halftime that Dirk Nowitzki has a 101-degree fever, which explains his non-Dirkness so far. James just isn't in a flow yet. And the Mavs haven't taken advantage.
You know James is going to heat up sometime. He's been in double figures for 433 straight games, counting regular-season and playoff matchups, going all the way back to January 2007.
Halftime in Dallas. Miami up 47-45, thanks to a Mario Chalmers runner with about a half-minute left.
Chris Bosh has 16 and Dwyane Wade 13 for Miami, while LeBron James has managed only four so far and is clearly far from being in a great offensive flow.
Odds are, he couldn't care less, since the Heat are up.
Dallas finished with Shawn Marion, Jason Kidd, Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki on the floor. None of them have more than nine points so far and combined that fivesome has 30, one more than Bosh and Wade on their own.
DeShawn Stevenson's impact on the second quarter was huge for Dallas, period. He's likely been their MVP for the first half.
Quick observation: There were a lot hands tugging on the bottoms of shorts late in the half. Fatigue kicking in? A guess: The teams won't combine for 92 in the second half.
There was this notion during the Western Conference finals that Dallas couldn't guard anybody, given the high-octane numbers being put up in that series between the Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Mavs just ran off nine straight points. Of course, it's easy to have a run of unanswered points when your opponent can't even get a shot off.
That's right, until Dwyane Wade scored with 3:44 left, the Heat had gone 3:22 without actually taking a shot, turning the ball over four times in that stretch, once on a shot-clock violation, another when Jason Kidd stole the ball with one second left on the shot clock.
Also, don't be shocked if this JJ-Barea-starts thing happens again in Game 5. DeShawn Stevenson, who was benched in order to make that move, has 11 points in the first 9-plus minutes of the second quarter alone, bringing a ton of energy on both ends.
Mavs 42-40, 2:10 left in the half.
Remember when Chris Bosh couldn't do anything right in these NBA finals?
Happier days for the Mavericks, indeed.
Bosh has 14 points so far, and the Heat lead 34-29 with 6:50 left in the second quarter of Game 4 in Dallas. He's made seven shots from the field. The Mavs have made 10.
Neither team is shooting well at all, with both clubs hovering around 40 percent.
What's telling in this building is this: The Mavs fans are almost all seated. That wasn't the case early. Barely responding to much of anything, honestly. Unsure if it's nerves or what, but the passion that was there an hour ago isn't showing up anywhere near as strongly now.
Jason Terry has backed up his talk.
The man who raised some eyebrows by wondering aloud on Monday if LeBron James would wear down in these finals — and who was urged by Dirk Nowitzki to do more for the Mavs — is off to a big start for Dallas in Game 4.
Terry has seven points off the bench, and Dallas and Miami are tied after the first quarter at 21-all. More good news for the Mavs: Brendan Haywood checked in late in the period, going to see what he can do with that ailing right hip.
The Mavs gave Miami some gifts late, first when Terry missed a pair of free throws, then when Rick Carlisle picked up a technical for arguing that LeBron James wasn't fouled with 18.8 seconds left. Mario Chalmers made the 'T' free throw to tie it, and James hit a pair to give Miami its first lead, 21-19.
JJ Barea tied it with a pair of FTs with 5.5 seconds left.
A few more pregame quotes for you from the locker rooms:
— Carlisle: "We gotta win a grit and guts game tonight. They gotta see waves of white coming at them all night long. I'll make sure we got fresh bodies in the game."
— Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "There can't be a weak link ... not tonight. It is a primal game."
The Mavs say this is a must-win for them tonight, for obvious reasons.
LeBron James says the same thing to the Heat.
Take a gander of what the ABC cameras caught him saying just before the Heat took the floor for warmups, where he channels his inner Herb Brooks for an all-time locker room speech:
"Let's continue to play desperate. That's the only way we know how to play basketball. That's the best way we know how to play. When we play desperate, we feel like our back is against the wall. Even though we're up 2-1, I still feel like our back is against the wall. And this is a must-win game. Every game we approach, our back is against the wall and it's a must-win game. Don't ever come out of a situation where you feel like, 'Damn, if I'd have did this a little bit harder or I did that a little bit smarter, I'd have gave us a better chance to win the ballgame.' Lay it all on the line tonight and play Miami Heat basketball."
They might be playing desperate.
So might the Mavs, for that matter.
Neither team is playing great, yet. Dallas 17, Miami 16, 2:01 left in the first.
Couple quick stat updates: Heat have nine offensive rebounds already, after having nine in all of Game 3. And Wade had his first turnover since Game 2.
Dirk Nowitzki did his thing, then Chris Bosh did his.
The power forwards had all the power in the opening minutes of Game 4 of the NBA finals.
Nowitzki scored the first six for Dallas. Meanwhile, the Heat missed 10 of their first 11 shots and got away with it, thanks to Bosh getting three field goals in the opening minutes.
We're tied at 8, 5:51 left in the first.
The Mavs did more than change the lineup, they changed defensive rotations as well. Jason Kidd has spent some time guarding LeBron James. That will not be a regular occurrence.
Once again, at least for the opening moments, the Heat have taken the best the Dallas crowd had to offer to open a game and handled it fairly well.
A few pregame stats and one key tweet for you:
— Dwyane Wade has one turnover in his last 101 minutes, 58 seconds of on-court time.
— The Heat have not scored 30 or more points in a quarter in their last 34 quarters. Haven't given one up in the last 28, either.
— JJ Barea started two games this season for the Mavs. Until tonight. (Move is now official, even though there was no doubt after DeShawn Stevenson said he wasn't starting.) All-time, he's 34-15 as a starter.
— Heat reserve Dexter Pittman calls LeBron James "big bro." Which might clear up the mystery in this tweet he posted a couple hours ago: "Here we are. Game 4. 2 more. Big bro zoned out. I know he bout to be a freaking monster tonight. He focus like a lion hunting for prey"
(And one more reminder — send those questions on Twitter to "ByTimReynolds" — and we might get to them during the game.)
The blue shirts are back.
The mood in Dallas, though, is anything but blue entering tonight's Game 4 of the NBA finals.
Yes, the Mavericks are making some lineup changes, which will likely disappoint the Heat because they were amused by some of the things DeShawn Stevenson was saying on the off day yesterday. Seems like Stevenson is out of the lineup in favor of JJ Barea. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle isn't saying it yet, but Stevenson is, so that seems good enough.
The Mavs know the reality. Go down 3-1 tonight and this series is over. Too big a mountain to climb, especially with the potential of two games in Miami.
The Heat know that too, of course.
Dwyane Wade was saying this morning that the Heat are trying to block out the 2-1 series lead and play this game as if it means everything. LeBron James says Dallas losing tonight won't doom the Mavs — extremely political correct there — but that the Heat don't want this turning into a best-of-three series, either.
Speaking of James, he was asked today if he MUST win the NBA finals MVP award to validate his decision to join the Heat. Here's his full response:
"That's ridiculous," James said. "I'm here to win. That's all it's about. Individual accolades take care of itself. I've got two MVP trophies sitting in my house back in Ohio and I haven't won anything. It doesn't matter to me. It's all about a team game and this is the ultimate team prize right here, just trying to win the NBA championship. So I don't really care. I could trade in my last two MVP trophies to have a ring. I don't care about individual accolades to solidify myself in the NBA or whatever they're talking about. It's ridiculous."
Scheme-wise, don't look for the Heat to change much. The Mavs will clearly play a lot more zone if Barea is getting a ton of minutes.
And tonight, we'll add a new wrinkle to this blog. Hit me with your questions at "ByTimReynolds" on Twitter, then keep checking here to see if I answer. I just might.
Tip off in about 30 minutes. Enjoy Game 4.
Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds