DALLAS – The passes were on target, the shots were falling and the defense made things tough on the other guys. The Dallas Mavericks played their best stretch of the NBA finals at the end of Game 2, pulling off a rally that reshaped the series.
Now they have to try to keep it going.
The Mavs go into Game 3 on Sunday night feeling good about themselves because of the way the last game ended and because they will be back home. They also know that to win their first NBA title, they're going to have to play more like they did down the stretch of the last game, and less like they did in the 7½ quarters that preceded it.
"We just can't let up," Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki said Saturday. "We're not good enough to just relax. We need to play with an edge especially in every game."
Although the series is tied 1-1, the Heat have been the better team for longer stretches.
Take it quarter by quarter. Dallas has won only two of the eight: 17-16 in an ugly first period of the first game, and 24-18 in their glorious finish to Game 2.
Check out the biggest leads for each team. Miami was up by 12 in the opener and 15 before its collapse in Game 2. The Mavericks' widest advantage in either game was nine.
Then there are the bad habits Dallas has gotten into in each game. In the opener, it was watching the Heat grab 16 of their misses, leading to them taking 13 more shots than the Mavs. Dallas cleaned that up in Game 2, only to spring another leak with 20 turnovers; Miami turned them into 31 points.
"It's very unusual to win a game the way we did in Game 2," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "That kind of template is not going to hold up in this series long term. We know that."
The Mavericks also can't expect to duplicate their performance over the last 7:14 of Game 2.
That would be tough to do on a video game. After all, Dallas made 9 of its last 10 shots, while forcing Miami to miss nine in a row and 10 of 11.
But the Mavs can do some of the things they did right in that stretch. The main thing is playing more of their "flow" offense, which is basically freelancing, except that Jason Kidd is orchestrating it all.
When Dallas was in its set offense, Miami did a good job of covering everyone, no matter how often the Mavericks passed the ball. And there were many times when they just kept passing because nobody felt open enough to shoot.
When Dallas is "flowing," there's less predictability because even the Mavericks don't know what they are going to do. Kidd looks at the matchups and figures out the best way to attack. If the Heat are double-teaming Nowitzki, he'll throw it elsewhere. Whoever gets it will either have an open shot or pass it again so someone else does. Once the Mavs got going, room opened up.
Of all aspects of the Game 2 finish, this is the one Dallas has the best chance of picking up where it left off, especially if Jason Terry found his stroke. He was 4 of 16 for the series before making all three shots he took during the winning rally.
"We understand how to play off of one another," Kidd said. "What happened in those 7 minutes, we started to play like we did when we were playing the Lakers, and also Oklahoma City, where we weren't calling plays, and we were just playing."
Neither team has yet to play a full game it can be proud of. Game 3 is a great place to start considering the history of series tied at 1 since the NBA went to 2-3-2 format; all 11 winners have been crowned the champs.
The biggest edge the Mavericks could have is being back in a familiar environment.
During the regular season, Dallas shot better and scored more at home than it did on the road, but only by a small margin. In the postseason, there's been a significant difference in accuracy on field goals (up by .018), 3-pointers (up by .042), free throws (up by .027), and a jump of 8.6 points per game.
Whether it comes from home cooking or the energy provided by their fans, the Mavericks are looking forward to it again in Games 3, 4 and 5. Carlisle, however, is warning his guys not to make the mistake of expecting the home crowd to do more than scream support.
"They're not going to be out there running back on defense and trying to execute pick-and-roll coverages and those kinds of things," he said. "We've got to do that."
Miami tied Dallas for the best road record this season, but is only 4-3 on the road in the playoffs. That includes losses by 21 points in Chicago and 16 points in Boston.