Dirk Nowitzki scored the final 12 points of Game 3 for the Dallas Mavericks, but he couldn't make it 14. As Dirk's final shot rimmed out, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James escaped with a win and one game lead in the NBA Finals... Thanks to a game-winning shot by Chris Bosh.
In the end, the Miami Heat's stars were just a little bit better. While Dirk did everything possible down the stretch, Miami used LeBron as a facilitator and Wade as the closer, while Bosh became the deadly third option that eventually killed the Mavs.
So with all eyes on the superstars after Sunday night, we may as well take a closer look. Just for fun, let's hand out some grades after Game 3. Starting with last night's hero...
CHRIS BOSH. Midway through the first quarter, Bosh got jabbed in the eye by one of Jason Kidd's fingers, and spent the next few minutes writhing on the floor like some sort of gunshot victim. It looked pretty bad, and once he got back into the game, so did he. This had all the makings of another game where Bosh gets exposed while Wade and LeBron carry Miami despite him. Speaking of which, this is still the best picture of the playoffs.
But once the second half got going, so did Bosh. Relatively speaking, anyway. He led off the second half with a 21-foot jumper, and in the fourth quarter, he scored two quick buckets off assists from LeBron James to protect Miami's lead. He wasn't bringing that much to the table, but he wasn't taking things off the table, either. Then came the final play, where Tyson Chandler left him in the corner for a wide-open 16-foot jumper that ultimately won the game for Miami. All net.
All of which is to say, Bosh gave Miami everything they needed in Game 3. He's not going to be the guy that carries them in any of these games, and he's always going to be the guy with questionable toughness who makes you roll your eyes. But in the end, Miami just needs him knock down open shots, finish at the rim, and be a solid third option. Really, they're not asking a whole lot. And on those fronts, Bosh delivered on Sunday.
Sure,could have nailed the same game-winner that Bosh hit, it was (not Bosh) that shut down Dirk on the final play, and Bosh's "redemption" in the second half basically amounted to hitting three or four open shots. But that's all Miami needs. Grade: C+
UDONIS HASLEM. Speaking of that final minute... One of the biggest reason Miami can get away with a C+ from Bosh is Haslem. With Haslem playing lockdown defense and battling on the boards, suddenly, Miami's frontline grades out evenly with any team in the league. He does the little things that Bosh couldn't. For instance, it was Haslem that set the screen that freed up Bosh on that game-winner.
There's a big reason this team struggled all year and suddenly looks a thousand times better in May and June. The big reason is the little things. And it all comes back to Haslem. Grade: B+.
LEBRON JAMES. Even in a game where his teammates owned the spotlight, the 'ol media still managed to create its own set of LeBron headlines after the game. First it was that idiot reporter who asked him about "shrinking from the moment" and then wrote an even dumber column about it. Then it was the hoops experts who had to go and debunk any myths about LeBron's Game 3. The truth is somewhere in between.
By LeBron's standards, Game 3 was tame. He didn't leave the rest of the league shivering with cold sweats and nightmares about the next decade of domination, but he still gave Dallas problems throughout the second half. He played lockdown defense, and on offense, he quietly picked apart the Dallas D, hitting Bosh and Wade and Udonis Haslem for assist after assist.
The media may grade LeBron on a curve, but wins and losses are pretty black-and-white, and the team with LeBron James always has a pretty phenomenal advantage. Really, there are two ways for LeBron NOT to dominate. The first way is what happened in Game 2, when he settled for long, desperate jumpers at the end of the shot clock. That's what can happen when LeBron tries to be the guy that mainstream columnists want him to be. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The other way is what happens when LeBron facilitates instead of dominates.
Instead of taking game-winners, himself, he swings the ball to D-Wade for a dagger three. Or maybe finds Chris Bosh wide-open with a behind-the-back pass for a game-winner. Maybe it's not Jordanesque, but when LeBron plays like that, he's almost as deadly as when he's scoring, and the Heat are every bit as dominant. They usually win. And in the end, nothing's more Jordanesque than winning, and LeBron was a big part of that for Miami Sunday night. Grade: B+
JEFF VAN GUNDY. He's become the unofficial PR-man for LeBron James over the course of these NBA Finals, by God, he's been spectacular. As an announcer? Pretty insufferable. GRADE: D+.
DIRK NOWITZKI. What more can he do? He scored the last 12 points of the game for Dallas. He got into the lane, and he did damage from the perimeter. He hit foul shots, he hit shots wide-open jumpers, and he hit shots with Miami draped all over him. Even on his final shot, he was able to get a good look. It just hit the back rim...
Sure, he also had a turnover in the final minute on a possession that might've tied the game, but even so. He carried the Mavs' offense throughout crunch time, and against any other team in the playoffs, that fourth quarter explosion would have equaled a win. GRADE: A+
THE FAN THAT SPILLED HIS DRINK. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, LeBron James got a breakaway dunk to push Miami's lead to five, and after Dallas had climbed all the way back, it looked like Miami was about to pull away all over again. Then a fan spilled his drink all over the court, and it forced a prolonged stoppage where both teams caught their breath.
If it wasn't strategy, then it should be for Game 4 and 5. If Dallas can't stop the Heat runs on their own, then maybe their fans can help take some wind out of Miami's sails. It sure worked in Game 3. After the stop for cleanup, the Mavs climbed back into things, and it was close the rest of the way. So well played, clumsy courtside fan. GRADE: A+.
DWYANE WADE. If there were any doubt about his ability to carry Miami, it's disappeared by now. Wade's been incredible for the entire series, and Sunday night was just building on the theme. If it all ended now, Wade would be Finals MVP, and it's not even close. Even as the officials favored the Mavs and Dirk was going off, Wade just kept chugging along. Even as the Mavs doubled him. And especially as the game got close in the final quarter. Every time Miami needed a bucket, Wade delivered.
With threes, with drives, and on that final play to Bosh, it was Wade that drew the defense to one side before he passed out of a double team and swung it to LeBron, who found Bosh in the corner. It just doesn't get any better than Wade in Game 3. Grade: A+
In the end, Game 3's not a death blow for Dallas. The Lakers stole Game 3 in Boston last year before the Celtics won 4 and 5 and went back to L.A. up 3-2. But even if Dallas still has a chance after Sunday, it's a good example of why the this whole series is an uphill battle.
Just look at the grades. Dallas can get an A-plus performance from their best player, but the Heat can still win. In other words, Dallas has to hope that A) Dirk dominates and B) Wade and LeBron struggle or C) A courtside fan spills a drink that causes Wade or 'Bron to slip and tear his ACL. Otherwise, if either one of Miami's superstars is hitting on all cylinders, Dallas is in trouble. Even if Dirk's last-second shot had fallen, it's not like Dallas would have been favored in that overtime. We're talking about a team with one superstar vs. a team with three.
It's the sort of "sky-is-blue" explanation that seems too self-explanatory to satisfy people, but sometimes it's just that simple. Dallas can absolutely do it, because as Game 2 proved, if Miami falters, the Mavs veterans can capitalize. Dirk's ruthless, and they won't back down.
But from a broader perspective, if Dallas wins, we'll probably be talking about one of the bigger upsets in NBA Finals history. If Miami wins... Well, the message is pretty clear after Game 3.
Whether it's Wade, LeBron, or Bosh that wins it, Miami's just the better team.