Dirk Nowitzki played Game 4 with a fever in the tripe digits, but without Tyson Chandler anchoring the Mavericks defense and owning the offensive boards, Dirk's efforts would have been in vain.
It's a little bit less dramatic to give the credit to someone like Chandler (instead of Dirk), but sometimes it's just this simple--as valuable as Nowitzki's been all playoffs long, Tyson Chandler has been a difference maker just as often. Tuesday was just the most convincing example yet.
With Dirk ailing and Brendan Haywood still injured, Chandler said afterward, "I told Coach, 'You have to get me back out there, I will play 48 (minutes) if I need to.'" Turns out, he only played 43. To put that number in perspective, Chandler only played 34 minutes in Game 1. For a big man, that's a pretty serious increase. And not only did he survive, he anchored the Mavs on both ends, and his team thrived.
He had 13 points, and 16 rebounds, including NINE offensive boards. To put that number in perspective, no other player had more than five offensive rebounds, and Miami only grabbed 15 as a team. But especially during the second half, Chandler just kept batting rebounds back out to Dallas shooters. Extending possessions, giving the Mavericks more open looks, and slowly bleeding Miami of any chance to break the game open.
On defense, Chandler did what he's done all series. He set the tone in the lane, roamed under the hoop as part of Dallas' zone defense, and most important, he was able to be a convincing obstacle in front of LeBron James coming off pick-and-rolls. It's not just a fluke that LeBron had the worst game of his playoffs against Chandler. To date, Tyson Chandler's the best big man the Heat have faced. And he just keeps coming through.
I said earlier today that it makes no sense that a team like the Mavericks is somehow tied with the Miami Heat, but that's totally true. There are two explanations. 1. Miami's not as dominant when LeBron James is struggling, and 2. Tyson Chandler's been a terror on both ends. Part of explaining no. 1 relates to no. 2, and it's the biggest reason Dallas won game no. 4.
When all this is said and done, whatever happens during the rest of these Finals, the story won't be about Tyson Chandler. Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James will always attract more headlines, and rightfully so. But don't forget about Tyson Chandler. Dirk's been great for years, after all. It's not necessarily coincidence that Dallas finally became dominant with Chandler in the middle.
And look at Game 4. Even without Dirk dominating, sometimes Chandler can even carry the load, himself. The Finals MVP always goes to whichever team wins the title. Even if Dallas wins, of course, Tyson Chandler won't win it. There's no way it goes to anybody but Dirk.
But as Chandler said Tuesday, "I'm going to give it all every second I'm out there." And if you're wondering why Dallas and Dirk still have such a great shot at all that hardware, look no further than the other Maverick laying it all on the line, and coming through in crunch time.