DALLAS (AP) – As exciting as it is to watch Dirk Nowitzki make shot after shot in the NBA finals, the Dallas Mavericks don’t want to keep doing that.
Nowitzki needs help – from someone. Anyone.
The supporting cast that helped carry Nowitzki and the Mavericks into the NBA finals has shriveled under the pressure of this stage, the defense of the Miami Heat or a little of both.
The Mavs trail 2-1 going into Game 4 on Tuesday night mainly because they aren’t scoring enough. Their average of 88.3 points per game is down 11.4 from the previous three rounds.
Nowitzki is contributing 28.3 points, almost exactly his postseason average coming in. The drop-off is everywhere else, especially among the three guys who are supposed to provide instant offense from the bench: Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic.
Terry’s slump hurts the most.
He and Nowitzki were among the league’s top fourth-quarter scoring tandems this season. The Heat threw that off with the surprise move of having 6-foot-8 LeBron James cover the 6-foot-2 Terry. He was shut out in the fourth quarters of Game 1 and 3, the ones Dallas lost.
Terry was a big part of the Mavericks’ winning rally in Game 2, scoring the first six points in a 22-5 surge and eight overall. In Game 3, when Nowitzki scored Dallas’ final 12 points, Terry went 0 for 4 in the fourth quarter, including a 21-footer with the game tied in the final minute.
“Jet (Terry’s nickname) hasn’t really been a crunch-time, clutch player for us the way we need him to,” Nowitzki said Monday. “We have to find a way to get Jet some freedom and get him off some movement, and he’s got to make some shots for us.”
Confidence is never a problem for Terry. This is a guy who got the finals trophy tattooed to his right biceps in October and vows to have it removed if the Mavs don’t win it all. On Monday he vowed that if he again gets the same shots he missed down the stretch in Game 3, “I bet I make them.”
Perhaps tempting fate, Terry also questioned whether James “can defend me like that for seven games” and claimed that first-round foe Portland played better defense than Miami. He also said that if Dallas can score 100 points, “they can’t beat us.”
“I’m going to tell you this: we will be there in Game 4,” Terry said. “I’m ready for the challenge.”
Miami is flustering Dallas with its combination of active, long-armed defenders who seem to always be in the right place at the right time. The Heat are always charging at shooters, making them fire quickly or opt to pass.
Center Tyson Chandler said Miami’s style has made the Mavericks “timid.”
“Because they close out quick, guys second-guess their shots — is this a good shot? Should I drive?” he said. “We just have to make them pay. If we start knocking down shots, it loosens up everything.”
The Heat are giving the Mavs some chances. When two guys are covering Nowitzki, as usually happens, then someone else is open. Those guys are simply missing, perhaps because they’re anticipating a Miami player coming at them so they rush the shot.
“I think we still got a lot of open looks that we could’ve knocked down,” Barea said. “If we’d knocked down a few more, we would’ve won.”
Barea is the backup point guard who usually energizes the Dallas’ offense. He zips around the court, somehow getting to the rim despite being maybe 6 feet in high tops, or dishing to others when the defense swarms him.
But in this series he’s made only 5 of 23 shots, 1 of 8 on 3-pointers. He’s gone from scoring 8.9 pointers per playoff game to 4.3.
“The ball is going to start going down,” Barea said. “I’m going to stay aggressive, play my game, keep doing what brought me here.”
Then there’s Stojakovic.
Dallas signed him around midseason in hopes he could be another weapon off the bench. He got into shape and had some great moments late in the season and early in the postseason, such as going 6 for 6 on 3-pointers when the Mavericks polished off a sweep of the Lakers.
This series, he’s been a lost cause – making only 1 of 5 shots (0 for 4 on 3-pointers) and repeatedly getting beaten on defense. His average has plummeted from 8.8 points to 0.7.
“I think our ability to spread the floor and shoot is a big reason why we made it to the finals,” Nowitzki said. “We just looked at the film. We had some opportunities. … And if we get those opportunities, we got to make the most out of it.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)