RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
A stellar fourth quarter performance from an ailing Dirk Nowitzki pushed the Dallas Mavericks past the Miami Heat last night. Game Four of the NBA Finals went to Dallas by a score of 86-83. The best-of-seven series is now tied at two games apiece. NPR's Tom Goldman was at last night's game, he's with us from Dallas. Hi Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN: Good morning.
WERTHEIMER: So how did the Mavericks do it? How were they able to break through against the Heat right at the end?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, finally. The comeback Mavs did it again, but this time they got over the hump because they have comeback a few times and then lost at the end. They were down by nine with about 10 minutes left and they just chipped away with Dirk Nowitzki, but also other Dallas players, and that was significant throughout the game.
Coming in, one of the main story lines was will Nowitzki get more help from his team. And he did last night. Balanced scoring throughout the lineup, center Tyson Chandler had 16 rebounds. Nowitzki kind of called out his scoring buddy Jason Terry before this game in saying, Jason, I need you. Jason had been bottled up by Lebron James' defense during this series. But Terry shook loose. He scored two big baskets after Dallas fell behind in the fourth quarter.
And another thing, Linda, Miami was uncharacteristically careless down the stretch. They committed six turnovers in the fourth quarter. They missed shots partly because of Dallas's defense. And Lebron James, he only scored eight points. He was very passive offensively, and his offense would have helped them.
WERTHEIMER: Well now, tell me about this business of Nowitzki being sick during last night's game. A fever of over 100 degrees?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, he was a germy German. It wasn't one of his great performances because he was sick. He came into the game averaging over 28 points a game. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds. But again, you know, he was clutched down the stretch with 10 points in the fourth quarter. He had a driving layup at the end to give the Mavericks a three-point lead that they ultimately held onto for the final margin of victory.
And, you know, some reporters were likening his performance to the legendary Michael Jordan flu game, the 1997 finals when Jordan was really weak and sick and he scored 38 points and led the Bulls to a key victory. Now a few players scoffed at that comparison, not that Dirk didn't show great resolve by playing ill, but he didn't have to be helped off the court like MJ did. They did change the microphone in the interview room after he spoke, because as I said, they didn't want his germs all over.
WERTHEIMER: Well, what about Lebron James? You said he just had eight points in the entire game? What happened?
GOLDMAN: Well, in the words of his teammate, Chris Bosch, James struggled, and James said he didn't assert himself enough. Eight points, you know, after game three of this series, a reporter suggested to Lebron James he was shrinking from the big moments. He was only averaging three points per game in the fourth quarter of the first three games. This angered a lot of people who said James does so much more than just score, which he does, and then he went out and really had a stinker last night and it didn't exactly quiet the down doubters. He was asked if Dallas tried a new defensive strategy against him...
Mr. LEBRON JAMES (Professional Basketball Player): They haven't changed their coverages on me. You know, me just being more assertive, that's what it's about, you know. I've still got to make plays for my team, but also make plays for myself, also, to keep me in the rhythm of the game.
GOLDMAN: You know, Linda, it's so weird. A guy described by many as the best player in the game, right now, one of the greats of all times perhaps. He's not showing up in a key game in the MBA finals. That's perhaps disconcerting for Miami, although they won't admit it, that he's still struggling with his roll at times, trying to fit with the other starters, mainly Dwyane Wade. Should he defer to Wade because Wade is playing so well, take the initiative more of himself. It's the kind of thing that you'd like to have ironed out with just a few more games left in the season.
WERTHEIMER: NPR's Tom Goldman in Dallas. Thank you.
GOLDMAN: You bet.
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