It began with six harmless points by Jason Terry in this impossibly loud arena, where Dwyane Wade always seems to come away the better player, the champion Dirk Nowitzki wanted to be five years ago.
Then a wild, off-kilter layin from Shawn Marion, who somehow maneuvered that spindly body through mounds of Miami muscle until the ball kissed the glass and went in.
Nothing serious, right? No reason for LeBron James to hyperventilate and relive all those late-game collapses that came to define this uneven Heat season prior to the playoffs. No reason for Chris Bosh to dribble the ball off his body, out of bounds. No reason for Wade to believe his turn-back-the-clock night, 36 points and all the thrills and spills of 2006, would not stand as the defining performance in Game 2 of this all-Miami series thus far.
Nothing . . . but Nowitzki releasing picturesque rainbows from 20 feet and beyond — nothing but nylon in the most riveting and seminal finish of the Dallas Mavericks’ palpitating postseason.
Nowitzki scored Dallas’s last nine points of a blinding 22-5 run, including spinning that 7-feet gangly frame toward the basket, scoring with his left hand, a banker that rattled in — yes, with the hand that has the torn tendon in his middle finger — with 3.6 seconds left to demoralize American Airlines Arena and, for the moment, halt LeBron James’s coronation.
How LeBron and Wade and Bosh and crestfallen friends let this game get away from them will either go down as one of the great, late-game indictments in Heat history or serve as perfect Game 3 motivation for a team that seemed to be coasting through these NBA Finals as if it was supposed to win in five games or less.
Or, they can admit the truth and write it off to one surreal player who was better than all of the most talented threesome in the game when it mattered most.
Dirk, more than anything, happened to Miami.
Dirk hijacked this game from Wade the way Wade and the Heat stole Game 3 of the 2006 finals, in which Miami came back from 13 down in less than seven minutes.
This was perhaps’ the finest minute of Nowitzki’s career. In 57 seconds he scored seven points. The first bucket tied the game, the second gave Dallas the lead and the last drive won it, suctioning every sound from the building.
“I had no trouble holding the ball,” he said when asked of his injured finger. “. . . Definitely a huge comeback for us. And we never gave up. So that was big.”
Meanwhile, LeBron and Wade were grilled for their prolonged euphoria in front of the Dallas bench after Wade’s three-pointer put the Heat up 15 — the notion they had celebrated victory too early.
“We didn’t celebrate,” LeBron kept saying, adding this is getting to be a tired theme.
The fact they kept calling it a non-issue means they’re flustered. And if they are, it’s Dirk’s fault.
Dirk, falling away off one foot, squaring up from behind the three-point line in the final minute to swish through a shot that gave the Mavericks a shocking three-point lead.
Dallas got every stop it needed, every basket made, to make LeBron quiver and resort to mad dribbling without purpose on the perimeter — until Nowitzki became the closer that Wade used to be.
Remember? Once the Mariano Rivera of his sport, Wade closed better than Kobe Bryant some nights. Prior to last summer, when the game was in doubt everyone in the building knew No. 3 was taking the final shot for Miami. And only someone who has been the proverbial “man” for his team can know the supreme feeling of having others trust in their ability alone to win that game.
Dirk was that player Thursday night in a performance that may have saved this series from getting away from Dallas.
Nine points in the final two minutes — a long trey, a spinning, left-handed banker because the double team was coming from the right side and he had to go to his off hand.
That improbable 22-5 run that was easily as devastating to Miami as the 18-3 run the Heat put on the Bulls in Game 5 to steal the Eastern Conference championship with a blitz of a rally.
All net, all even.
Dirknificent 95, LeBron and Assorted Talents Shaken in South Beach 93.
Thank goodness, we have a series.