The Mavs came from 15 points down with just under five minutes to go to win Game 4 in OT vs the Thunder and last night, closed out Oklahoma City with another late surge, outscoring the Thunder 14-4 in the last 4:37, turning a six-point deficit into a 100-96 win. Nowitzki hit a HUGE three with 1:14 left that put the Mavericks ahead for good and then made the game-clinching free throws. Since blowing a 23-point lead in the final 14 minutes of Game 4 of a first-round series against Portland, Dallas has won 10 of 11 games (5-0 on the road) to advance to the franchise’s second-ever NBA Finals. Don’t think it’s not a big deal. The Mavs are the only other team in the Western Conference to play in the NBA Finals since the strike-shortened 1998-99 season, other than the Lakers or the Spurs. The Lakers have made seven appearance (five wins), the Spurs four (four wins) and the Mavs two (‘06 and now 2011).
Dallas won but didn’t cover last night, breaking a stretch of 34 consecutive ATS wins by the SU winner this postseason. The Mavs are now 12-3 SU and a remarkable 13-2 ATS this postseason. Dirk had 26 points last night and has averaged 28.4 PPG and 7.5 RPG this postseason. Marion had a HUGE game (26 points and eight rebounds) while Barea (14-4-5) and Terry (12) added 26 points off the bench. Terry is the team's second-leading scorer for Dallas this postseason (17.3) and while Marion (11.2) is the only other player averaging in double-figures, Dallas has gotten significant contributions from seven players (including Marion) other than Dirk and Terry (more on that in my NBA Finals preview). One quick shout out to head coach Rick Carlisle. The Mavs are a perfect 3-0 this postseason in games in which they have had a chance to clinch a playoff series, giving Carlisle a 10-3 (.769) mark in potential series clinching games during his career. That ties him with Tommy Heinsohn for the best win percentage in such situations in NBA history. This guy is very underrated.
As for the Thunder, while Westbrook had 31 points (eight rebounds and five assists) and Durant 23, the other three starters (Ibaka, Perkins and Sefolosha) made a combined 1-of-8 shots for just two points while playing 56 minutes. Harden had 23 off the bench plus Collison added 12 points and 12 rebounds but the Thunder were again just awful from three-point range. In losing three straight games in this series to Dallas (after tying the series at one-all with a Game 2 win in Dallas), the Thunder made 7-of-46 three-pointers (15.2 percent) in Games 3-5. Durant averaged 28.0 PPG and 9.4 RPG this series but shot just 42.9 percent, including 7-of-30 (23.3 percent) on threes. Westbrook averaged 23.6-4.8-4.8 in the series but shot only 36.0 percent (2-of-10 on threes).
The Dallas win and non-cover makes home teams 5-4 SU but 4-5 ATS in the conference finals. Home teams are now 51-23 (.689) this postseason, going 35-36-3 ATS. The game went under, giving us exactly 37 overs and 37 unders through 74 postseason games in 2011. “Zig-Zaggers” ended a three-game losing streak with an ATS win on the Thunder but remain sub-.500 this postseason at 28-29-3 ATS (minus-3.9 net games). The play tonight would be on the Bulls, who host the Heat in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals at 8:30 ET on TNT. Chicago is favored by three points and the total is 180.
The Bulls had EVERY chance to win Game 4, despite once again, playing far from a perfect game. However, the team which was the NBA's best fourth quarter-team during the regular season with a plus-187 point differential in the final period and overtime, failed down the stretch on Tuesday night. Miami outscored Chicago 22-17 in the fourth quarter of Game 4 and then 16-8 in the OT, to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. I say commanding because in NBA playoff history, just EIGHT teams have overcome 3-1 deficits in a a best-of-seven series to come back and win. The Bulls have been outscored 80-55 by the Heat over the last three games in the fourth quarter (plus Game 4’s OT).
The Heat are just one win away from the team’s second-ever appearance in the NBA Finals and that was “the plan” when LeBron made “The Decision.” LeBron and Bosh joined Wade in Miami and the team's “Big 3” has been just that this postseason. LBJ has averaged 25.9-8.7-5.4, Wade 23.9-7.3-4.2 and Bosh 18.5-8.9. The team’s fourth-best scorer is Jones at 6.5 PPG. However, the guy who stunned the Celtics with 25 points in Game 1 of the Boston series, has totaled a modest 15 points the last eight games, not even being used in the last two. However, while Miami’s supporting cast has not contributed all that much offensively, the Heat have continued their excellent team defense this postseason (have allowed 88.9 PPG) and that takes more than just three players.
However, the Bulls hadn’t lost three straight all season until this series and let’s not forget this team was a league-best 36-5 SU at home during the regular season. The Bulls have remained the NBA’s stingiest defensive team in this year’s postseason, as no team is allowing less than the 86.8 PPG that they are. Only Miami owns a better defensive FG percentage than the Bulls (just barely, 42.3 to Chicago’s 42.5) and the Bulls own the top rebounding margin of any postseason team at plus-6.27 per game (more than double that of Miami’s 3.07). That sets the stage for tonight’s game.