MIAMI _ That quest to win their first NBA championship just got a lot tougher for the Dallas Mavericks.
Not only did the Mavs drop Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 92-84, to the Miami Heat on Tuesday, they also now have to worry about the health of All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki.
With 3:44 remaining in the game, Chris Bosh came barreling down the lane and Nowitzki thought he got a clean swipe at the ball. Nowitzki was whistled for a foul on the play, and Bosh buried the two free throws to provide the Heat with a 79-73 lead.
Nowitzki, however, wound up tearing a tendon in his left middle finger on the play, although he did not leave the game. X-rays were negative and Nowitzki plans to wear a splint on the finger on his non-shooting hand for the duration of this series.
“It was just a freaky play,’’ Nowitzki said. “Bosh got a bounce pass and I stepped in.
“I thought I stripped him clean and then I kind of looked down and I couldn’t straighten my finger out any more. So I tore a tendon in there.’’
Nowitzki, though, is optimistic the injury won’t affect him the rest of this series.
“I guess it will be all right,’’ he said. “I have to wear a splint probably for the rest of the playoffs – for a couple of weeks – but I will be all right.
“It’s on my left hand, so I’ll be all right for Thursday.’’
Game 2 is Thursday at 8 p.m. before the series moves to Dallas, beginning Sunday with Game 3.
The Mavs, though, must make some major improvements between now and the start of Game 2, or else Game 2 will have a similar ending as Game 1. For starters, they’ve got to find a way to attack the boards better and get themselves in position to make a higher percentage of shots.
On Tuesday, the Mavs shot just 37.3 percent from the field, turned the ball over 11 times and were hammered on the boards, 46-36, including 16-6 on the offensive end.
“Our shot-making has to be better and our rebounding has to be better,’’ coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’re minus 10 on offensive boards.
“That’s 10 more opportunities that they have the ball and we don’t.’’
Despite their poor play at the offensive end of the court, the Mavs were still within striking distance of the Heat in the waning minutes.
A three-point play by Shawn Marion got the Mavs within 77-73 with 3:58 left. Then came the injury to Nowitzki and a three-point bucket by Dwyane Wade.
That was followed by a dunk by LeBron James, a pair of free throws by Mario Chalmers, a dunk from Chris Bosh off an assist from Wade, and a flying dunk by James via a lob pass from Wade.
It all happened in a flash and put the Mavs in a hole in a series for the first time this year.
“I thought there were some critical situations where we needed to somehow come up with one loose ball here or go make a shot there that would have made a big difference, but it didn’t happen,’’ Carlisle said. “We’ve got to look at the film, see what’s what, in terms of what adjustments are appropriate.
“But we have to play better all-around basketball. We have to make more shots.’’
Despite their poorest shooting of this postseason, the Mavs led 17-16 after the first period and 44-43 at the half. But they got outscored 49-40 in the second half when James and Wade took over the game at both ends of the floor.
James defended Terry in the second half and held him scoreless after Terry poured in 12 points off the bench in the first half. Overall, the Heat reserves outscored their Mavs counterparts, 27-17, with Chalmers scoring 12 points.
“Their bench outplayed our bench,’’ said Marion, who finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. “But for the most part we think we had chances to get a hold of this game and we let it out of our hands.
“We got complacent and really just tried to play a half-court game, which is OK because we’ve done a good job of doing it. But we also have to play ball.’’
Miami’s Big 3 certainly came to play ball. James finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, Wade had 22 points and 10 boards, and Bosh collected 19 points and nine rebounds.
Bosh had 13 of his points in the first half when he knew he would have a great advantage, because the Mavs had to keep close tabs on James and Wade.
“I know they’re going to pay a lot of attention defensively to both of those guys,’’ Bosh said. “So I really used the beginning of games to kind of get myself involved and get some shots at the rim, maybe take it a few times and try to get to the fee throw line.
“Any time I get myself more involved in the game I have more confidence.’’
The Mavs certainly have to do something to boost their confidence. They got 27 points and eight rebounds form Nowitzki, those 16 from Marion and 12 from terry, but hardly anyone else showed up on offense.
So how did the Mavs’ offense go stale?
“I think we were just calling so many sets,’’ Marion said. “It just kind of took the rhythm out of everything we normally do.
“When we’re out there free-lancing and just playing the game and making it up as we go, we’re one of the best to do it.’’
The loss was just the second in the last 12 playoff games for the Mavs. They walked away knowing they have to get mentally and physically tougher if they plan of locking down this series against a team that knocked them off in the 2006 Finals.
“Look, it’s a long series and we’ll adjust and do the things we need to do to get ourselves in a better position,’’ Carlisle said. “This is a very good basketball team we’re playing.
“They were more opportunistic tonight than we were. We’ve been very opportunistic. Tonight we weren’t as much.’’
-- Dwain Price
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