the NBA Finals

San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter goes to the basket against the Miami Heat in the first half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals in Miami on Thursday. The Spurs won 107-86.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Larry W. Smith | Daily Texan Staff

This summer the San Antonio Spurs won their fifth NBA championship, crushing the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals four games to one. The 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs are one of the great championship teams in NBA history, and their recent victory further solidified the Spurs as perhaps the best franchise in professional sports. This year’s team also personified the sacrifice of individual acclaim for a greater goal, a characteristic increasingly rare in athletics, which, even on the collegiate level, focus on profit today.

The Spurs avenged last year’s devastating loss to the Heat in the NBA Finals. In Game Six of the 2013 series, the Spurs were on the verge of winning a championship, up by 5 points with 28 seconds left, before a series of errors and miraculous plays by Miami cost them the game. Two days later the Heat won the 2013 NBA crown in Game Seven. It was an absolutely gut-wrenching defeat for Spurs players, coaches and fans, the type of loss that could set a franchise back for years. But the Spurs entered the 2013-2014 season refusing to feel sorry for themselves. In training camp, head coach Gregg Popovich showed the team the film from the 2013 Finals and urged the players to use the loss as motivation for the upcoming season.

And use it they did. The Spurs stressed teamwork over individual performances. The Spurs finished the regular season with the league’s best record, and Popovich won NBA Coach of the Year. Throughout the season and playoffs, the team employed a playing system based on crisp passing, excellent three-point shooting and brilliantly-executed fundamental basketball skills. In the NBA Finals, the Spurs completely dismantled the Miami Heat, with each victory coming by at least 15 points. For his superb play, Kawhi Leonard, a third-year player for the Spurs, was named the Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals. Heat players themselves praised the Spurs.  Chris Bosh, the Heat’s center, exclaimed after the series: “They played the best basketball I’ve ever seen.” LeBron James, the Heat’s Forward and team captain, similarly described San Antonio: “It’s all for the team and it’s never about the individual. That’s the brand of basketball, and that’s how team basketball should be played.”

The Spurs, with their consistent winning and class, are widely considered the model franchise in the NBA, and indeed, one of the best in all of professional sports. Popovich, who played college basketball at the Air Force Academy, is a brilliant tactician who runs his team with military precision while embracing a family-like atmosphere. R. C. Buford, the Spurs’ unassuming general manager, along with Popovich, has a knack for scouting basketball talent around the globe.  (Buford was named the NBA’s top executive this season.)

The Spurs have benefited from having gifted basketball players with selfless personalities on their roster over the years. The team and its players are beloved in the Alamo City and often participate in service events throughout the region, much like UT student athletes do in Austin. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, Hall of Famer George “The Iceman” Gervin, James Silas and UT alum Johnny Moore introduced basketball to San Antonio. In 1989, David Robinson began his Hall of Fame career with the Spurs and achieved much success in the ‘90s with teammates Sean Elliott and Avery Johnson. Not until the arrival of Popovich in late 1996 and Tim Duncan in 1997, however, did the Spurs reach their full potential. Robinson and Duncan formed the “Twin Towers,” using their size to dominate the low post, and won the franchise’s first NBA championship in 1999. The duo won the title again in 2003 in Robinson’s final year, aided by newcomers Manu GinoĢbili, Tony Parker and Bruce Bowen. The Spurs also captured NBA championships in 2005 and 2007. Both the franchise and its players have demonstrated great loyalty to one another. The front office rarely makes blockbuster trades, contributing to a sense of stability in the organization, and Spurs superstars frequently take pay cuts to allow more cap room for the team to spend on free agents who help the team compete for championships.

An individual-first attitude plagues professional sports today. Money too often drives athletes and team owners. Players frequently seem more concerned with earning riches than winning championships. Management seldom exhibits loyalty to athletes, as players suffer the uncertainty of trades and being cut from the team. Owners likewise appear most interested in the bottom line, and are not opposed to moving franchises to other cities if more profits can be made. These negative attributes in professional sports unfortunately can make fans cynical. The issue of money also has become controversial in college sports, as debate rages over whether or not student athletes should be paid for their part in helping university athletic departments make historic profits. Recently, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that student-athletes at Northwestern University could form a union. UT possesses the wealthiest athletic department in the country, and will have a major voice in future discussions about paying college athletes.

Because of the individual-first attitude in professional sports today, it is immensely satisfying to see the San Antonio Spurs rewarded for their team-centered excellence. The 2013-2014 Spurs team deserved this championship for so many reasons. Hard work, talent, game execution and redemption from last year’s brutal defeat, yes, but mostly because the players, coaches, and entire organization conduct themselves with professionalism, loyalty and class that make the Spurs the model NBA franchise.  With hall of fame veteran leadership and emerging stars like Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs are in good shape for the future. Congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs for an amazing championship season and for conducting themselves in a manner that reminds fans how truly great sports can be when individuals sacrifice for a greater team goal.

Briscoe is a history graduate student from Carrizo Springs.

LeBron James pushed the Miami Heat to a 98-96 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in game two of the NBA Finals at the AT&T Center Sunday night. 

After receiving plenty of criticism for leaving game one with cramps, James was dialed in for the second game, dominating the majority of the game. He finished the contest with 35 points and 10 boards.

The game was close throughout, as both teams traded the lead all night long. But, with under a minute and half remaining, Heat forward Chris Bosh hit a go-ahead 3 and Miami held on from there. Bosh finished with 18 points.

With the win, Miami improves to 6-0 Game 2 record when losing the first game of a series.

For the Spurs, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan led the team in a valiant effort. Parker scored 21 points and Duncan finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Duncan’s performance moved him into a tie with Magic Johnson for all-time playoff double-doubles with 157. But Duncan’s historic performance was not enough for San Antonio to get past Miami.

“We didn’t do it as a group,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. “We tried to do it individually, and we aren’t good enough to do that.”

As a team, San Antonio also sturggled mightily from the free throw line, converting just 12 of 20 attempts.

The NBA Finals now transition to Miami for the next two games. Game 3 is Tuesday at 8 p.m.

This is the fourth edition in my series previewing the seasons of NBA teams with former Texas Longhorns players.  

So far I have previewed the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Denver Nuggets, the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics. Today I am breaking down the San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio Spurs

Last season: 58-24, lost 4-3 in the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat    

Longhorn Player: Cory Joseph, PG

There were a few moving parts for the Spurs this offseason. Head coach Gregg Popovich lost two star assistant coaches in Mike Budenholzer and Brett Brown, who left to take the head coaching jobs with the Atlanta Hawks and Philadelphia 76ers respectively. I don’t expect these losses to phase Popovich, who is no stranger to major transitions on the bench. He had no trouble sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 NBA Finals, despite Mike Brown, another of his former assistants, coaching the Cavaliers in that series.

Despite being the Western Conference’s best team last season, San Antonio had a nice chunk of change to spend this offseason. I am not convinced the Spurs spent it as wisely as they could have. The Spurs resigned center Tiago Splitter to a four-year, $36 million deal, as well as longtime core member Manu Ginobili to a two-year, $14 million contract. That price is right for Ginobili, who has shown he is still one of the most versatile guards in the league. Not so much for Splitter — the Spurs likely had to overpay for him out of fear of losing their developing project. He is not worth more per year than Ginobili, even at 36.  

But the name of the game in San Antonio has always been consistency. In that sense, the Spurs excelled this summer.

The Spurs did lose pesky three-point specialist Gary Neal to the Milwaukee Bucks in free agency, but they quickly signed another perimeter weapon in former Chicago Bull Marco Belinelli. He gives San Antonio much more size and length, as well as more efficient shooting. He lacks athleticism and Neal’s speed, but it is important to remember that he will be on the second unit. His job is to knock down open threes, and he will do that very well, as he always has.  

Aside from all of that, the championship core remains intact. This is the number one reason the Spurs might have extended their title window by a couple years. Kawhi Leonard has all-star potential, and is becoming a more complete offensive player each year. Tony Parker is still one of the league’s top five, possibly top three point guards. Tim Duncan had a 10-year flashback last season, and Ginobili’s play merited his new contract. Danny Green had an unbelievable NBA Finals debut last season, and will return this season.

Once again the bench is deep and productive, benefited by Popovich’s plug-and-play system that allows anyone to step in and maximize his ability. That unit is headlined by former Texas Longhorn Cory Joseph, who will be Parker’s primary backup, Belinelli, swingman Boris Diaw, sharpshooter Matt Bonner and the slight but explosive Australian guard Patty Mills. You can count on this bench to hold its place among the league’s top five in production. Bottom Line: There isn’t really a weakness with this Spurs team. It will allow its fair share of points to one of the most impressive western conferences in league history, but it can still outgun quite a few teams. If Duncan can continue to drink from the fountain of youth and Parker and Ginobili stay healthy — 70 games or more — this team has a chance to win the West again. Additionally, it can expect Leonard and Splitter to continue their development and increase their nightly contributions.

In an always-brutal Western Conference that will be a notch tougher this season, I’ll give the Spurs 57 wins — one fewer than last year. Depending on the matchups in the conference finals, I can see them going to the NBA Finals again. If they run into the Golden State Warriors or the Los Angeles Clippers, they’ll have a tough time. Anyone else — see you in June.  

As we creep up on the 2013-2014 NBA season, let’s take a look at the biggest moments from the historically significant 2012-2013 NBA season. 

1. Lebron James is on his way to becoming a Top 5 player in NBA history. Even if James were to retire today, he would easily make the Top 15, boasting a resume that includes two NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVPs and four NBA MVPs. The often-maligned James has finally shut up his critics who point to his lack of mental fortitude. If scoring 37 points in the NBA Finals Game 7 will not quiet those critics, nothing ever will. Twenty-five years from now, James’ jump shot in the NBA Finals Game 7 with the score at 90-88 will aptly embody the growth and dominance of the greatest basketball player of this millennium. 

2. Tim Duncan, the best power forward ever, didn’t look 37 for most of the NBA Finals. Father Time is said to be unbeaten, but I’m not so sure about that anymore, considering Duncan has continuously led the Spurs franchise even as age creeps in. Still, the Spurs remain overlooked. The favorites listed to win the next NBA title usually include the Heat, Pacers, Bulls and Thunder. But, for most people, the “old” Spurs still come as an afterthought. 

3. There are many superstars with a lot to prove in the 2013-2014 NBA season. Aging superstars Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki must prove they can still play at an elite level after undergoing an Achilles tendon surgery and an arthroscopic surgery, respectively. Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard must overcome their terrible public images as Rose sat out all last season and Howard had problems with his team, yet again.  

4. There is no single blueprint to win in the NBA. The Spurs organization and the Heat organization couldn’t be any more different. Aside from both teams boasting a Big Three, there are no striking resemblances between these finals titans. The Spurs organization was built through the draft, looks for foreign players who fit the Spurs’ system and has a tremendously old core supported by a young supporting cast. The Heat organization was built through free agency, looks for players to complement Lebron James and features a young core with an aging supporting cast. There is no secret panacea for attaining success in the NBA other than having the utmost commitment to whatever quality system a team employs. The five front-running contenders — Heat, Spurs, Pacers, Thunder and Bulls — all have different philosophies and have taken different roads to get to the position they are in today. 

Udonis Haslen and Gary Neal were big parts of their teams' runs to the NBA finals and both have one thing in common with former Longhorn Myck Kabongo. They all went undrafted.

On Thursday night, 60 players were chosen to continue their careers, but Kabongo was not one of them.

After a disappointing sophomore season that saw Kabongo sidelined for 23 games due to NCAA violations and after Texas missed the NCAA tournament, Kabongo left for the draft on questionable grounds.

Many believed Kabongo would be a second round pick, but the five-star stud out of high school is the second Longhorn in a row to be passed over in the draft. 

The Canadian-born player, who is a former McDonald’s All-American, will now attempt to earn himself a spot on a summer league team similar to former Longhorn J’Covan Brown. Brown went undrafted in 2012 before joining the Miami Heat in the summer league. However, an injury kept him from playing.

Kabongo could also find himself in the NBA’s development league or test the waters internationally if he isn’t able to land a spot on an NBA roster.

In keeping with the tradition of this series, Game 5 of the NBA Finals was all about a team trying to make a comeback. After trading wins with the Miami Heat in the first four games, the San Antonio Spurs survived a late-game push by the Heat to pull out an impressive 114-104 victory Sunday night in their last contest at home for the season.

About an hour before tipoff, a surprising announcement was made by the Spurs that would ultimately affect the outcome of this match: Manu Ginobili, who customarily fills the role of sixth man for the team, would be part of the starting lineup for the first time all season.

Gregg Popovich’s boldness paid off: Ginobili hadn’t had a game where he’d scored over 20 points with nine assists since November of 2010. But he capitalized on a hot start, and finished with 24 points and 10 assists this evening. Ginobili is considering retirement following this season.

Whereas Game 4 ultimately became a contest between two teams’ Big Threes, tonight’s story was all about role players. One glance at the box score tells you everything you need to know: all five of the Spurs’ starters finished with scoring in double figures (and combined for 107 points) while only three of Miami’s finished in double digits.

In addition to Ginobili’s podium game, Tony Parker provided a very productive 26 minutes while battling a strained hamstring, finishing with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting and five assists. Tim Duncan had 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and pulled down 12 rebounds. Kawhi Leonard also shot the ball well; he had 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting (with 2-of-4 coming from three point range) and eight rebounds.

In a game where, as a team, the Spurs shot 60% from the floor for the game (at halftime, they were shooting a cool 61.8% from the floor, their highest first half in the postseason since 2007), Danny Green was entirely other tonight. His 24 points came on 8-of-15 shooting with 6-of-10 coming from beyond the arc, including a dagger three in the fourth quarter to all but close this one out.

Green got into the record books with this game, with the most made three-pointers in a Finals series ever (he’s made 25). The record-breaking three came with Ray Allen, the previous record holder with 22 made threes, guarding him. Green also chipped in six assists and played lockdown transition defense. If the Spurs win the series, Green is making quite a case for Finals MVP.

The Miami Heat’s starters (and role players) were simply outscored in Game 5. Though LeBron finished with 25 points, six rebounds, eight assists, and four steals, it came on 8-of-22 shooting and he visibly was having a difficult time shaking Boris Diaw’s defense. Dwyane Wade also struggled, ending up with 25 points on 10-of-22 shooting, four rebounds and 10 assists. Chris Bosh went for 16 points and six rebounds. Ray Allen contributed 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, boasting a perfect 4-of-4 from three and Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers combined for 14 points and five rebounds.
The Spurs ripped off three significant runs at different points in this game: 19-1, 15-2 and 10-0, forced 13 turnovers and pulled down 36 rebounds to Miami’s 34.
The Spurs lead the series 3-2 as they head to Miami for Game 6 at 8 PM Tuesday.

In what turned out to be only the second (reasonably) close game in this series so far, Game 4 of the NBA Finals became one of revenge for the Miami Heat. After suffering the third worst loss in Finals history (113-77) in Game 3, Miami righted the ship and beat the Spurs soundly Thursday evening, handing them a 109-93 defeat on their home floor in San Antonio.

Right from the opening tip, Miami played with laser-focus, desperation and in very clear attack-mode. They forced a 20 point swing in their favor in the first half. They played suffocating defense. They adjusted their starting lineup. They scored in the paint. And they won.

This contest was a tale of two teams’ Big Threes: the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker combined for 40 points on 14-of-31 shooting, with 11 rebounds and 12 assists. Miami’s LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade combined for 85 points on 37-of-64 shooting, with 30 rebounds and nine assists. That’s just eight points less than the entire Spurs team scored all night and accounted for 78% of the Heat’s offense.

James’ aggression set the tone in the first quarter and he heated up early, finishing with 33 points on 15-of-25 shooting, 11 rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and two steals. Center Chris Bosh went for 20 points, 13 rebounds, one assist, two blocked shots and two steals and Ray Allen added 14 points on 50% shooting.

But it was Dwyane Wade who ended up having the real podium game. After 39 minutes of play, his final line boasted 32 points on 14-of-25 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, one blocked shot and six steals. After a solid first half, he dominated the second half, taking the ball up the floor, running the offense, drawing defenders and looking for his own shot. This was his first 30 point game since March 4th. He had only eight over the course of the entire season.

For San Antonio, Tony Parker, hobbled somewhat by a strained hamstring, finished with 15 points, nine assists and four rebounds on 7-of-16 shooting. Kawhi Leonard went for 12 points and seven rebounds, and the Texas version of the Splash Brothers (or, Gary Neal and Danny Green) combined for 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting (with 6-of-9 from three point range), seven rebounds and four assists. Tim Duncan was the best player on the floor Thursday night for the Spurs, ending up with 20 points, five rebounds and just one assist..

In the end, Miami’s defense beat the Spurs offense. The Spurs’ rhythm was visibly disrupted. They ran in transition less, passed the ball less and attempted fewer three pointers (in Game 3, they made 16 threes. In Game 4, they attempted that many). They had the ball stolen 13 times and turned the ball over 18 times. Miami turned it over nine times and had the ball stolen just five. The Spurs got to the free throw line 31 times (14 more than Miami), but still couldn’t capitalize, only making 23 shots.

The series, now tied 2-2, will stay in San Antonio for Game 5 at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

When two of the league's deepest and most talented teams collided Thursday night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the results could've hardly been better. This game had a little something for everybody: intense pace, execution and mind-blowing heroics from superstars. 

The rest versus rust debate regarding the San Antonio Spurs after ten days off was quickly and decisively laid to rest after a blistering first quarter. Down four at the half, the patient Spurs got what they needed to come back for a 92-88 statement win and a 1-0 lead in the Finals. And all with only four turnovers. On the road. In the finals.

Tim Duncan was his usual consistent self, putting up a more-than-solid 20 points and 14 rebounds. Manu Ginobili chipped in 13 points and both Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard combined for 22 points on 7-of-18 shooting with 15 rebounds.  And then there was Tony Parker. 

Parker finished with 21 points and 50 percent shooting with six assists, though it felt more like 50 points and 18 assists. Plus the crossover, the spin move. And that shotclock beater was essential. 

However, the Miami Heat did not give up easily. The Heat outscored the Spurs in the first two quarters. Dwayne Wade scored 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting and Chris Bosh went for 14 points. Ray Allen went 3-of-4 from the three point line and finished with 13 points from the bench. LeBron James notched a triple double (18/18/10) but failed to meet expectations, scoring 18 points in Game 1. 

In Game 2 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, the Spurs fell to the Miami Heat 84-103 to tie the series at one win apiece. The Heat took advantage of an uncharacteristic fourth quarter breakdown and 16 turnovers by the Spurs. 

The game was won towards the end of the third quarter when Miami ripped off a 33-5 run in which they had 6-of-7 shooting, 5-of-5 coming from the three point range. 

San Antonio's Big Three struggled throughout the contest combining for 27 points, 16 rebounds, two assists and nine turnovers. Parker had 13 points with five assists and five rebounds. Duncan had what was arguably the worst playoff performance of his career with nine points, 11 rebounds and only one assist, shooting just 3-of-13. 

The Spurs, however, did get some help from their bench in Leonard, who contributed nine points, 14 rebounds and two assists. Green was perfect from the three-point range shooting 6-of-6. Former Longhorn Cory Joseph added eight points and three rebounds. 

James contributed 17 points for the Heat with eight rebounds and seven assists. Bosh had his best game since facing the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, shooting 6-of-10. Wade had 10 points with two rebounds and six assists. 

Mario Chalmers, however, headlined for the Heat. Chalmers went for 19 points and four rebounds. 

The Spurs and Heat face off Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in San Antonio for Game 3. 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

For all the points, rebounds and assists that filled Kevin Durant's impressive stat line, it was a defensive play he made that fired up his coach and teammates.

"That's his first charge of the year," Russell Westbrook interjected when Durant, who played for the Longhorn basketball team during his freshman year at UT, was asked about drawing an offensive foul against Manu Ginobili in the fourth quarter of Oklahoma City's 107-99 win in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday night.

Indeed, it was.

The league's three-time scoring champion had 34 points and 14 rebounds while playing all of regulation for the first time all season, leading the Thunder into the NBA finals. But it was taking that charge that got his team pumped up.

Durant stepped in front of Ginobili's drive during a 3½-minute scoreless stretch by San Antonio that allowed Oklahoma City to take the lead for good.

"I just wanted to go out there and sacrifice my body for my team. I knew that would give us a little spark," Durant said.

"Manu's an unbelievable player at twisting his body and making crazy shots, so I just wanted to time it right. It felt good to get that for my team and I could tell they were excited that I got my first one when I looked at the bench."

Westbrook added 25 points for the Thunder, who trailed by 18 in the first half and erased a 15-point halftime deficit.

The Thunder took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter, getting nine of their first 13 points on free throws as the fouls started to pile up for San Antonio — six on the defensive end and three on the offensive end in the first 7 minutes.

That included Durant's stop just outside the restricted area under the basket.

"Down the stretch, it seemed like they got every whistle possible and that really changed the tide," San Antonio's Tim Duncan said. "We were playing tough defense and trying to get stops, but the whistle kept blowing and they went to the line."

Tony Parker finished with 29 points and 12 assists, but only eight of the points and two assists came after San Antonio took a 63-48 halftime lead. Duncan chipped in 25 points and 14 rebounds, and Stephen Jackson hit six 3-pointers and scored 23 points.

The Spurs had won 20 in a row, moving past the Thunder for home-court advantage in the West and then taking a 2-0 lead in the series, before losing four in a row.

"There's not much to complain about," Ginobili said. "We had a great run. We just couldn't beat these guys."

Durant grabbed the final rebound, dribbled the ball across half court and raised his right fist to celebrate with a sold-out crowd wearing free white T-shirts. The franchise will play for the NBA title for the first time since 1996, when it was in Seattle.

Game 1 of the NBA finals will be Tuesday night in Oklahoma City against either Boston or Miami. The Celtics lead that series 3-2 and can earn a trip to the finals with a win at home in Game 6 on Thursday night.

Durant celebrated even before the final buzzer, hugging his mother and brother seated courtside after a foul was called with 14 seconds remaining.

"I never want to take those moments for granted," Durant said. "I know it's just one step closer to our dreams, but it felt good."

Coach Scott Brooks said he was not going to take Durant out of the game, no matter how many times his All-Star gave him a fatigued look.

"Kevin's an amazing young man," Brooks said. "His stat line is not even close to who he is as a young man. He's respected by his teammates, by the staff, by the city. He's a great ambassador to this league and I'm proud to coach him. He wants to be coached.

"He's a great leader."

The Thunder, only three years removed from a 3-29 start that had them on pace for the worst record in NBA history, went through the only three West teams to reach the finals since 1998 — Dallas, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio — to earn their shot at the title.

Derek Fisher and James Harden hit 3-pointers in a three-possession span to increase the lead to 99-93 with 3:13 remaining. Jackson, who had made his previous six 3-pointers, and Parker both missed 3s that would have gotten the Spurs within 103-102 in the final minute.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich thought the game was lost in the third quarter, when the Spurs were "playing in mud."

The Spurs got quick offense in the first half and made 9 of 15 from 3-point range while shooting 55 percent overall.

Parker, who had been largely bottled up ever since the Thunder put 6-foot-7 defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha on him in Game 3, had a hand in the Spurs' first 12 baskets, making seven on his own and assisting on the other five.

Kawhi Leonard and Jackson followed his three-point play by nailing back-to-back 3-pointers for a 34-16 advantage in the final 2 minutes of the first quarter.

The youthful Thunder stormed back with an 11-2 run to start the third quarter and eventually pulled ahead after Durant's 3-pointer from the top of the key made it 79-77 with 1:41 left in the period.

"We can't have their legs, their energy. We are never going to jump as high or run as fast," Ginobili said. "But the first half we did a great job, we just moved the ball to find teammates, made shots. In the second half, they were very active and we couldn't find anything easy."

Daily Texan staff member Nick Hadjigeorge contributed to this report. 

Miami Heat's LeBron James (6) and Dallas Mavericks' Tyson Chandler go after a rebound during the second half of Game 4 of the NBA Finals basketball game Tuesday, June 7, 2011, in Dallas. The Mavericks won the game 86-83 to tie the series at 2-2. (AP Photo/Robyn Beck; Pool)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

DALLAS — Coughing and wheezing, his temperature spiking to 101, worn out from hardly sleeping the night before, Dirk Nowitzki went through three miserable quarters in Game 4 of the NBA finals. Yet the fourth quarter was his time to shine. Again. And now the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat are starting over in the NBA finals, this best-of-7 series reduced to a best-of-three. Nowitzki fought through a sinus infection and everything else that ailed him and his team to power a 21-9 run over the final 10:12, lifting the Mavericks to a memorable 86-83 victory Tuesday night. He scored 10 of his 21 points — including a driving right-handed layup that spun in off the backboard with 14.4 seconds left — and grabbed five of his 11 rebounds in the final period as Dallas pulled off its second stunning finish this series. "Just battle it out," Nowitzki said, sniffing throughout his postgame interview with his warm-up jacket zipped all the way up, still in his uniform instead of changing into street clothes like the NBA prefers. "This is the finals. You have to go out there and compete and try your best for your team. So that's what I did." The Mavs avoided going down 3-1, a deficit no team has ever overcome in the finals, and guaranteed the series will return to Miami for a Game 6 on Sunday night. Game 5 is Thursday night in Dallas, and Nowitzki vowed to be ready. "There's no long term," Nowitzki said. "I'll be all right on Thursday. ... Hopefully I'll get some sleep tonight, take some meds and be ready to go on Thursday." Nowitzki wasn't as dominant as Michael Jordan when he scored 38 points despite a 103-degree fever in Game 5 of the 1997 finals — but it was that kind of performance down the stretch. If the Mavericks wind up winning their first championship, this performance will go down in NBA lore, topping his effort in Game 2, when he bounced back from a torn tendon in the tip of his left middle finger to score the final nine points in Dallas' 22-5 rally, including two left-handed layups. By comparison, consider how meek a healthy LeBron James played Tuesday. James scored only eight points, ending a double-figure scoring streak of 433 consecutive games, regular season and postseason. It was the first time in 90 playoff games that he scored such few points. He made only 3 of 11 shots — a tip-in, a 15-foot jumper and a breakaway dunk. Not only did he not score in the fourth quarter, he took only one shot while playing all 12 minutes. "I've got to do a better job of being more assertive offensively," said James, who nonetheless contributed nine rebounds and seven assists. "I'm confident in my ability. It's just about going out there and knocking them down." Dwyane Wade led Miami with 32 points, but missed a free throw with 30.1 seconds left and fumbled an inbounds pass with 6.7 seconds left. He knocked the ball back to Mike Miller for a potential tying 3-pointer, but it wasn't even close to hitting the rim. Fans jumped to their feet and began roaring as soon as they could tell the ball was off-target. Dallas players savored it, too, except for Nowitzki, who walked off looking somewhat sullen, obviously ready for a hot shower and a warm bed. The illness hit Monday night. After struggling to get any rest, he showed up for shootaround but hardly did anything. His condition was kept a secret, and he helped keep it that way by hitting his first three shots. Then he missed 10 of 11 and it was obvious something was wrong. The biggest giveaway: he also missed a free throw for the first time since Game 4 of the conference finals. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle tried resting Nowitzki as much as he could. During timeouts, he stayed in his chair as long as possible, trying to conserve every ounce of energy. "You've got a guy that's 7 foot, there's a different kind of toll it takes on your body when you're sick," Carlisle said. "Everyone could tell looking at him that he labored." This series is now more fascinating than ever. After the last two games were decided by two points, the first time that happened in the finals since 1998, this one was decided by three. In many ways, it was the best one yet because of how tight it was throughout. The Heat seemed to have taken control when they led 74-65, their biggest lead of the night. But Dallas went to a zone and Miami struggled. Jason Terry — who kick-started that comeback with six straight points — made consecutive baskets, and the surge was on. Terry ended up capping it with two free throws with 6.7 seconds left that forced Miami to need a 3-pointer. Dallas finally got the balanced scoring attack it wanted. Terry had 17, Shawn Marion 16 and Chandler had 13 points and 16 rebounds. DeShawn Stevenson, who moved to the bench so J.J. Barea could join the starting lineup, scored 11 points for Dallas. Bosh scored 24 points for Miami, but the Heat got little beyond its three superstars. Miller scored six points, Mario Chalmers had five and Haslem and Joel Anthony each scored four points.