MIAMI -- Something has to give.
Heading into the Finals, the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat had each owned the fourth quarter in their long road to the championship. The Mavericks had outscored opponents by 22 points in the fourth, and the Heat had beaten their adversaries then by a total of 23 points in the first three rounds. And in Game 1 on Tuesday, the Heat found themselves up just four points heading into the final period, and, considering the Mavericks' fourth-quarter rallies as of late, the score might as well have been tied.
But the Heat hung on, holding the Mavericks to just 23 points in the final frame, earning an eight-point victory in front of their home crowd.
Game 2 was a little different. After holding the Mavericks to just two points in the first 5:45 of the fourth quarter, the Heat collapsed, allowing the Mavericks to go on a 22-5 run to finish the game. The Heat offense shut down, and the defense lay down.
Seeing the two teams battle for fourth-quarter supremacy in this series is no different from watching two trains on track for a head-on collision. The Mavericks have crushed teams with their offensive firepower in the fourth quarter, and the Heat had chosen a different route, hammering teams with their stifling defense. In the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Mavericks posted a scorching 117.3 offensive efficiency in the fourth quarter (about seven points above their postseason norm). And the Heat? They suffocated teams with a 94.2 defensive efficiency in the final frame (several ticks below their postseason norm).
One closes with defense, and the other closes with offense. Something has to give -- and the numbers show that one team has a clear edge.