DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks needed Dirk Nowitzki to keep shooting.
Instead, he threw a pass. And with that, the Mavericks threw away their chance at the lead in the NBA finals.
Nowitzki's turnover was the last and most costly of the Mavericks' 14 Sunday night, and they lost 88-86 to the Miami Heat in Game 3 to fall into a 2-1 deficit.
"We've got to eliminate a couple of the turnovers that lead to quick points," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.
Nowitzki, perhaps the dominant offensive player this postseason, had carried the Mavs again over the final 6 minutes, scoring their final 12 points to tie it at 86 with 1:40 remaining.
But after Chris Bosh's jumper with 39 seconds left, Nowitzki got the ball but saw his lane close down, so he tried to pass to Shawn Marion along the sideline. He was off balance and the ball soared into the seats with 30 seconds to go.
Given a last attempt after LeBron James' missed 3-pointer, Nowitzki did shoot it on the final possession of the game, but he was well defended by Udonis Haslem and the shot bounced off the rim just before the buzzer.
The Mavs know they are at a disadvantage physically against the Heat's athletes, which makes their execution even more important. When the game gets into the full court, the Heat can continually beat the older Mavs players down the floor.
And Miami so frequently capitalized when Dallas did mess up, turning those 14 turnovers into 19 points. The Mavericks should have had the last shot of the first quarter and would have at most been down four points. Instead, J.J. Barea's pass went out of bounds with 3.5 seconds and the Heat hurried up the floor to get Mario Chalmers' 36-foot heave for a 29-22 lead.
Carlisle talked about the difficulty of playing from behind, and the way watching James soar for dunks his players created can become demoralizing. He said the Mavs had "one or two untimely turnovers," but that's all it takes to swing a game that was decided by two points.
Barea turned it over four times in 19 minutes off the bench, perhaps as damaging as his 2 for 8 shooting. Starting point guard Jason Kidd also had four.
"Our overall game's got to be better," Carlisle said.