How it Happened: Possession-by-Possession Breakdown of Dallas’ incredible midnight rally

How on Earth did the Dallas Mavericks do what they did last night? At the 6:36 mark of the 4th Quarter the game was securely in the hands of the Miami Heat, 88-73.  From that point onward, Dallas outscored Miami 22-5.  How did it happen?

Well, first of all, let’s ask this question. Did Miami go into a “Four Minute Drill” to use a football term (thats what Packers Coach Mike McCarthy calls the Packers strategy for killing the clock late in the fourth quarter with the lead) as some members of the press are alleging?

The answer is yes, they did. And with disastrous results.  There were 12 possessions for each team in the final 6:36.  Here is exactly how each played out according to time of possession and points yielded for each team:

MIAMI secs pts DALLAS secs pts
Poss 1 20 0 Poss 1 27 0
Poss 2  29 0 Poss 2 10 2
Poss 3 16 0 Poss 3 4 2
Poss 4 27 0 Poss 4 7 2
Poss 5 23 2 Poss 5 20 2
Poss 6 27 0 Poss 6 16 3
Poss 7 18 0 Poss 7 15 2
Poss 8 23 0 Poss 8 9 2
Poss 9 54 0 Poss 9 25 0
Poss 10 21 0 Poss 10  3 2
Poss 11 2 3 Poss 11 9 3
Poss 12 3 0 Poss 12 21 2
TOTAL 4:23 5 TOTAL 2:13 22

Clearly, the Miami Heat intended to extract as much time as possible from each of their final 12 possessions, excluding the final 2 possessions, when they no longer had the lead.  As you can see, the Heat held an almost 2 to 1 advantage in time of possession in that time.

The problem was, they produced 2 measly free throws in their first 10 possessions. Meanwhile, they allowed an almost unthinkable 17 points in Dallas corresponding 10 possessions.  Astoundingly, the Mavericks produced points on 10 of their final 12 possessions, including 7 in a row at one point.

So was it wrong for Miami to employ the “Four Minute Drill” at the 6:36 mark? Even though the strategy failed miserably, I’m inclined to say no. I think the odds say it was absolutely the correct move.

Look at it from the perspective available to Heat Coach Erik Spoelestra during the timeout at the 6:36 mark.  He probably calculated thusly: There are 396 seconds left in the game.  If you figure that the fastest Dallas can find a decent shot in each of their final possessions would be about 10 seconds, then if we can kill around 22 seconds per possessions, that makes this a 12.4 possession per team game (ignoring the possibility of Dallas fouling at the end — but that would almost guarantee an extension of the lead for Miami).

Okay, to that point in the game, Dallas had used around 76 possessions and had produced 73 points, 0.96 points per possession.  Even if Miami drop kicked the ball to end each of their 12 projected possessions (which, ironically, they kind of did), the Mavericks would still come up two possessions short of tying the game.  The odds are in his favor.

This is especially true if one considers that the Heat had produced 1.157 points per possession to that point.

What if one figures the Mavs hit at their season average of 1.09 points per possession? Still they would need about 14.3 possessions.

Anyway you cut it, the Heat’s strategy for killing the clock by limiting the amount and time available to Dallas to mount a comeback looked logically sound.

It just didn’t work.

By the by, here are the Win Scores recorded by each player who did something in the last 6:36 (I don’t know who guarded whom, and the players who played but are not mentioned, you can assume they recorded a big fat zero — which would be a better Win Score than the ones recorded by each of the Big Three!!)

Haslem -0.5   Nowitzki 7
Wade -1   Terry 4
Chalmers 0.5   Kidd 4
LBJ -3   Chandler 0.5
Bosh -2   Marion 2
Anthony 0      
Miller 0      
TOTAL: -6   TOTAL: 17.5

17.5 Win Score points for the Dallas Mavericks to -6.0 Win Score points for the Miami Heat!  Incredible discrepancy. And it was Nowitzki who led the way, followed by Terry, and the generally unsung hero of the Mavericks, the phenomenally productive Jason Kidd.

But the bottom line is, if the Miami Heat play any kind of defense at all in the final 6:36, they almost certainly win. 

They played none, and they lost.


2 Responses to “How it Happened: Possession-by-Possession Breakdown of Dallas’ incredible midnight rally”

  1. Chris Ross Says:

    Very good breakdown man. I don’t think this Miami meltdown is a sign of things to come. It was a meltdown of epic proportions for sure but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that Miami has been the better team for a very large portion of this series. The Mavericks were lucky that the Heat let down for 7 minutes. Dirk Nowitzki was something else in those last few minutes and the Heat went back to their old ways earlier in the season of bad shots. It’s another lesson learned for the Miami Heat who have shown us all season that they do have the resilience to overcome these types of things. All the adversity has made them a better team and I don’t see why this will be any different. Also, you think you could check out my blog cuz I’d love to hear what you have to say.

  2. nerdnumbers Says:

    Hey Ty,
    Random question, we occasionally include you on e-mail threads. Do you get those? We quote your work quite often on the podcast, it would be great to get you directly. Anyway e-mail me back at if you want to talk more!

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