Dirk’s injury adds to insult for Mavs

MIAMI – A small brace wrapped itself over the tip of Dirk Nowitzki’s(notes) middle finger, held in place by medical gauze and tape.

“I guess it’s not broken,” Dirk said early Wednesday morning, pointing out perhaps the only positive of the NBA Finals opener, a 92-84 victory by the Miami Heat over his Dallas Mavericks.

“There’s a torn tendon in my finger,” he said. “It was just on a freak play. [Chris] Bosh got a bounce pass and stepped in. I thought I stripped him clean and then I kind of looked down and I couldn’t straighten my finger out anymore.

“So I tore a tendon in there. I guess it’ll be all right.”

Dirk Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 27 points in a Game 1 loss to the Heat. He says he'll wear a splint on an injured finger for Game 2.
(Getty Images)

Guess?

“It will be all right,” he said.

An ominous night for Dallas got a lot worse with the disclosure of Nowitzki’s injury. A team with one star defeating a team with three stars is trouble enough. The way the two clubs matched up, especially down the stretch, wasn’t comforting for Dallas. A banged-up middle finger on Nowitzki’s left (non-shooting) hand only adds to the degree of difficulty.

The extent of the injury is still to be determined. Nowitzki said he had X-rays, and that he’d have to play with a splint for the rest of the series.

The injury might help explain his 7-of-18 shooting on the night, some of the misses coming on the low-degree-of-difficulty shots.

“I missed a righty layup,” he said. “I missed a lefty layup that rolled around.”

He could’ve gone on.

Pressure just ramped up for the rest of the Mavericks, a crew that did little to aid their superstar on Tuesday. They shot poorly and scored rarely. They got crushed on the boards – minus-10 on the offensive glass. They let the Heat slow the tempo and get isolation plays for LeBron James(notes) and Dwyane Wade(notes).

“Well, if you look at it, we really didn’t play well at all tonight,” Jason Terry(notes) said. “First quarter [17 points]. Third quarter – 17. That’s not our style of basketball.”

Terry was slumped back in a locker-room chair, an ice pack on his left knee, another on his right shoulder. He’d made just three of his 10 shots and didn’t score in the second half. He’s part of a supporting cast that has to step up and ease the burden on Nowitzki, the only Maverick who can reasonably match the three-pronged attack of James, Wade and Bosh.

Long gone was the run-with-us, soft defense of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The imploding Los Angeles Lakers were a distant memory. Here were the Eastern Conference champions, the defensive-minded Heat, eager to contest every possession, willing to fight for every rebound.

Dallas averaged 105.2 points against OKC. It scored 84 Tuesday and shot a meager 37.3 percent from the floor.

It’s a long series everyone kept saying – the Heat and Mavs alike – but that won’t be true if Dallas doesn’t find relief for Nowitzki. We’ve heard this throughout the playoffs against Miami: the opposing game plan that figures a full team can overwhelm the top-heavy Heat. Boston had a “Big Four” and got beat in five. Chicago went 10 deep and met the same fate.

Now here is Dallas, supposedly deeper, supposedly more balanced and supposedly capable of getting Nowitzki some space when he needed it.

The Mavs aren’t winning this series with just one guy. Yet all they did was reaffirm Miami’s game plan of letting anyone other than Dirk defeat them. And that was before Nowitzki got hurt and the Heat’s much-maligned bench outscored Dallas by 10.

“I actually thought coming in that our bench was going to be the key for us,” Nowitzki said.

Tyson Chandler(notes) blamed it partially on “Finals jitters.” Coach Rick Carlisle promised “we’ll play better.” Terry assured Dallas would hit the open looks Thursday in Game 2. “Those opportunities will be there,” he said.

Miami also will watch tape. It’s never going to be easy against these guys.

“They’re very good defensively,” Nowitzki said. “What makes them so good, they’re so athletic on the wing that even when we swung it sometimes, they’re able to cover a lot of ground, LeBron and Wade, and still run out at our shooters or contest shots on the weak side.

“They’re long and active on the perimeter and when we do get that opportunity to swing the ball, we have to knock shots down. That’s what it comes down to. When we do have some looks, we have to knock them down.”

There wasn’t a whole lot for anyone to say. There was little positive to take from the game other than a solid defensive effort that went to waste.

The role players did little for a team that knew it couldn’t win with just Dirk. A wrapped-up middle finger and a splint that isn’t coming off isn’t making anything easier.

“If you want more info,” Nowitzki said, “you have to talk to my trainer or doc.”

That’s a bad night gone worse.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Jun 1, 2011