Mavericks' rallies reign supreme

DALLAS -- Sorry, Jason Terry. We shouldn't have snickered after you sat there and defiantly told us about these Dallas Mavericks being so mentally tough.

It seemed ridiculous at the time, as the Mavs sat in the visitors locker room of the Rose Garden and stewed over another maddening playoff meltdown. A 23-point lead went poof in Portland that night, which certainly seemed to be concrete proof that these were the same ol' Mavs, not championship contenders.

Heck, the rally led by Brandon Roy marked only the second time in a decade that a team had come back to win a playoff game after trailing by at least 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Fast forward a few rounds. That list of late, long-shot postseason comebacks over the past 10 years has doubled. And Dallas was on the right side of both of those rallies, roaring back from 15 down on the road to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat in a four-game span.

"We don't want to get in these situations," said Terry, whose eight-point flurry sparked the Mavs' game-ending, Finals-tying 22-5 run in Thursday night's Game 2. "But if this situation does present itself, we're a veteran team. And we pride ourselves on being calm, being even-keeled.

"If there's time on that clock, there's still time for us."

The Mavs still have a lot of work to do -- and a few more games to win -- to earn the franchise's first championship. But they've already earned the crown as the NBA's undisputed playoff comeback kings.

Dallas has as many comebacks after digging double-digit holes as it does losses during this postseason. Those Mavs comebacks have gotten progressively more difficult and meaningful.

• It started during the Mavs' return trip to the Rose Garden. They came out ice cold and trailed by 12 early in the second quarter but recovered to finish off the first-round series with a 103-96 win over the Trail Blazers.

The comeback was a mere footnote that night. The fact that the Mavs survived the first round for only the second time since their 2006 Finals run hogged the headlines. That game also reversed the trend of road playoff misery for the Mavs, who had lost 18 of their previous 20 postseason games away from the American Airlines Center.

• The Mavs set the tone for their stunning sweep of the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers by fighting out of a 16-point hole to steal Game 1.

Things looked bleak for the Mavs after a series of mental and physical errors at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half. That changed as soon as 10th man Corey Brewer got off the bench, sparking a 17-4 run to get the Mavs right back in the game.

A couple of future Hall of Famers carried the load as the Mavs outplayed the Lakers in the fourth quarter. Dirk Nowitzki had 11 points in the final frame. Down the stretch, Jason Kidd shut down Kobe Bryant, who has a reputation as the game's best closer (although a certain German has made a strong case this postseason). Five Kobe possessions in the final 3:22 resulted in one bucket, two missed shots and two turnovers.

Kevin Durant's imaginary championship belt was on, and so it seemed was the Red River rivalry, after the Oklahoma City superstar's 3-pointer gave the Thunder a 15-point lead with 5:05 remaining in Game 4. The West finals were all but certain to be tied as the series headed back south on Interstate 35.

Dirk and the Dallas defense didn't let that happen.

Nowitzki scored a dozen points during the Mavs' 17-2 run over the final five minutes, forcing overtime. Kidd knocked down the game-winning 3 in the final minute of OT, essentially punching the Mavs' ticket to the Finals.

• There was a sense of deja vu on the Dallas bench when Dwyane Wade drilled a 3 with 7:13 remaining to put the Heat up 15 in Game 2 of the Finals, then posed and preened -- something several Mavs considered premature celebration.

"Hang around. Keep believing," coach Rick Carlisle said in the huddle, reminding the Mavs that they rallied from 15 down in OKC -- and pointing out that they had two more minutes to work with in this case.

The Mavs roared back with a 22-5 run to finish the game and tie the Finals.

Considering the competition and stakes, this ranks as the Mavs' most impressive comeback by far. The Mavs scored on 10 of their final 11 possessions against a Miami defense that had been absolutely dominant throughout the playoffs, particularly in clutch situations.

Wade went scoreless after that 3. LeBron James scored only two points on a pair of free throws down the stretch.

Once again, Nowitzki stood taller than everybody else when it mattered most, scoring the Mavs' last nine points over the final 2:44. His lefty finger roll off the dribble -- never mind the torn tendon in the middle finger -- with 3.6 seconds remaining provided the winning points.

"You have to be a little lucky," Nowitzki said, "but we kept on plugging."

That's a lesson the Mavs, who also erased eight-point fourth-quarter deficits in wins over the Lakers and Thunder, learned the hard way one painful night in Portland that seems so long ago now.

"It's definitely in the back of our heads," said center Tyson Chandler, the Mavs' defensive anchor. "When we pulled our first comeback, we came to the bench and said, 'Listen, if it could happen to us, it could happen to somebody else.' Now it just becomes, 'We're never going to give up until the buzzer sounds.'

"No matter what happens in the game, we're going to play until it ends."

No matter the odds, the Mavs have usually found a way to win, putting them a few victories away from having the last laugh.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.