Dirk Nowitzki didn’t make much of an effort to hide it—the middle finger on his left hand is hurt. He said as much after Game 1, and he is openly wearing a splint on it. Many times, when a player has a minor injury that could affect his performance, a team goes into lockdown mode, hoping to keep opponents from taking advantage. Not the Mavs. They coughed up the info without much of a struggle.
If you ask Nowitzki, the finger is not much of an issue. He played the last part of Game 1 with it taped up, and it didn’t bother him. “It was a freakish play,” Nowitzki said of how he incurred the injury. “I ran over to the sideline and showed our trainer. He knew right away what happened. We just taped it and went from there. So it didn't affect me afterwards. It didn't get as sore as I was anticipating (Tuesday) night. So it should be all right.”
Perhaps it will be all right, but now, like it or not, the finger has become a pointer—er, point—of emphasis for Game 2. The Heat are saying it won’t affect the way they defend Nowtizki, at least not publicly. “It’s going to be the same,” forward Chris Bosh said. “We have the scouting report and we're going to follow that scouting report. We're going to play as if he's 100 percent. There's no letdowns, there's no feelings that he isn't at the level that he can be at.”
But that scouting report actually becomes more important in light of the bad finger. In Game 1, it was clear that the Heat set out to limit Nowitzki’s ability to go left—that’s where he is most effective. They forced Nowitzki right. The finger only complicates things for Nowitzki, because though it does not hurt when he shoots, it will hurt when he dribbles. Knowing that his left hand is vulnerable makes it easier for the Heat to funnel Nowitzki to his right.
“Obviously on the shot you only hold the ball with the left hand,” Nowitzki said. “It's not like you do anything crazy with it. It's going to be other stuff, dribbling, passing, catching, swiping down, stuff like that. I think it will be OK. I have this splint on for now. I think we're going to play around with some other stuff. Try tape, or try a splint from the back so I can feel the ball and not lose grip of the ball.”
There’s also the mental aspect for Nowitzki. He put up 27 points in Game 1, but he had to work for them, shooting just 7-for-18 from the field. Suppose he comes out in Game 2 and misses his first couple of shots—that could get him thinking about the finger, and if it slips into his mind, that could affect his performance.
“Well, he's going to play,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I'm not sure of the exact severity of the injury, but I know he's going to tape it up, put a splint on it, or whatever it is, and he's going to play. And we're not going to make a big issue out of it.”
Once Game 2 tips off, maybe the finger won’t be an issue. But heading into the game, it is front and center.