MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were rejoicing for the entirety of their walk from the Dallas bench to the Miami bench. Heat players spilled onto the floor, many with fists in the air.
Miami 88, Dallas 73, 7:14 remaining.
Game over, right?
Not a chance. An eerie turnabout from the Dallas-Miami matchup in the 2006 finals was about to happen, and the Heat were powerless to stop it.
Dallas outscored Miami 22-5 the rest of the way, harkening memories of how the Heat saved their title hopes with a huge fourth-quarter comeback in Game 3 against the Mavericks in 2006.
It not only silenced the Heat celebration, but wrested home-court advantage in the NBA finals away from the Eastern Conference champions as well.
Final score, Dallas 95, Miami 93, and the finals are knotted at a game apiece.
“No question about it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s about as tough a fourth quarter as you can have. When it started to slide, it kept on going.”
From the moment Wade gave Miami that 15-point lead with a 3-pointer from near the Mavs’ bench, the Heat went icy cold, making only one of their final 11 shots. Dallas ended the game on a 9-for-10 tear from the field. Heat fans roared when Wade hit his last 3-pointer, and wound up silenced when Dirk Nowitzki hit the game-winning layup for Dallas with 3.6 seconds remaining.
Wade didn’t blame the offensive struggles.
“We didn’t have to score another point to win the game,” he said. “Our defense was what we lay our heads on. We didn’t play it the way we normally play. They deserved it. And we didn’t.”
In 2006, the Heat rallied from 13 points down in Game 3 at home midway through the fourth quarter, avoiding an 0-3 hole in that series. Dallas got its long-awaited comeuppance Thursday night.
“There’s no way we’re going out like this,” Mavs guard Jason Terry said, a clear nod to the line Wade used after Game 3 in 2006.
It’s the 12th time since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 finals format that teams split the opening two games. Teams holding home-court advantage recovered to win eight of the previous 11 series, including last year when the Lakers topped the Celtics in seven games.
And in each of those 11 series, the Game 3 winner wound up winning the NBA title. This now-super-pivotal Game 3 is Sunday in Dallas.
“We will bounce back,” Spoelstra said.
Struggling to win close games was one of Miami’s biggest challenges all season. The Heat went 5-14 in games decided by five points or less in the regular season, but in the playoffs, fourth-quarter closeouts had become one of Miami’s calling cards.
Not on Thursday.
The Heat shot 53 percent in the first 41 minutes, and 9 percent the rest of the way. Mario Chalmers’ 3-pointer with just under 25 seconds left tied the game, but Nowitzki drove down the lane for the winner on Dallas’ final possession, with Miami having a foul to give and second-guessing itself afterward about not taking advantage of that.
Another question afterward: Why Chris Bosh was on Nowitzki then instead of Udonis Haslem, who has done well against Dallas’ star in the past?
In the wake of the collapse, there were no answers.
“We had everything going,” Bosh said. “We had the momentum going.”
They lost both quickly.
Plus, the postgame talk centered around how Wade and James did after that 3-pointer with 7:14 to play. The Mavs thought Miami celebrated too much in that moment. To hear Wade and James tell it, they didn’t celebrate at all.
“A celebration is confetti, champagne bottles,” Wade said. “There was no celebration.”
Added James: “It was no celebration at all. I was excited about the fact that he hit a big shot, and we went up 15. The same thing we’ve done over the course of the season.”
Celebration, not a celebration, that all can be argued.
What matters was the score and the finish — and there’s no gray area there.
Dallas has done this before, rallying from 15 down with 5 minutes left to beat Oklahoma City in overtime, on the road as well, in the Western Conference finals.
This one was even more impressive, given the stakes.
“We were just trying to stay solid,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Look, James and Wade, they’re two of the best facilitators — ever. … They missed a couple shots and it allowed us to keep our momentum going.”
James and Wade — who started 22 for 28 from the field in the game — closed a combined 0 for 7. James missed four shots in the last 7 minutes, including two 3-pointers on the same possession that got extended with an offensive rebound by Wade.
But James kept the ball at the top of the key for most of that stint, the Heat never seeming to even get into a play, much less executing one.
“The way we closed the game is so uncharacteristic for us,” Spoelstra said, “on both ends of the court.”
Wade tried a desperation 3-pointer at the end, bouncing away as he tumbled to the court, one of his rare missteps in a night where he finished with 36 points.
It was the 12th time Wade scored at least 35 points in a playoff game. Miami had been 11-0 when that happens.
“This is a long series, OK?” Spoelstra said. “We’re not happy about what happened. But we’ve got an opportunity in Game 3.”
The Heat and Mavericks finished the regular season tied for the NBA lead with 28 road wins.
Dallas has done its part so far in the finals.
Miami now gets its chance. Bosh said the locker room was disappointed, but not shocked.
“Just have to stay with it,” Bosh said. “Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low. Just stay with the plan. We’re faced with a challenge now. We have to win on the road. We’ve done it before. We shouldn’t be surprised that’s our situation.”
What’s your prediction for Game 3? Sound off in the comments below…
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