"Flash" Scores 42, "Superman" Makes Two Free Throws (!) and Miami Wins a ThrillerDwyane Wade tied his playoff career-high with 42 points and the Miami Heat overcame a 13 point fourth quarter deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 98-96. Dallas seemed to be only minutes away from taking a commanding 3-0 series lead but could not stop Wade down the stretch; he scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, including 11 in the closing six minutes. Wade also had a career-high 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals and only one turnover. Shaquille O'Neal had 16 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots. He shot 4-6 from the free throw line but had seven turnovers. Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 30 points and also had seven rebounds. Josh Howard (21 points, five rebounds) and Erick Dampier (14 points, nine rebounds) both played strong games, while game three hero Jerry Stackhouse shot 1-9 from the field and only scored four points.
Miami started the game with a lot of energy, hardly surprising considering that this was the Heat's first home game in the series. O'Neal opened the scoring with a nice turnaround jump shot. After he stripped Jason Terry and passed ahead to Jason Williams for a fast break layup, Miami led 11-7 and O'Neal already had four points, two rebounds, two assists and one steal. At the end of the quarter Miami led 29-21; Wade had 13 points, while O'Neal filled up the boxscore with eight points, four rebounds and three assists.
One minute into the second quarter, the Mavericks had made seven field goals and committed seven turnovers. The Heat led 31-21 at that point but several early Miami mistakes kept Dallas in contact. In the first quarter, Wade received a technical foul for hanging on the rim and O'Neal committed a silly foul on a Dampier dunk; in the second quarter, O'Neal fouled Nowitzki on a jump shot and Gary Payton received a technical foul. Dallas made all five free throws that resulted from those plays. There is a tendency to focus on what happens at the end of games but imagine if Miami had lost after basically giving Dallas five free points in the first half. The Heat held on to lead 52-43 at the half. Wade already had 21 points and nine rebounds. O'Neal had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Nowitzki (11 points) and Howard (10 points) led Dallas in scoring.
The Mavericks came out of the locker room firing in the third quarter: Howard made a three-pointer and Nowitzki made a jump shot in the first minute, forcing Heat Coach Pat Riley to call a quick timeout to regroup. It didn't help and the Mavericks took their first lead since the first quarter on Jason Terry's runner with 8:44 remaining. Antoine Walker made two consecutive strong drives to put Miami ahead 60-57 but the Heat faded down the stretch and trailed 77-68 going into the fourth quarter. Dallas outscored Miami 34-16 in the third quarter.
Prior to the start of the fourth quarter, Riley told his team simply, "This is our season." A little over a minute into the period Wade committed his fifth foul after Dampier grabbed an offensive rebound. Riley left Wade in the game, realizing that he could not afford to sit Wade on the bench and give Dallas a chance to pull away. The gamble did not seem to matter when the Mavericks extended the lead to 83-71 at the 8:36 mark.
The Mavericks still led 93-88 with 2:49 remaining, but played very sloppily down the stretch. First, Dallas committed a 24 second violation. Then, Jason Williams missed a jumper for the Heat, but O'Neal shoved Dampier out of the way and corralled the rebound. Naturally, Dallas fouled him to prevent an easy two points. O'Neal made both free throws to pull Miami to within three. Dallas ran down the shot clock but Stackhouse missed a jumper. Wade quickly hit a jumper to pull the Heat within one. Then Jason Terry threw a weak pass to Nowitzki that Udonis Haslem intercepted. Terry fouled Haslem and his two free throws put Miami up 94-93. On the next possession Terry missed a jumper and inexplicably fouled James Posey. Dallas Coach Avery Johnson was quite irate after that, because Dallas was only down one with :47 remaining and did not need to foul. Posey made one free throw but Devin Harris blew by Wade to score a layup and tie the game at 95.
Dallas played good defense on the next Miami possession but Gary Payton pump faked and hit a jump shot with nine seconds left to give Miami a 97-95 lead; Payton had only shot 1-8 from the field in the series prior to that. Dallas called a timeout and Johnson drew up a play for Nowitzki, who drove to the hoop and was fouled by Udonis Haslem. Nowitzki, an exceptional free throw shooter, calmly swished the first free throw but he missed the second and immediately fouled Wade. Wade also made one of two, so Dallas was able to call a timeout with one second left. Nowitzki lobbed the inbounds pass toward the rim, a cutting Howard elevated to attempt a dunk but Wade jumped a little higher and broke up the play as time expired.
So has the momentum of the series turned? Is Dallas now in trouble? Here are a couple things to consider:
(1) The Mavericks' collapse in this game is reminiscent of their 121-118 loss to the Phoenix Suns in game one of that series; Dallas had a 114-105 lead with 3:43 to go in that contest. The Mavericks were so devastated by that setback that they won four of the next five games.
(2) Wade probably played the best game of his life, Dallas had a complete meltdown in the final six minutes and Miami barely escaped with a two point win. If the Heat do this two more times in Miami they still will have to win a game in Dallas. Also, O'Neal had a very good first quarter but then was a complete non-factor for the rest of the game until he hit the two big free throws.
Miami may very well win the next game but I doubt that the Heat will go back to Dallas with a 3-2 lead. Just like Dallas' two strong wins did not convince me that the Mavericks would win in a sweep, Miami's victory in game three does not convince me that the Heat are completely back in the series. All game three showed is why there have been very few sweeps in NBA Finals history.
The Mavericks surrendered most of their large game two lead before holding on to win and squandered a 13 point lead in game three. What happened in both games is that Dallas took command by pushing the ball up the court and exposing Miami's lack of foot speed, poor perimeter defense and inability to guard the pick and roll. Then, after getting a lead, Dallas tried to slow the game down and run time off of the shot clock. If the Mavericks have a fourth quarter lead in game four they should forget about running time off of the clock and just play their game. Miami has no answer for the speed of Dallas' perimeter players and looked completely helpless in the third quarter when the Dallas perimeter players drove straight into the heart of the Heat's defense. The shot clock violation that the Mavericks committed when they were up five should have never happened--either run the right sideline pick and roll with Terry or have Harris take his man off of the dribble and Dallas can get a wide open shot at any time. What Dallas did at the end of the game is the equivalent of an NFL team playing a prevent defense and, as the saying goes, the only thing a prevent defense does is prevent you from winning. The Mavericks have the better, deeper and quicker team and should be playing aggressively to win, not holding on for dear life trying not to lose.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:51 AM