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Miami bounces back from rocky start to win championship
A Total Turnaround
By Brad Friedman

DALLAS, June 20 -- For two games and three and a half quarters, the Miami Heat looked overmatched.

In every test that followed, the Heat simply found a way to win.

On Tuesday night, Miami won their fourth consecutive game against the Dallas Mavericks to capture The Finals and the Larry O'Brien Trophy, 4-2.

"Once we got that win, it was like, okay, we played a horrible game, but we beat these guys," said Heat center Shaquille O'Neal, who earned his fourth ring. "Us being down 13 down, we've been doing that all year. So we were more used to that than any other team in the playoffs."

Indeed, the Heat's early season adversity may have been what kept them from panicking in the Finals. As Heat coach Pat Riley said prior to Game 6, "It gets a little crazy at times. One thing you have to do is keep your wits about you."

Wade earned MVP honors -- deservedly so.
Victor Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images

A combination of personnel additions meshing and injuries led to Miami being below the .500 mark at one point during the first month of the season and just 10-10 after a December loss. New to the club included roster additions Antoine Walker, James Posey, Jason Williams and Gary Payton, all of whom were a significant part of Miami's rotation.

With some experience under their belt and everybody healthy, Miami found its rhythm in the playoffs, eventually avenging a Game 7 loss in the Conference Finals to Detroit last season by beating that team in six games in this year's Conference Finals

But the Heat ran into a wall in Dallas, losing Games 1 and 2 on the road by a combined 24 points. After Game 1's 90-80 loss, Heat coach Pat Riley showed his team an article that called the Heat an "unworthy opponent."

"I think what changed was everyone was counting us out," O'Neal said about the turnaround. "Certain people here were planning parade routes."

"It was very motivating," Wade said. "(That) we were unworthy to be playing against this team after one game, blew my mind, blew our teams's mind. (I) still got that article."

Wade, who was named Finals MVP after averaging 39.3 points per game over the last four contests, hit big shot after big shot. He had nine points in a three-minute stretch to spark the Game 3 comeback and the overtime-forcing field goal and game-winning free throws in Game 5.

"He really won them the championship," said Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki. "From Game 3 when we were up 10, he took over since then."

"Some of that stuff," added Mavericks coach Avery Johnson, "you just canít teach."

Miami became just the third team in NBA history to return from an 0-2 deficit to win The Finals. The 1969 Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games while the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers stormed back to upset the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.

"After we were down 0-2, I was really down," Heat owner Micky Arison said. "I knew we had the heart to do it, but they (Dallas) are a great team, too. To beat them four straight is unbelievable."

Arison's team did it by winning all three of its home games and then capturing the first road win of the Finals in Game 6, the Heat's best played contest of the series from start to finish.

Wade was all over the court, with 36 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks. James Posey had a key three-pointer with 3:43 left in the game to push the lead to six points. Antoine Walker registered 14 points and 11 rebounds. Alonzo Mourning and Udonis Haslem totaled eight points, six rebounds and five key blocks in 12 minutes and 17 points and 10 rebounds, respectively.

"We knew as a team that they were going to make runs," Mourning said. "They are at home. They had the crowd behind them and the momentum changes in games like this, especially in closing games like this. We had to sustain their run with getting stops, making defensive plays.

"I think collectively, everybody just dug a little bit deeper."

Dallas jumped out to a 26-12 lead in the first quarter, but Miami pulled within one-point, 32-31, with 9:06 left in the second quarter. Dallas struck back by building a 42-31 edge over the next four and a half minutes. Again Miami countered, with a 16-4 run that gave them their first advantage of the ball game. Dallas never could regain the lead again.

"Everybody questioned us, doubted us throughout the whole season up to this point," Walker said. "You never question the heart of a champion."

Or as Walker's teammates asked reporters as the Heat entered what quickly became a champagne-soaked locker room: "How do you like us now?"

To answer that question, a whole lot more than we ever expected to 20 games into the regular season, or with 6:34 left in the fourth quarter of Game 3.

First Rings

For the veteran-laden Miami Heat, a number of players experienced their first taste of Finals glory. In his third Finals appearance and 15th season in the league, Heat guard Gary Payton earned his only ring. To get his championship, Mourning had to endure 13 seasons and glomerulosclerosis, a kidney disorder that kept him sidelined during the 2002-03 campaign and turned his life upside down. Walker (9), Shandon Anderson (9), Derek Anderson (8), Jason Williams (7), Michael Doleac (7) also won their first championship as well.

"I never gave up up here," an emotional Mourning said about his health battles. "I credit a great deal of my recovery to that because I never gave up up here because so many people are quick to give up and say, 'Why me, why me?'"

Said Payton: "It feels great. Iíve been working hard, for 16 years trying to get one and now Iíve got one. And this, itís beautiful."

The Sunshine State

The Heat's Finals win marks only the fourth time in NBA and NCAA history that a state features both the NBA Champion and NCAA Champion during the same season.

This year, the Florida Gators won the NCAA Championship when they defeated UCLA, 73-57. The last time a state represented both the NBA and NCAA Champion during the same year came in 1989 when the Michigan Wolverines and Detroit Pistons both won the championship in their respective leagues.

The previous two times a state featured both champions came during the 1975 season when UCLA and the Golden State Warriors won the title and then in 1972 when UCLA and the Los Angeles Lakers both brought back the championship to their state.

He Deserves A Pat on the Back

In winning his fifth ring as a coach, Riley became the first head coach on two occasions to lead his team to Finals victories after taking over a club midseason. He took over for Paul Westhead 11 games into the 1981-82 season and led the Lakers to the NBA Championship. Earlier this season, Riley replaced Stan Van Gundy on the Heat's bench in December.

Riley is only the second head coach in NBA history to lead his team to the NBA Finals during three different decades. He led the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals during the 1980s and then led the New York Knicks during the 1990s.