Living the Finals
By NBA TV's Rick Kamla
With Sunday’s 101-100 overtime win in Game 5, the Heat became just the second team to sweep the middle three games at home, following in the footsteps left by the Pistons in 2004.
And for the first time in 30 years the home team has won the first five games of The Finals. The last time it happened, the Celtics and Suns held serve through five games before Boston clinched the title in Phoenix in Game 6. In case you’re wondering, the home team has won all seven games only once, and that was all the way back in 1955 when the Syracuse Nationals beat the Fort Wayne Pistons.
Speaking of history, if Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t wake up from his series-long coma, that’s exactly what his Mavericks will be following Game 6. But before clocking Tuesday’s close-out game for Miami and elimination game for Dallas, let’s relive Sunday’s game for the ages…
GAME 5 HERO
For the third straight game, the hero was Dwyane Wade, who is playing so well he may win Finals MVP even if the Heat doesn’t win the series. Coming off 42 and 13 in Game 3 and 36 in Game 4, Wade whipped the Mavs for 43 points in Game 5, including the game-tying and game-winning free throws with 1.9 left in overtime.
But let’s not forget Wade’s tricky baseline J with 2.8 left in regulation that tied the score at 93. Or his shot that put Miami up 91-89 with 1:07 left in regulation … or his fade away J that put Miami up 89-88 with 1:40 left … or his Jordan-esque and-one with 2:16 left that trimmed the Dallas lead from four to one.
Wade already has more postseason points through his first three seasons than any player in NBA history and in going 21-of-25 from the stripe in Game 5, he broke Bob Pettit’s 48-year-old record for free throws made in a Finals game.
Jason Terry went toe-to-toe with a future Hall of Famer and came up just a little bit short, scoring 35 points to Wade’s 43. Just like Game 1 when he had a game-high 32, Jet got wherever he wanted whenever he wanted and his J was wet. Terry hit 13-of-23 from the field, 4-of-9 from deep, and 5-of-5 from the stripe, but he missed a pull-up jumper at the end of regulation that would have put Dallas in the driver’s seat heading back to Big D.
Terry’s 35-point explosion was the stuff of legend, but it wasn’t enough to get the Mavs in the winner’s circle (because Dirk was content to stand around and watch), so his Herculean effort will be forgotten quicker than Mark Cuban springs to his feet after a close call. Like the say, no one remembers the runner-up.
Yes, Dirk made a couple of big-time plays in the clutch, such as his kind dime to Erick Dampier that moved the Mavs in front 93-91 with 10.1 left in regulation and his stunning fadeaway J over Shaquille O’Neal and James Posey that put Dallas in front 100-99 with 9.1 left in overtime.
However, where the (bleep) was Dallas’ best player for the first 3.5 quarters? Why was Dirk hesitating when he had open shots? Why wasn’t Dirk working harder for touches? Why was Dirk standing around possession after possession? Why was Dirk so passive in the biggest game in franchise history? Why was he missing so many open shots when he did summon the nerve to pull the trigger? Why doesn’t he just go up and shoot as opposed to fading away from the defense?
(I like to think I have all the answers, but in Dirk’s case I do not, so maybe you should call Holger -- or Hasselhoff -- for further inquiry.)
More specifically, why did Dirk miss the second of two free throws at the 1:26 mark of regulation that left the score deadlocked at 89? More specifically, why did Dirk pass up a clean 3 with just under two minutes left in regulation, leading to a 24-second violation? More specifically, why did Dirk have only 12 points through three quarters?
I know I’m being extremely harsh with one of the world’s top players, but I call ‘em like I see ‘em in this space, and the way I see this one, Dirk needed a lot more than 20 points and eight rebounds on 8-of-19 shooting in Game 5. Period.
Don’t bother coming at me with the defense by Udonis Haslem and James Posey, who are good -- not great -- on the defensive end. Raising the question, is Dirk great, or merely good, on the offensive end?
Don’t bother coming at me with the aforementioned clutch plays because had Dirk brought the necessary effort from minute one, those plays wouldn’t have been necessary.
Don’t bother coming at me with the take that Dirk took a backseat because Jet had it rolling. Freaks, there were countless possessions where Jet was the only Maverick who wanted the piping hot potato.
There’s a lot of talk about the legacies of Shaq and Pat Riley, but what about Dirk’s legacy? There are no guarantees that the Mavs will make it back to The Finals, so what if this is Dirk’s only chance on the big stage?
All I know is this. If Dirk keeps letting the Heat dictate how his game is played, as opposed to imposing his will on the game, he may go down as just another solid international player who didn’t have what it took to win the big one. Ah, but Dirk has one more chance to come up big in the big one and alter this freak’s tainted perception. For his sake, I hope he doesn’t come up small -- again.
ANTI-HERO, PART DEUX
No, Josh Howard isn’t about to escape my ire on the day after one of the greatest games ever played. I still can’t believe he missed two free throws at the 54-second mark of overtime with a chance to put his team up three. And then there’s the timeout in the middle of Wade’s free throws at the end of overtime.
Even if, as the Mavs contend, Josh wasn’t calling for timeout, but merely using the gesture to clarify Avery’s intentions, it’s still Josh’s bad.
Howard has been a pro for three years and he played four years at Wake Forest in the ACC. Dude has been playing high-level basketball for seven years. He shouldn’t need clarification that you save your final timeout to advance the ball to half court. If Wade misses the second free throw, you grab the rebound and call time. If Wade hits the second free throw, you call for time. Simple as that.
Even the rich dude I was standing behind for the final ticks knew that.
Howard’s mistake spoiled an otherwise spectacular game, as he had 25 points and 10 rebounds in 50 minutes. His mega-mistake reminded me of Rasheed Wallace’s decision to leave Robert Horry open for the game-tying three in Game 5 of last year’s NBA Finals. In the immortal words of US Open loser Phil Mickelson, “He was such an idiot.”
Wallace’s Pistons bounced back from the error to win Game 6 -- on the road no less -- but they lost the series in seven. The charge isn’t quite as tough for Dallas because they return home for Game 6, but only time will tell how Howard and the Mavs respond to such mental and emotional adversity.
WARRIOR OF THE GAME
Everyone came into the game relatively healthy and no one suffered a visible injury during the game, so I’ll just give it to Wade to leading his team to victory in one of the all-time NBA playoff wars.
Pat Riley wins the Game 5 chess match for simply putting the ball in Wade’s hands and telling him to attack the basket. No dumping it into Shaq, no swinging it around the perimeter looking for open threes, no pick-and-roll. Miami’s offense was all Wade all the time, and the 24-year-old phenom made his coach look great in carrying the Heat to victory.
This was an epic, 53-minute stare down in which the team to blink first would lose. Well, the Mavs blinked first when they started missing free throws, beginning with Dirk’s doink with 86 seconds left in regulation. That unforgivable miss (his second of the Finals) snapped an 18-of-18 streak from the line, and began a woeful stretch in which the Mavs went 3-for-7 at the stripe down the stretch.
The Mavs blinked again when they botched the timing of their final timeout. Unfortunately for Dallas, neither Grant Hill nor Christian Laettner was in uniform for their coast-to-coast attempt with 1.9 left.
After averaging 25.5 points in the first two games in Dallas, Wade averaged 40.3 in three games at Miami.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
In talking about being one win away from the first championship in Miami Heat history, Wade told reporters: “We can smell it.”
The only thing I’m smelling these days is my dirty laundry after two weeks on the road.
-- If you believe in history and stats and all that jazz, this series is already over. When The Finals are tied at two games apiece, the Game 5 winner takes the series 75 percent of the time (18 of 24). The last team to lose Game 5 and win the next two was the Rockets, who rallied back to beat Pat Riley’s Knicks in 1994.
-- Thanks to a 13-5 run to end the first half, the Mavericks took a 51-43 lead at the break. Miami entered Game 5 with an 0-7 record in these playoffs when trailing at the half, but Wade’s 43 obviously blew up that stat.
-- The Big Three of Nowitzki, Terry, and Howard combined to score 46 of Dallas’ 51 first half points and 80 of its 100 for the game. They were the only players in double figures for the Mavericks, who really missed Jerry Stackhouse’s scoring off the bench. Stack reached double figures three times in the first four games, and he’ll need to play well in his return from suspension on Tuesday night.
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