Miami 98, Dallas 74
Wade, Heat Overwhelm Mavs to Even NBA Finals
MIAMI, June 15 (Ticker) -- Dwyane Wade's knee appears to be just fine. Now it is the psyche of the Dallas Mavericks that is under examination at the NBA Finals.
Wade scored 36 points in another explosive performance and the Miami Heat manhandled Dirk Nowitzki and the rest of the Mavericks in a convincing 98-74 victory that evened the Finals at two games each.
"The other night, we willed our way to a win and we got a little bit of momentum," O'Neal said. "We just want to keep it going."
Still a very potent offensive team, Dallas shot under 32 percent (25-of-79) and got worse as the game progressed. Giving in to the physical defense and frequently settling for jumpers, the Mavericks managed just seven points in the fourth quarter, breaking a Finals record.
"It's just really disappointing when the other team is pushing and we're not pushing back hard enough," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said.
Nowitzki, the superstar forward of the Mavericks who had scored 56 points in the last two games and appeared to have found his groove, came out firing but never got on track. He made just 2-of-14 shots - including none in the second half - and was serenaded with placards and chants of "Da-vid Hass-el-hoff!" whenever he went to the line.
"They have been doing it all series," Nowitzki said. "They do a good job getting into me and making me put the ball on the floor."
"They are wrapping him up," Johnson said. "They are putting a blanket over him and and he's going to have to get that blanket off of him."
It was a rough night for Nowitzki, who had 16 points and nine rebounds. He fell hard after being fouled by O'Neal in the third quarter and twisted his left ankle after launching a 3-pointer and landing on O'Neal's foot in the final period.
"I came down on the foot like it happens a lot in our sport and it's no big deal," said Nowitzki, who has a history of playing through ankle sprains.
Clamping down on Nowitzki was reserve forward James Posey, who gave the Heat a huge lift with 15 points and 10 rebounds as he spelled foul-prone Udonis Haslem.
"We just wanted to play (Nowitzki) tough," Posey said. "He's a great player. We know he's going to get a lot of shot attempts and things like that. We don't want (him) to get into a comfort zone and let him get to his sweet spots. Just make everything work without fouling."
"Posey did an unbelievable job for us tonight, scoring, rebounding, just being active, taking charge," Wade said. "That's what it's all about."
If Wade had any pain lingering in his left knee from Game 3, it was hard to tell. He made 13-of-23 shots and 8-of-9 free throws, getting anywhere he wanted on the court. In the first half, he scored 24 points, helping Miami open a 54-44 lead.
"I'm just in a rhythm," Wade said. "I'm a rhythm player. The first two games in Dallas, I was kind of off my rhythm and now I'm in a rhythm. I'm able to look and see the defense come before it's coming and make my moves, pull up or attack."
"Wade has hurt us in the worst way," Johnson said. "We haven't been able to guard him."
The Heat had no trouble guarding the Mavericks. They limited Josh Howard to three points on 1-of-8 shooting and Jerry Stackhouse to 6-of-18 from the floor.
In the fourth quarter, Dallas made just 2-of-18 shots - including 0-of-8 from behind the arc - and broke the Finals record for fewest points in any quarter (nine) set by Utah vs. Chicago on June 7, 1998.
"We know that we're better shooters," Stackhouse said. "We're better percentage shooters than 31 percent as a team."
Antoine Walker scored 14 points for the Heat, who shot 51.5 percent (34-of-66) and improved to 10-1 at home in the playoffs. Miami hosts the pivotal fifth game Sunday and will try to become just the second team to sweep the middle three games at home since the Finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985.
"It's 55 days now that we've been at this, as has Dallas," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "There could be as many as eight more days."
Jason Terry scored 17 points and Stackhouse added 16 for the Mavericks, who have lost two in a row for the second time in the postseason. Dallas dropped Games 5 and 6 of the Western Conference semifinals to San Antonio but rebounded to win Game 7 on the road.
"This is a mentally tough team we have here," Johnson said. "We've been mentally tough all year. You're talking about the same team that won Game 7 in San Antonio against a world champion."
Before the game, Riley denied that Wade had an MRI on his sore left knee that he injured in Game 3 but added, "Dwyane is legitimately banged up."
The Mavericks would have a hard time believing that as Wade scored 14 points in the first seven-plus minutes.
"My teammates are doing a great job of spreading the floor and giving me the ball in the right spot so I can make plays happen," Wade said.
"He's been playing great," Nowitzki said. "Obviously, he adjusted to whatever we did in Game 1 and Game 2."
The early foul trouble for O'Neal and Haslem forced the Heat to go to a small lineup that seemed to work well. Posey came on to bother Nowitzki and contribute a pair of buckets to build the bulge to 30-22.
The Mavericks could not make a shot and were taken out of their rhythm by the defense of the Heat, which was at its best. On one possession, they missed six shots and finished the half a woeful 14-of-41 (34 percent).
Posey and Jason Williams drained 3-pointers for a 40-31 lead and Wade answered a pair of baskets by Terry with a layup and a 3-pointer before sinking a free throw for a 46-35 advantage with 4:57 left in the second quarter.
Three straight baskets by Wade early in the third quarter gave Miami a 65-50 lead as Dallas kept misfiring. With 6:29 left, Stackhouse took a flagrant foul on O'Neal, who was going in for a fast-break dunk and was knocked into the photographers. O'Neal made both free throws and Wade added two on the ensuing possession to give the Heat their first 20-point lead at 72-52.
"It was a hard foul, absolutely," said Riley, who came running onto the court. "I don't know why I was running out there. (Stackhouse) said, 'Why did you come out running out there? Did you think I was going to go after him?' I said, 'No, I don't know why I did it, I just did it.' "
"My daughters tackle me harder when I come home," the 7-1, 335-pound O'Neal said. "It actually felt pretty good to get hit like that. Thank you, Jerry. Appreciate it."
O'Neal sat down with his fourth foul with 2:59 remaining, allowing the Mavericks to put together an 8-0 burst that closed the deficit to 78-67 entering the final period. But the offense dissolved in the final period in a hailstorm of missed shots.
"Our team has to get it together and play better," Johnson said.