Miami 95, Dallas 92
Wade Leads Heat to First NBA Championship
DALLAS, June 20 (Ticker) -- Dwyane Wade enhanced the championship resumes of Shaquille O'Neal and Pat Riley while starting his own.
With another clutch performance confirming his status as a true superstar, Wade lifted the Miami Heat to their first NBA title, as they defeated and deflated the Dallas Mavericks, 95-92, to complete a stirring, historical comeback.
Rallied by Riley's motto of "Fifteen Strong," the Heat racked up the required 16 playoff wins -- including the last four in a row -- to exceed just about everyone's expectations except their own. They closed out the Mavericks in six games.
"We've got 15 strong," Riley said. "It's all about 15 strong."
"That's what makes it sweet, because not at one moment did one of us not believe in each other," Wade said. "No matter what, in the locker room it was 15 strong."
With a remarkable reversal beginning with a stirring fourth-quarter comeback in Game 3, the Heat became just the third team to overcome an 0-2 deficit and win the Finals, joining the 1969 Boston Celtics and 1977 Portland Trail Blazers. They avoided the specter of a Game 7 on the road by grabbing the momentum and never relinquishing it.
Leading the way was Wade, the first member of the heralded draft class of 2003 to play a prominent role in leading a team to a title. With superstar teammate O'Neal showing signs of age, Wade leapt into the spotlight and willed the Heat to the title, capturing Finals MVP honors and stamping himself as the latest -- and most accurate -- reincarnation of Michael Jordan, his childhood hero.
"Besides my father at home, (Jordan) was kind of like my second father because he's the guy that I watched and I felt like I was a part of Michael Jordan," Wade said. "The comparison is flattering, but at the same time, I always stay away from them because there will never be another Jordan."
"He had a lot of will to win," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said. "You've seen a lot of players -- like Jordan -- a lot of players in history that have really had those type of performances. We tried a lot of things, but he just had a lot of desire to get it done."
Overcoming injuries, fatigue and a phalanx of defenses, Wade averaged 34.7 points in the Finals, including 40.3 in three home wins that swung the series. He did it in unabashedly spectacular fashion, displaying memorable moves and a flair for the dramatic that Dallas simply could not match.
"Some of that stuff you just can't teach," Johnson said. "When a player is making those kinds of plays, it's really no tricky play. He's beating double-teams, he's beating triple-teams. There's no tricks there."
"He just took it to another level," Riley said. "You all witnessed it. You all watched it. Players like that are very hard to come by."
In the clincher, Wade scored 36 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, which became his time in every close game. He made 10-of-18 shots and 16-of-21 free throws as he again paraded to the line.
Just for good measure, Wade added 10 rebounds, as he covered for O'Neal, a three-time Finals MVP who managed just nine points with 12 boards and was clearly along for the ride.
"I came to Miami because of this young fella (Wade) right here," O'Neal said. "I thought he was a special player. I knew the first time I saw him, I knew he was something special, so I knew it was my job to come here and make him better."
The win also marked a return to the top for Riley, who won his fifth title as a coach and first since guiding the Los Angeles Lakers to the championship in 1988 -- when the Heat entered the NBA. Unlike previous trips, this time he took equal pleasure in both the destination and the journey, which really began 11 years ago.
"I would have traded all of them in for this one," Riley said. "After 18 years and chasing, you keep chasing it, you keep chasing it, you get tired. So this gives me a sense of absolute freedom from having to chase it, desperately chase it. So it's very special."
It was Riley who in his role as president of the Heat overhauled the roster last summer and replaced Stan Van Gundy on the sidelines in December, accepting all of the responsibility for the Heat's direction. In guiding them to the pinnacle of the NBA, he showed he can still coach a little bit, too.
Riley still wears the championship ring from 1985, when his Los Angeles Lakers wrapped up the series in Game 6 on the road, avoiding a Game 7 in Boston Garden. He was hoping for a similar outcome here, saying, "I packed one suit, one shirt and one tie. That's it."
But the Mavericks could not send Riley to Neiman Marcus or the series to Game 7. They blew an early 14-point lead and never led in the second half, bringing a tough end to a terrific season.
Dallas developed a physical and mental toughness that landed it in the Finals for the first time in franchise history. But the Mavericks were unable to maintain it on the league's largest stage, unraveling with equal portions of complacency, distraction and subpar play.
"It's going to eat at us," guard Jason Terry admitted.
Led by superstar Dirk Nowitzki -- who clearly was not as his best this series -- Dallas was minutes away from a virtually insurmountable 3-0 lead. But the Mavericks gave away Game 3 to start an irreversible skid downhill.
"That was a tough loss (in Game 3) and that really changed the whole momentum of the series," Nowitzki said. "After that, they got confidence. They played a lot better afterwards."
In the end, Dallas chose the worst possible time for its first four-game losing streak of the season.
"This is going to really hurt this summer," Johnson said. "I hope it makes them work out harder. It makes me a better coach, because I'm willing to try it again."
"(Dallas) is a good team," Wade said. "They will be back, no question about it."
After a jumper Udonis Haslem, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds, gave the Heat the lead for good, Wade added three free throws and found James Posey for a 3-pointer and an 87-81 bulge with 3:43 to go.
"I knew (Posey) was open," Wade said. "Just me seeing the defense. When they came out in the second half, I knew they were going to try to get me off the ball. They had to try something different, so I told Pose to be ready to shoot it and shoot it every time."
"The biggest play of the game was when he found James Posey," Riley said.
The Mavericks made a final push, closing to 89-88 on a 3-pointer by Jerry Stackhouse with 1:37 remaining. Haslem answered with a follow shot and Wade replied to a jumper by Josh Howard with two more from the line for a 93-90 lead with 26 seconds to play.
Dallas put the ball in the hands of Nowitzki, who had 29 points and 15 rebounds but did not have a basket in the fourth quarter. He used a pick from Erick Dampier, then tried to whip him a pass. But the ball glanced off Dampier's hands and out of bounds, leading to two more free throws by Wade.
"We tried to get (Nowitzki) the ball," Johnson said. "We didn't want Shaq in the play, but he got in the play. They were trying to trap him just as much as we were trying to trap Wade."
Wade made things interesting by missing two free throws with 10.3 seconds left and Miami holding a three-point lead. Terry dribbled quickly upcourt, fought through a foul attempt and had a good look at a 3-pointer that did not go down.
Terry scored 16 points, Howard added 14 and 12 rebounds, and Stackhouse and Marquis Daniels scored 12 points apiece for the Mavericks, who made 5-of-22 from the arc and were beaten on the boards, 56-50.
Sparked by Nowitzki and Terry, the Mavericks came out flying, opening a 26-12 lead as they beat the Heat up and down the court and to nearly every loose ball. And as they have at several junctures in the series, they became content.
The Heat sat O'Neal and went to a small lineup led by Wade, who scored 13 points in the next six-plus minutes, including a jumper that cut the deficit to 32-31 with 9:06 left in the second quarter.
"I thought we really sped the game up from the beginning and that's what really got us the lead," Nowitzki said. "We were pushing it. We were in transition and that's how we really got the lead. ... Once we play against their set defense, they are really, really good. They just clog up the paint. They have got great shot-blockers in there. Then you're forced to shoot jumpers."
Again, the Mavericks used their quickness to rebuild the lead, speeding to a 46-36 advantage on a fast-break dunk by Daniels with 3:31 to go. And again, the Heat went small and came up big with a 13-0 burst -- capped by a transition dunk by Mourning, who came on each time for O'Neal -- to take their first lead of the game.
"They had the crowd behind them and the momentum changes in games like this," Mourning said. "We had to sustain their run with getting stops, making defensive plays."
Miami carried the momentum into the third quarter, when Dallas encountered foul trouble and reverted to settling for jump shots that stopped falling. Wade had a block of Nowitzki and a banker over him and Mourning had consecutive blocks and a dunk that stretched the margin to 68-59.
With Stackhouse's return from a suspension stagnated by foul trouble, Daniels got the Mavs back in it with six quick points that helped narrow the deficit to 71-68 entering the final period. He drained two free throws, found Stackhouse for a 3-pointer and threw in a crazy bank shot as Dallas fought back for a 79-79 tie with 7:06 to go.
"He gave us a big lift right there," Johnson said.