In front of their home fans, down 89-76 with 6:15 remaining in Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat's season was hanging on by a thread. The Heat were already in a two game hole to the Dallas Mavericks, knowing full well that no team had ever come back from 0-3 in NBA history.
With Dallas seemingly ready to seal the door on the Heat's season, Miami's future Hall of Fame guard, Dwyane Wade, came through. He not only brought his team back from the brink, but embarked on one of the greatest stretches of play in Finals history as the Heat would not lose another game in the series.
Constantly living in the shadow of Miami's more established future Hall of Fame star, Shaquille O'Neal, Wade had quickly risen to stardom in just his third season in the league. But while O'Neal, then 33, began to look every bit his age and struggled in The Finals, Wade left no doubt in the minds of observers that he was himself on the way to Springfield.
When the duo had joined forces in the 2004-05 season, O'Neal was narrowly edged by Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash for the league MVP with Wade as his willing sidekick along for the ride. By the end of the 2005-06 season, it was Wade on top of the basketball universe and O'Neal handing him his Finals MVP award.
But first, the Heat had to erase a 13-point deficit in six minutes to take their season off life support.
After shooting .386 from the field in the first two games of the series — both of which resulted in double-digit losses for the Heat — Wade would explode for 15 of his game-high 42 points in the fourth quarter of Miami's frantic Game 3 comeback. He played the last 10:56 with five fouls and scored all but two of Miami's field goals in the last 6-plus minutes of the Heat's shocking 98-96 win.
"Now we've got a series," Nowitzki said after the game with Dallas holding a 2-1 lead.
Little did Nowitzki know, but the series was actually all-but over. The Heat dominated Game 4 behind 36 points from Wade, won an epic Game 5 in overtime after Wade went off for a series-high 43 points and then put the series away back in Dallas with a 95-92 victory that saw Wade put up another 36 points in Game 6.
In Miami's four straight wins, Wade would average 39.2 PPG on .505 shooting. For the series, Wade's 34.7 PPG was the third highest total in history for a player in his first NBA Finals -- Rick Barry (40.8 ppg) in '67 and Allen Iverson (35.6 ppg) in 2001 are Nos. 1 and 2.
With his teammate posting the highest player efficiency rating in Finals history, O'Neal -- himself a three-time NBA Finals MVP -- grabbed Wade's MVP trophy out of NBA commissioner David Stern's hands during the postgame ceremony and handed it to Wade.
"Wade is the best player ever," O'Neal had said moments before presenting the trophy.