Dwyane Wade kept soaring and scoring, doing everything he could to get the Miami Heat a crucial win towards an NBA title.
Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem provided the final push to seal the key victory.
Bosh made a 16-foot, go-ahead jumper from the baseline with 39.6 seconds left and Haslem pestered Dirk Nowitzki the rest of the way as the Heat held on for an 88-86 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night for a 2-1 lead in the NBA finals.
”This is a total win,” said Wade, who led Miami with 29 points and 11 rebounds. ”You want to win the game on the defensive end of the floor and we got a stop.”
Recent history says this is a huge win for the Heat. The Game 3 winner in a tied finals has won the championship all 11 times since the 2-3-2 format began in 1985.
The Heat go into Game 4 on Tuesday night with a chance to do what they did in 2006: win it all on Dallas’ floor. They’ll need to win that game and the next, on Thursday night.
With all its star power, many expected Miami to be planning a victory parade by now, especially after a solid victory in Game 1. But the Heat blew a 15-point lead in the last quarter of Game 2, and nearly did it again this time, coughing up a 14-point lead.
Miami recovered to lead 81-74 with 6:31 left. Everyone knew Nowitzki would drive Dallas’ rally, but it didn’t matter. He still scored 12 straight points — six free throws, a layup, a dunk and a tough jumper — tying it at 86.
Shawn Marion pestered LeBron James into a 24-second violation that left Wade pounding both fists on his head in frustration. Jason Terry missed a chance to put the Mavericks ahead, then Bosh nailed his clutch jumper from the left side, a huge thrill for the Dallas native who’d been 0-8 in his hometown.
The Mavericks of course went back to Nowitzki on its last two chances, and his streak ran out. He tried passing out of a Haslem-led double team and threw the ball into the stands, then hit the back iron on a jumper over Haslem as time ran out.
Haslem anticipated what Nowitzki was going to do and walked the fine line between disrupting the shot while avoiding a foul.
”He’s a great player, 7 feet, so he’s going to shoot over me,” Haslem said. ”I’ve got to make it tough on him.”
When the buzzer went off, Haslem swung his arms and screamed in delight while a frenzied crowd of 20,340 sighed in agony.
”It was a good offensive play, and a good defensive play,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”And he happened to miss.”
Wade and Bosh each scored seven points in the fourth quarter. Bosh, who played through a a swollen left eyelid caused by a poke during the first quarter, finished with 18 points.
James added 17 points and nine assists. He also had four turnovers, including a pair during the fourth quarter — not counting the shot-clock violation — that helped bring Dallas back.
Nowitzki scored 15 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter, but didn’t get much help.
Terry scored 15 and Shawn Marion had 10. Both were shut out in the fourth quarter. The only other scorers were backup point guard J.J. Barea early in the quarter and Tyson Chandler dunking off a rebound.
”We have to have somebody step up besides Dirk,” said Jason Kidd, who had nine points and 10 assists, but also four turnovers. Giveaways haunted Dallas throughout the game, especially the first half, helping keep Miami comfortably ahead. ”We have to figure out how to get up front and play up front. The big thing is we’ve got to be able to make plays late in the game. Game 2 we made the plays, Game 3 we just didn’t.”
Dallas was without backup center Brendan Haywood because of a hip injury. His absence meant more minutes for several frontcourt players, and it put Ian Mahinmi on the court for 8 minutes. He scored two points and committed five fouls.
Wade was at his dynamic best from the start, looking like the guy who soared and scored the Heat past Dallas and to the title in ’06.
Most of his baskets came in the paint, where the Heat outscored the Mavs, 40-22, and many of them were spectacular. But he also stemmed Dallas’ rally by hitting a go-ahead jumper over Kidd for Miami’s second-to-last basket.
James came in talking about being more aggressive, but wasn’t. He went more than 6 minutes before taking his first shot, but certainly made it worth the wait with a drive through the teeth of the defense for a powerful dunk. He also had a two-handed jam in the second half that put Miami up by 13.
The Heat just couldn’t put the Mavs away. Dallas would surge close or ahead, then Miami would turn it up again. The final 18 minutes played out with both teams realizing any possession could change the game and the series.
Nothing came easy for anyone. Shots were contested, bodies collided for every rebound and guys were flying into the stands after loose balls. Fans stood throughout, wearing their blue gimme T-shirts and fired up by videos such as one featuring encouraging words from Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Nolan Ryan and others.
Yet it was the visitors from Miami who walked off celebrating.
”Now we just have to move on,” Spoelstra said. ”The tough part right now is amnesia. Both teams are highly competitive, this is a competitive series as you can see. We have to really gather ourselves in 48 hours and get right back and do this again.”
Spoelstra talked about wanting his guys to get back to their identity of being ”an aggressive, attacking team that tries to get into the paint, to the rim, to the free throw line.” They followed that script to a 14-point lead late in the second quarter, then fell into the same bad habits they showed at the end of Game 2, letting Dallas get within 47-42 at the break.
Maybe Miami players just got bored because things were coming so easily.
James and Wade seemed to get whatever shot they wanted, whenever they wanted. But they kept trying to get others involved. They especially force-fed Bosh, even though his left eye was swollen from an early, accidental poke by Jason Kidd; he missed 7 of 9 in the first half.
The Heat also made things tough on Nowitzki by keeping him from even getting the ball. He took only two shots in the first quarter. He didn’t start getting free until Miami’s lead grew and guys were less intense on defense.
NOTES: Dallas fell to 8-2 at home this postseason. … The Heat and Mavs have each won a road game this series, which should be no surprise. They tied for the best road record in the NBA this season. … Bosh was booed as much as any Miami player during pregame introductions. So much for fans cutting the local kid some slack. … The Mavs fell to 2-1 this postseason in games officiated by Dan Crawford. Dallas came into this postseason having lost 16 of its last 17 playoff games he worked. … Aikman and Terrell Owens sat about 10 seats apart on the same row. Owens attended games in Miami, too. … Shades of the 2008 NCAA finals: Chalmers beat the first-quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer.