Hours before Game 3, Dwyane Wade had that big-game feeling.
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Wade’s 36 miserable hours of migraine headaches had passed, his head was clear and his game, well, he’d prove his game was back in championship form.
”I don’t have to worry about bright lights,” Wade said.
Was he ever fantastic under the postseason spotlight.
Wade had 32 points and 10 rebounds, LeBron James finished with 24 points and 15 boards and the Miami Heat took a 3-0 lead in their first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers with a 100-94 victory Thursday night.
”I felt a lot better,” Wade said. ”My game felt better. I think my teammates could see it.”
The Heat saw it from the opening tip. Wade was driving, attacking, dunking – playing his game at full blast the way he couldn’t in Game 2. He even fought through another familiar malady, a banged-up shoulder that needed ice and treatment.
Wade delivered with a string of big baskets – he was 10 of 19 from the field overall – in the third and fourth quarters that spurred the Heat to the brink of the conference semifinals. He drew a foul on a spin move against Jrue Holiday and hit two free throws with 51.6 seconds left that about clinched the game.
Wade missed practice before Game 2 with a migraine headache. He was slowed in Game 2 by the lingering effects of the headache and scored a combined 31 points in the first two games.
”He understood we needed something a little bit more,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Wade was 12 for 12 from the free throw line. For all the hype around the Big Three, Wade remembers he was the Biggest One in Miami. He still plays that way and the Heat needed all of his all-around excellence against the scrappy Sixers.
Chris Bosh scored 19 points for the Heat, who rallied from an early 10-point deficit to move within one win of a sweep of the Eastern Conference series.
Game 4 is Sunday in Philadelphia.
”This is what we envisioned,” James said.
James gave the Heat a late scare when he fell late in the fourth quarter and briefly sat against the scorer’s table. He grimaced when his teammates pulled him up and he slowly walked back to Miami’s bench.
James brushed off questions about a possible tender ankle, said he was fine and will be ready for Sunday.
”We’re a desperate team right now,” James said. ”We want to continue to play that way. D-Wade had an unbelievable game … and we’re ready to close it out.”
The Sixers were determined to win one on their home court and played like a team trying all it could to get the series back to Miami.
Lou Williams missed a 3 with 43 seconds left that would have made it a one-point game. Holiday scored 20 points, Williams finished with 15 and Elton Brand had 21 points and 11 rebounds for the 76ers.
The Heat dominated again from the free-throw line, going 24 for 30 to Philadelphia’s 13 of 19.
For most of the game, it seemed like a Game 1 rerun. The Sixers’ fast start would get picked away by Miami, the Big Three would take over and the Heat would roll.
When James hit a pull-up jumper for a 54-52 lead early in the third for Miami’s first lead of the game, the plan was going as scripted.
The Sixers had a whole new ending planned.
Jodie Meeks and Holiday bookended 3s during a stunning 12-0 run that helped them regain the lead in front of a rollicking crowd that truly made it feel like big-time, meaningful basketball was alive and thriving in Philadelphia.
In a play that showed what make the Heat great, James stumbled and flipped an underhand pass to Wade for a ferocious dunk that cut it 68-64.
”It definitely started a run for us,” James said. ”Luckily I was able to get rid of the ball before I traveled and D-Wade was able to slam it home. It’s a great play for us, a great team win and we’re looking to close them out on Sunday.”
Fans booed each time James touched the ball – the crowd reveled in his lone airball – and the Sixers kept a 75-73 lead into the fourth.
The Heat didn’t flinch in the hostile environment: They led the East and tied for the NBA lead with 28 road victories.
Philadelphia’s fast start fizzled down the stretch and a team that showed amazing resiliency all season simply doesn’t have the talent to match up with the Heat.
The 76ers made their first four shots, raced to a 9-0 lead and drove a rare pumped sellout crowd bonkers.
Philadelphia’s stellar first quarter was a familiar feeling for both teams. In Game 1, the Sixers made eight of their first 10 shots and led 25-11. While the Sixers coughed up the lead in the second quarter in that one, they stretched the lead to double figures and never lost the lead, going into halftime up 52-50.
”I’m a moral person, but I don’t like moral victories,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said.
Brand, who scored only 20 points the first two games, established his mid-range jumper and scored 13 points in the first half. The Sixers only turned the ball over twice and proved the Game 2 flop was well behind them.
Williams delivered on his two pregame promises.
The first compared Philly’s fans to Miami’s: ”Ours will be better.”
Fueled by ”Rocky” clips, 20,404 fans were stoked from the time the lights were dimmed for intros to the final horn.
The other: The 76ers would ”fight hard, fight to the finish.”
They did. They just didn’t win.
NOTES: Miami outrebounded the 76ers by 16. … The Heat have made 78 free throws in the series while the Sixers attempted just 54.