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Ball Don't Lie

Video: Dwyane Wade takes his eye off the ball, Heat drop Game 4

Dan Devine
Ball Don't Lie

With 6.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 4 and the Miami Heat trailing the Dallas Mavericks by three points, Dwyane Wade came off a Chris Bosh screen, ran free into a wide-open space and received an inbounds pass from Mike Miller. If you're a Mavericks fan, this sight probably scared the crap out of you.

Because Jason Kidd was trailing the play behind Bosh's screen and help defender Shawn Marion had to quickly close the gap to get out on Wade, the Heat star looked like he'd have enough room to get away a clean (if deep) look at a 3-pointer. Under normal circumstances, you'd be fine with Wade hoisting a long ball — he's only a 29.2 percent career shooter from distance, after all — but he'd made two 3-pointers in each of the first three games of the series, hitting at a much-better 35.3 percent clip under the bright lights of the Finals and showing a penchant for knocking down jumpers (and all manner of other shots) that he seems to have no right making. So, still, scary.

Wade also might have had enough time to hit the Mavs where they live, lifting a page from Rick Carlisle's "hell of a game" playbook and swinging the ball to take advantage of the spacing Miami had created with its out-of-bounds set. With Marion and Kidd collapsing on the ball, Wade was free to look to his left and find an open shot for Bosh, who has already shown in this series both a willingness to take and the capacity to make a game-winner.

Or, more likely, Dallas guard DeShawn Stevenson gets on his horse and rotates to close out on Bosh, who can easily look over the top of the rushing defender to see Mario Chalmers — the whipping boy-turned-golden boy, who'd hit 42 percent of his triples in the series' first three games — standing all by his lonesome between the elbow and the corner and ready to line up a wide-open attempt.

The scene seemed perfectly set for Wade — Miami's best player in this championship round, an absolute holy terror on both ends of the floor and the Heat's only real threat in the fourth quarter of Game 4 — to author yet another play that makes you shake your head and wonder if one of the five or six best players in the game can actually be underrated.

First, though, Wade had to make the catch. He didn't.

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From ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh:

Miller passed the ball in from out of bounds, hitting Wade as he curled around a screen from Bosh. Wade turned his head toward the rim at the last moment and the ball ricocheted off his hands, bouncing across the half-court line. Wade managed to save the possession, valiantly flipping the ball backward to Miller for the desperation shot.

The damage had already been done.

Miller's prayer went unanswered, sealing an 86-83 Dallas win that knotted the NBA Finals at two games. Now, instead of a commanding 3-1 lead and a chance to extinguish Dallas' flame on its home court, Miami faces a pivotal Game 5 in an extremely hostile environment. It also faces an opponent likely to be rejuvenated after scoring a win despite hitting fewer than 40 percent of its shots on a night when its best player was suffering from a triple-digit fever.

As Sebastian Pruiti noted in his postgame breakdown of the final Heat possession at NBA Playbook, trigger-man Miller bears some responsibility for "leaving the ball a little bit behind [Wade]," rather than leading him into the open space with the inbounds pass. Still, though, as Wade said after the game, the blame for the bobble is ultimately his:

"I saw an opening," Wade said. "Mike threw the ball and I was trying to get to the opening, probably before I caught it. That's how I lost it." [...]

"Obviously, I would love to have that play back," Wade added. "We would love to have a lot of plays back."

The final-possession flub and a missed free throw that would have tied the game at 82 with 30.1 seconds left — uncharacteristic miscues, as Yahoo!'s Marc J. Spears wrote after Game 4 — were just about the only mistakes Wade made all night. He was a cool, calm monster, leading all scorers with 32 points, hitting 65 percent of his field-goal attempts and grabbing four of Miami's 15 offensive rebounds.

Wade gave Dallas 40 minutes of hell, exhibiting an explosive brand of two-way basketball best exemplified by a dominant fourth-quarter exchange in which he erased a dunk attempt by 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler, then made a sharp cut into the paint for a layup on the other end.

He's been lethal all series, averaging 29.8 points, eight rebounds (including three on the offensive glass), 4.3 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.5 steals per game. He's been remarkably efficient, hitting 58.8 percent of his field-goal attempts and getting to the basket more than anyone else in the Finals (34 attempts at the rim in four games, of which he's converted 27). He's also played typically stellar on-ball and help defense, making life miserable for Dallas' wings on the perimeter (and, on a number of plays Tuesday night, Chandler and other Mavs bigs at the rim).

Given LeBron James' recent offensive struggles — maybe you've heard something about them? — and Bosh's vacillation between threat and menace, it's no stretch to say that without Wade's brilliance, despite Miami's strong defensive play and the overwhelming feeling that they're just going to throttle Dallas into submission, the Heat might actually be down in this series. He's certainly been Miami's most valuable player; his few mistakes aside, you could argue that he's been the series' most valuable player, too.

Unfortunately, the morning after a two-point loss, it's awful difficult to set those few mistakes aside. They're certainly not the reason Miami lost Game 4, but it's unavoidable that, coming as they did in the final half-minute of an NBA Finals game, they were huge, huge mistakes. Still, they shouldn't obscure our view of how sensational Dwyane Wade was Tuesday night and has been throughout this series. We shouldn't take our eye off the ball just because Wade did, if only for a second.

Original video courtesy of ImadoggyDogg.

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