Closer to the heart

Closer to the heart
By Steve Kerr, Yahoo Sports
June 19, 2006

Steve Kerr
Yahoo Sports
The Dallas Mavericks did everything they had to do to win Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Sunday.

They got big games from Jason Terry and Josh Howard. Their star, Dirk Nowitzki, made clutch shots down the stretch. They pounded the glass and outrebounded the Miami Heat for just the second time in the series – a result of renewed energy, vigor and competitiveness after losing Games 3 and 4. And once again the Mavs slowed down Shaquille O'Neal, holding him to a relatively painless 18 points and 12 boards. Dallas even did a good job on Dwyane Wade, forcing him to miss 17 shots by harassing him, sending double teams his way and clogging the lane with bodies.

So how did the Mavericks lose Game 5? That's probably the question Avery Johnson and his staff are asking each other on the long flight home to Dallas after the team's disastrous week in South Florida. Of course, they all know the answer – he wears No. 3 for Miami and goes by the nickname "Flash."

Wade was stunning for the third straight game, scoring 43 points despite inconsistent shooting and an aggressive Mavs defense. Every time the Heat needed a hoop, Wade found a way to score. Miami didn't have many offensive threats going, with Antoine Walker and Udonis Haslem both struggling and Jason Williams and O'Neal quiet. So Wade took over, attacking from his favorite spot at the top of the key time and again.

His jump shot was not falling in the first half, so he didn't settle for outside shots, instead attacking at every opportunity and drawing foul after foul. Wade made 25 trips to the free-throw line, where he converted an NBA Finals-record 21. The last two came with 1.9 seconds left and his team trailing by one. Wade knocked down both shots so calmly he may as well have been playing in an exhibition game in Tallahassee. And after Devin Harris missed a shot from half court at the buzzer, Miami had a 3-2 series lead.

Wade eventually found his jump shot in the second half, and he made one clutch shot after another in both regulation and overtime for the Heat. In fact, he was so dominant that Johnson decided to double-team him as soon as he got the ball near half court in the waning moments of overtime. Johnson was willing to compromise his team's defense dramatically in order to force another Miami player to beat him. But with several Mavericks hounding Wade and attempting to make him pass, Wade simply dribbled around and through everyone, drove to the rim and drew a foul on Dirk Nowitzki to earn his winning free throws.

Wade's numbers for Miami's three home wins – he scored 121 points and shot 52 free throws – were astronomical. But as gaudy as the stats were, Wade's performance can't be defined by numbers. How many big shots did he hit? How often did he make a critical play when his team had to have it? How many deflections did he make defensively? In reality, Dallas has outplayed the Heat in four of the series' five games. But in two of those games, Wade put his team on his shoulders and said, "We're not losing." Not many players in the game's history could do that. And Wade has now done it in two of the last three games of the Finals.

I think it's safe to say that Wade is on par with Kobe Bryant when it comes to closing out games with individual excellence and intense competitive will. And 30,000 feet above the ground late Sunday night, Johnson and his staff probably said the same thing, albeit quite dejectedly. Wade is ridiculously good, and he has his Miami Heat one win away from a championship.

SEQUENCE OF THE GAME

With 1.9 seconds left in overtime and Wade having made his first free throw to tie the game, Johnson motioned to Howard to call timeout after the second free throw. The Mavs had one timeout left and Johnson wanted to use it to advance the ball to half court and draw up a play to win the game. Howard, though, signaled for a timeout to referee Joe DeRosa and started to walk towards the bench after Wade's first free throw. DeRosa awarded the Mavs a timeout, but Johnson began screaming that he wanted it after Wade's second free throw. DeRosa, however, had already made the call and the timeout stood. After Wade's second free throw, all the Mavericks could do was throw the ball to Harris in the backcourt, where he launched a 50-foot heave that really didn't come close.

So who is to blame here? Everyone.

Johnson should have called Howard over to the bench rather than signal to him in the loud, boisterous atmosphere. Howard should have made sure of the order before signaling for the timeout. And DeRosa shouldn't have been so quick to call the timeout. Referees in that situation know what coaches are doing with timeouts, and he should have taken a moment to make sure Johnson and Howard had communicated together properly. Still, Howard has to take the onus – he's the one who asked for the timeout. It's a shame, too, because Howard played his best game of the series, scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 boards. But what most fans will remember is his late timeout gaffe.

SUBSTITUTE OF THE GAME

Gary Payton – The numbers aren't overwhelming – eight points on 3-for-5 shooting – but Payton hit a couple huge buckets that helped Miami win. A spot-up three-pointer brought the Heat to within a point late in regulation, and his high-arcing left-handed layup over Erick Dampier game the Heat a one-point lead with 29.8 seconds remaining in OT.

STRATEGY OF THE GAME

Hack … a … Shaq – I haven't seen it work very often, but Johnson used it late in both regulation and overtime, and O'Neal missed five out of six free throws. But it's not just Shaq who is clanking shots from the line in this series. His teammates are a combined 89-for-126 (70.6 percent), and the Heat are lucky those poor numbers haven't caught up with them in the last few games.

Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Monday, Jun 19, 2006 12:01 pm, EDT

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