PLAYOFF SERIES: NBA finals; Heat lead 3-2.
The way the first two games of the NBA finals went, many thought the series might not even get back to Dallas. Dwyane Wade made sure it did.
Now it’s time for Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks to respond, playing what they hope is just the first of two straight games in which they will try to deny Wade and the Heat their first NBA championship.
“We can smell it,” Wade said. “Dallas plays well at home but we are a confident bunch so we’ll see what happens.”
Following three straight wins in Miami as Wade averaged 40.3 points, the Heat head back to Dallas with a 3-2 series lead. Games 1 and 2 in Dallas saw the Mavericks hold Wade to an average of 26.5 points as they won both contests by double digits.
“He’s the best right now, that’s all you can say,” Shaquille O’Neal said. “He’s the best.”
Wade took over Game 5 when it mattered most, scoring 17 of his 43 points in the fourth quarter and hitting the decisive free throws with 1.9 seconds left in overtime to give the Heat a 101-100 victory on Sunday.
Dallas couldn’t advance the ball to halfcourt for its final shot because Josh Howard called a timeout after Wade’s first free throw, though the Mavs claim they were calling for the timeout after the second foul shot. The Mavs, particularly owner Mark Cuban, also felt Wade committed a backcourt violation and pushed off Jason Terry on his drive to the basket that led to the winning free throws.
“This is going to leave a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth,” Howard said. “We’re going to come out and play hard in Game 6 and Game 7.”
Maybe the calls will start going the Mavs’ way in Dallas, where the free throws were distributed more evenly through the first two games. Miami got more foul shots in each of the last three games, shooting a total of 41 more.
While Dallas was 21-of-25 on free throws in Game 5, the Heat went 32-for-49 as O’Neal had another awful night at the foul line with a 2-for-12 performance. Considering he was a combined 2-of-16 in Games 1 and 2, it’s possible the Mavs could again employ the Hack-a-Shaq routine used in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Nowitzki got to the free-throw line a series-low five times in Game 5 and was limited to 20 points, though he did hit critical jumpers late in regulation and overtime. The 7-foot German was held to 16 points and shot 2-of-14 from the field in Game 4 as the Mavs were blown out 98-74.
Thanks partly to the tough defense of Udonis Haslem, Nowitzki has been held below his postseason scoring average, down to 26.9 points, in all but one game of this series.
“We know we can beat this team. We showed it in Game 1 and Game 2,” Nowitzki said. “This (Game 5) is a tough one to swallow for a night.”
Besides playing at home, Dallas has the benefit of getting top reserve Jerry Stackhouse back in action. Stackhouse, averaging 13.8 points in the playoffs, was suspended for Sunday’s game for his hard foul on O’Neal in Game 4.
O’Neal, despite having a fairly unimpressive series while Wade has shined, is one win away from his fourth NBA title and making good on the promise he made when he first came to Miami that the team would have a victory parade down Biscayne Boulevard.
“I told the guys that the job is not done yet,” O’Neal said. “We’ve still got to go to a hostile arena in Dallas and take care of business. And we look forward to doing it.”
Mavericks coach Avery Johnson, meanwhile, will be making some adjustments, maybe none more important than finding a way to slow down Wade.
Howard had a solid Game 5 with 25 points and 10 rebounds, but has been unable to limit Wade’s penetration. Having second-year guard Devin Harris cover Miami’s budding superstar hasn’t worked much better.
“We’re going home, and I know our fans are going to be really crazy,” Johnson said. “We play pretty good basketball at home. We’ve got home-court advantage. So we know we have to play well and win Game 6. There’s no tomorrow, and I like that ‘no tomorrow’ feeling for our team.”
Game 7, if necessary, will be Thursday.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Heat - 2nd seed, Eastern Conference; beat Chicago Bulls 4-2, first round; beat New Jersey Nets 4-1, semifinals; beat Detroit Pistons 4-2, finals. Mavericks - 4th seed, Western Conference; beat Memphis Grizzlies 4-0, first round; beat San Antonio Spurs 4-3, semifinals; beat Phoenix Suns 4-2, finals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Heat - Wade, 28.1 ppg and 5.8 apg; O’Neal, 9.7 rpg. Mavericks - Nowitzki, 26.9 ppg and 11.5 rpg; Terry, 3.7 apg.