Wade more than filled the void of O’Neal’s scoreless first half by scoring a postseason career-high 34 points and setting up the big guy for most of his 17 second-half points as the Heat completed a first-round sweep of the New Jersey Nets with a 110-97 win Sunday.
“He’s been a superstar, even last year,” O’Neal said of Wade. “It’s just now you guys are recognizing it.”
Wade put up spectacular numbers with O’Neal hobbled, averaging 26.3 points, 8.8 assists, 6.3 rebounds, 1.8 steals, a block and 42.5 minutes. He shot 50 percent from the field, hitting 37 of 74 shots.
Only six other players have averaged 25 points, eight assists and six rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the floor in a playoff series. They are all in the Hall of Fame—Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, the last to do it in the 1991 NBA Finals.
Wade’s big game on Sunday in Miami’s seventh straight win over Jason Kidd and company guaranteed that O’Neal will have at least a full week to rest his legs before the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs resumes. The layoff could last nine days, depending on the other series.
“I’m a little more confident,” Wade said in comparing himself to his rookie season last year. “I know my teammates depend on me a lot more. I know what to do more now than last year.”
The Heat cruised past the Nets because they hit shots and they also got contributions up and down their lineup from the likes of Eddie Jones, Damon Jones, Udonis Haslem, Keyon Dooling and Alonzo Mourning, the former Net who was booed unmercifully the past two games.
“Everybody stepped up, some nights guys you didn’t expect to play well, played well,” said O’Neal, who averaged 18.3 points, 8.8 rebounds and 33 minutes. “The whole team played well. We had six or eight guys play well.”
And the Heat will be a lot better when O’Neal is healthy.
Eddie Jones added 21 points on Sunday and O’Neal shot 7-for-9 in the second half after missing all five in the first half. Miami shot 54.9 percent from the field with Wade leading the way, making 13-of-20.
New Jersey, which qualified for the playoffs on the final day of the regular season by winning for the 15th time in 19 games, was eliminated early because it shot poorly the entire series. Game 4 was another lowlight, a 39.5 percent effort that included a woeful 6-of-22 effort by Vince Carter.
“It says a lot when you beat a team four straight times,” Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. “Normally, there is a letdown. Those guys kept on coming. Our guys made a big run. Once we got it up three, they took it to another level.”
After making the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003, the Nets have been eliminated in the second round last year and, now, the first round.
“It wasn’t so long ago we set the bar in the Eastern Conference,” Frank said. “Tables turn quickly.”
Trailing 60-57 midway through the third quarter, Miami took control with a 21-10 spurt that was all Wade. He hit a jumper to get the Heat within two points, he fed O’Neal for a layup and then found Damon Jones for an open 3-pointer and a 64-60 lead.
Eddie Jones took over late in the quarter, hitting two 3-pointers and a jumper for a 78-70 lead after three quarters.
New Jersey made a run early in the fourth quarter, drawing within 84-81 on a 3-pointer by Kidd.
However, Dooling, who had 11 points, hit a 3-pointer and Wade embarrassed Carter on an out-of-bounds play, bouncing the ball off his rear end and hitting a layup for an 89-81 edge.
“I kept thinking: “Should I do it? Should I do it?” Wade said. “There were three guys with their backs to me.”
Carter paid the price.
New Jersey never got close again and the only cheers from the home crowd came when Frank emptied the bench in the closing minutes.
Wade appeared to be the only member of the Heat who wanted to end the series right away. He hit 6-of-8 shots and scored 14 points in the first quarter in helping Miami take a 27-16 lead.
O’Neal, who started the series with a sore right thigh and hurt his left in Miami’s double overtime win in Game 3, had a horrible half. He was 0-for-5 from the field with three turnovers. The only thing he hit was a couple of Nets’ jaws in picking up two offensive fouls, and three overall.
Kidd, Carter and Jefferson combined for 23 second-quarter points in helping New Jersey get within 48-47 at the half.
After selling out only two regular season games, the Nets had their second straight sellout (20,174) on Sunday. … Jefferson returned to the starting lineup in place of Brian Scalabrine. … Miami was called for two technicals for illegal defenses. …Dooling hit 15-of-21 shots in the series, which was Miami’s first sweep in a seven-game series.