“I need you tonight,” O’Neal told Mourning.
“Say no more,” Mourning replied.
The 35-year-old with the transplanted kidney stepped in for the Diesel and played 35 minutes, scored 14 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots. Sure, he looked every bit his age when he was slow getting downcourt a few times, but Mourning and Dwyane Wade had more than enough Thursday night to lead the Heat to a 102-95 victory over the Washington Wizards.
“I’ve worked my butt off for this type of opportunity,” Mourning said, “and I’m anxious to see the reward at the end.”
The Heat lead the series 3-0 and are unbeaten in seven games in the postseason. They can complete their second straight playoff sweep Saturday night.
“We continue to prove people wrong. This is not a one- or two-man team,” Mourning said. “We have a lot of guys who understand the goal that we set for ourselves. The reason why this team was assembled was to win a championship.”
Five Miami players scored in a 13-0 third-quarter run that swung the game, and Wade steadied himself after committing five first-quarter turnovers to finish with 31 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Eddie Jones and Damon Jones added 16 points apiece, and Udonis Haslem had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Wade made 14 of 27 shots and finished with eight turnovers, but Mourning’s performance—which included a couple of energetic goaltending calls—was the most inspirational.
“It’s fatigue that’s keeping him from getting up and down the floor,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “But when it’s the moment—and the moment for ‘Zo defensively is protecting the basket—he’ll summon the energy.”
Added Mourning: “I haven’t forgotten how to play this game. I just had a transplant that set me back a little bit.”
The deep thigh bruise that has bothered O’Neal for weeks finally caused him to miss a playoff game for the first time in his career, ending a streak of 164 consecutive postseason appearances.
“I was ordered by the powers-that-be to take it easy,” O’Neal said. “I looked bad the other night in the fourth quarter, and they didn’t want it to get any worse. They have confidence in the team and so do I. The team just played fabulous today.”
O’Neal absence appeared to open a golden opportunity for the Wizards, who had won seven straight at home and needed some momentum after back-to-back losses in Miami. Now, it’s hard to imagine them stealing a single game in the series: Washington has lost 11 straight to the Heat.
“Shaq’s not playing and it’s our first game at home,” forward Jared Jeffries said. “We’ve got to bring a lot more energy than this.”
Gilbert Arenas scored 20 points and set a franchise playoff record with 14 assists for the Wizards, but he committed five of his six turnovers in the second half. Antawn Jamison scored 21 points. Hughes added 19, Juan Dixon 16 and Brendan Haywood 15.
“I played bad in the second half. I didn’t make nothing. Couldn’t make the right pass, and that cost us the lead,” Arenas said. “We got down by 10 and from there we just had to fight back.”
The deficit was 13 early in the fourth quarter and 10 with 4:19 remaining before Arenas led a late charge. He stumbled through the paint for a layup that cut the lead to 98-95 with 1:51 remaining, but Haslem’s 18-footer and Wade’s falling-down layup pushed the lead back to seven in the final minute.
Mourning’s early rebounds were crucial because his teammates were struggling to keep the ball. The Heat committed 11 first-half turnovers. Wade had six.
Washington led 40-34 after two 3-pointers by Arenas and a jumper by Hughes, but Damon Jones and Keyon Dooling quickly tied the game with a pair of 3s. Hughes made two free throws to give the Wizards a 51-49 lead at the half.
The Wizards built their lead to eight with a layup from Arenas, but the Heat responded with the 13-0 run that rattled the home team and stunned the fans. Suddenly, the Heat were leading 65-60.
Shortly afterward, Wade made a spectacular one-handed dunk down the middle of the lane, and the Wizards were completely on their heels. By the end of the quarter, Miami was ahead 79-70. After committing just three turnovers in the first half, the Wizards had seven in the third quarter.
But the Wizards weren’t done. After Wade made two baskets to get the lead to 13 early in the fourth quarter, Washington answered with a 12-4 run, capped by Hughes’ 3-pointer.
The Heat responded with a 7-0 spurt, with Damon Jones sandwiching two jumpers around a hook shot by Mourning, providing enough cushion to withstand the Wizards’ final run.
Although Mourning’s fitness received the most scrutiny, Van Gundy said Wade was exhausted in the game’s final minutes. “Dwyane looked like he was going to die at our last timeout,” Van Gundy said. … Both frontcourts were thin. The Wizards played without Etan Thomas, who strained an abdominal muscle in Game 2 on Tuesday, and Kwame Brown, who is suspended for the playoffs. Mourning and backup Michael Doleac each picked up three fouls in the first half, but they combined for just one foul in the second half. … The Heat extended a franchise record with their seventh consecutive playoff game with 100 points or more. … The previous Wizards record for assists in a playoff game was held by Kevin Porter with 13 against Buffalo in 1975. … Washington’s Eddie Jordan is 0-14 as a head coach against the Heat.