WASHINGTON (AP)—While Shaquille O’Neal sat, the phenom-on-the-rise had a dazzling coming-out party.
Wade scored 22 of his career playoff-high 42 points in the third, going 7-for-7 from the field and 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. He broke franchise records for points in a playoff quarter and a playoff game and scored 31, 31 and 42 in the last three games of the series. He averaged 28.6 in sweeps over New Jersey and Washington, more than compensating for the ailing O’Neal.
“To me, it’s a remake of ‘A Star is Born.’ You could take the two series and make a movie out of it, because he’s certainly raised his game,” Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. “He’s certainly a bona fide star in this league right now at his tender young age, whatever it is.”
For the record, Wade is 23. More fans will want to know facts after Saturday night’s prime-time show, intensifying a star status he has already started to sense as the playoffs progress.
“When you go out, you feel a little different. The players treat you a little different around the league,” said Wade, who has been overshadowed by fellow 2003 draftees LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. “But at the same time, I’m just going to try to get better. Hopefully, this whole season, not just the playoffs, people got an opportunity to see the way that I play, and I hope they like it.”
O’Neal missed his second straight game with a deep thigh bruise that has hobbled him for several weeks. The sweep will give him a minimum of eight days to recover, with the conference finals against Detroit or Indiana not scheduled to start until May 23, at the earliest.
“There’s always a Diesel flow to our team,” Wade said. “Shaq came to us before the game and told us: ‘I’m proud of y’all. You can do this regardless.’ And we did it with the help of our big man. He wasn’t in the game with us, but he was just as big in these two games. It’s very big to give him some more rest.”
A healthy O’Neal wasn’t necessary against New Jersey or Washington. The Heat went 15-0 against the two teams and are the first team in NBA history to sweep the same two teams in the playoffs that it swept during the regular season. Miami has also won 12 straight against Washington over two seasons.
For all of Wade’s heroics, the series wasn’t complete until Eddie Jones made a 3-pointer from the right wing with 14.9 seconds remaining. The Heat blew an 11-point lead over the final six minutes and had missed 16 straight shots until Jones’ basket gave Miami a 97-95 lead.
Washington’s Larry Hughes had a chance to tie the game with a drive to the basket, but Alonzo Mourning blocked the shot with 8.3 seconds remaining. Wade then made two free throws for the final points, ending the Wizards’ best season in decades. They made the playoffs for the first time in eight years and won a series for the first time since 1982.
“We wanted to be a lot more competitive as far as wins in this series,” Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. “But it was a learning process for a young team, a team that had to deal with adversity.”
The Wizards simply could not stop Wade in the third quarter, whether he was working himself open for a jumper or grabbing an offensive rebound and going back up for a dunk. He finished 13-for-22 from the field and 16-for-17 from the line.
“Most people now think he’s in the top 10 or 15 players in the league,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s earned as much respect as you can earn in your second year.”
Damon Jones added 19 points for the Heat, including 12 points in the pivotal third quarter when he made all four of his 3-point attempts. Miami outscored Washington 40-25 in the third, opening an 11-point lead that became 13 when Eddie Jones opened the fourth with a basket.
All hope for the Wizards appeared to end when Gilbert Arenas fouled out with 6:04 remaining and his team trailing by 10, but Juan Dixon made a pair of 3-pointers and Antawn Jamison hit a 3 that put the Wizards ahead 95-94 with 1:15 to play.
Arenas scored 25 points for the Wizards before fouling out for just the second time this season. Arenas, who usually throws his jersey into the crowd after each game, did so immediately after getting his sixth foul and was called for a technical.
“I didn’t know I was going to get a technical for it,” Arenas said. “Actually, I was surprised that I fouled out. I didn’t know I had the sixth one already. That’s what I do. Instead of sitting there in a wet shirt, I go ahead and give it to somebody”
Brendan Haywood added 18 points and 15 rebounds for the Wizards. Dixon and Hughes scored 15 apiece.
O’Neal must have felt very restless watching the game from the bench. The Heat were outscored 20-8 and outrebounded 17-13 at the center position. Mourning, effective in Game 3 in his first playoff start in four years, was in constant foul trouble and contributed little until his block at the end. Michael Doleac was more effective hitting medium-range jumpers than he was trying to put back offensive rebounds, and he also had three fouls in the first half.
The prognosis for O’Neal’s return is uncertain, but he’ll no doubt be needed as the competition gets tougher.
“Obviously our team is not as good without Shaq,” Van Gundy said. “C’mon, he’s the most dominant player in the league. But we’re going to go out and battle and play even if we don’t have him.”
The Heat are 8-3 this season without O’Neal. … Wade’s 42 points broke the Miami playoff record of 38 points set by Tim Hardaway against New York on May 18, 1997. The 22 points in a playoff quarter surpassed Hardaway’s 20 in the second quarter at Chicago on April 26, 1996. … Wade also tied Mourning’s franchise record of seven 20-point games in a single postseason. … The Heat will need another sweep plus one more victory to match the longest postseason winning streak in NBA history. The Lakers won 13 in a row, spanning the 1988 and ’89 seasons. … Jordan fell to 0-15 as a head coach against Miami. … O’Neal said this week that his aching leg has caused him to play “like Erick Dampier,” referring to the Dallas Mavericks center called out publicly by teammate Dirk Nowitzki. Jordan played along Saturday, closing his pregame chat with reporters by asking, “Is Erick Dampier playing tonight?”