The series basically was over. Media members were already typing away on their laptops, ready to file their stories as soon as the clock wound down to 0:00. The local fans were silent, seemingly resigned to their fate. Shaquille O'Neal once again was struggling with his game, trying to find the energy he showed in the first quarter. And as usual, the Miami Heat were getting no help from their bench.
With 6:34 left to go, the scoreboard read 89-76 in favor of the Dallas Mavericks. All that was left was for the Mavs to finish the game the way they'd played the entire second half: with speed, defense and precision.
And then Dwyane Wade took over.
First came a 14-foot jumper. Then he scored a driving layup while being fouled and made a subsequent free throw to complete the three-point play. Following a defensive rebound – one of 13 he grabbed on the night – Wade made another jumper and a layin, and all of a sudden the Heat trailed by only three.
The crowd came back to life, and Dallas began to crumble under the weight of the pressure. Miami would go on to complete an incredible 98-96 comeback victory, finally taking the lead on Udonis Haslem's two free throws with 1:03 to play and again on Gary Payton's jumper with 9.4 seconds remaining.
The Mavericks would have two more chances to tie the game or take the lead, but they came up empty both times. First, Dirk Nowitzki missed a foul shot that would have knotted the game with 3.4 seconds left, and then with his team trailing by two, Nowitzki's lob pass to Josh Howard was stolen by – who else? – Wade.
All told, Wade personally outscored the Mavs 12-7 over those final 6½ minutes to cap a brilliant 42-point night. It was the type of effort normally reserved only for legends.
Wade's scintillating play was amazing in itself, but considering that it came at a time his team absolutely had to have it, his Game 3 heroics will go down in Finals lore. It was a spectacular display of skill, nerve and will, all wrapped up into one. And because of Wade's excellence, Miami is back in the series.
SEQUENCE OF THE NIGHT
With 1:48 left in the game, Dallas was up five when Jason Williams missed a long three-pointer for Miami. Shaquille O'Neal appeared to push off on Erick Dampier before grabbing the offensive rebound. Dampier then fouled Shaq on his putback attempt, sending O'Neal to the free-throw line. The Mavericks' center was livid and yelled his objections to the official but to no avail. Shaq – who was 4-of-20 from the line in the series at that point – drained both shots to pull the Heat within three at 90-93, and the momentum continued to slip away from Dallas.
STATISTIC OF THE NIGHT
21 – That's how many points Josh Howard scored. Why is that significant? It was the first time all season the Mavs lost a game in which Howard scored at least 20. Dallas was 25-0 in those games until its late collapse in Game 3.
STATISTIC OF THE NIGHT, PART II
49-34 – That was the rebounding edge for Miami, the second time in three games the Heat have outboarded the Mavs. Miami's total included 16 offensive rebounds, which kept it in the game during a mostly erratic night offensively. Overall, the Heat passed for just 13 assists and committed 20 turnovers, but by pounding the glass they were able to give themselves extra opportunities to score.
BEST PERFORMANCE IN A LOSING CAUSE
Erick Dampier – He has been maligned for not earning his huge contract, but Dampier appears intent on proving his critics wrong. For the second straight game, he outplayed O'Neal. Dampier made six of seven shots, scored 14 points, grabbed nine rebounds – five of them offensive – and played great defense on Shaq. O'Neal had a great start to the game but eventually lost his edge with Dampier guarding him. Shaq scored 16 points and committed a game-high seven turnovers – not the type of effort he was looking for after his lackluster Game 2. Still, O'Neal and the Heat got the victory, nullifying a terrific effort by Dampier.