DALLAS – Seven minutes. That's it. That's how long it took for all the hate, all the mocking of these Miami Heat to come roaring back. The Heat surrendered far more than 15 points in those final seven minutes of Game 2. They surrendered their credibility.
They entered these NBA Finals as the favorites, romping through the first three rounds of the playoffs, looking as formidable as everyone feared when they first came together 11 months ago. The Heat had finally won over their skeptics, and yet as soon as they crumbled Thursday, suffering as embarrassing a loss as any in recent Finals history, all those doubts and questions returned.
Should Dwyane Wade(notes) be closing games instead of LeBron James(notes)? Is Erik Spoelstra overmatched? Is Chris Bosh(notes) overrated? Are these front-running Heat resilient enough to stand strong when the pressure is greatest? Oh, and didn't these preening narcissists get exactly what they deserved?
The Heat have heard it all before, and that's exactly why they likely won't let the hangover from their monumental collapse linger. As LeBron James walked into practice Saturday with a pair of oversized red headphones covering his ears, the symbolism was simple: These Heat learned how to tune out the noise a long time ago. If there's any team cocky enough to dismiss the affects of that harrowing loss, it's these guys.
After splitting two games in Miami with the Dallas Mavericks, the Heat have lost their home-court advantage. They'll spend the next three games baking in the 100-degree Central Texas heat with no guarantee they'll return to South Beach for a championship parade. Game 3 arrives Sunday evening, and once again, it's the Heat versus the world.
"It's going to be a hostile environment," Wade said. "Nothing the Miami Heat aren't used to."
Since the divorce of Kobe Bryant(notes) and Shaquille O'Neal(notes), no team has been more probed, dissected and scrutinized than these Heat. They've brought this on themselves, of course. Stand on a smoke-filled stage in July, dancing, screaming, vowing to win "not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven" championships as James did, and chances are you have a slightly inflated opinion of yourself. Oversized expectations for oversized egos.
This has always been a championship-or-bust season for the Heat, and somewhere along the way they learned to carry that heavy burden. They expected everything to come so easy, and when it didn't, they struggled. After one loss, some of them even cried in the locker room. They were mocked for that, too, and yet they also emerged from the season as a stronger team.
So after they kicked away Game 2, unraveling as no team has in the Finals in 14 years, they treated the loss like they've treated nearly everything else that's come their way. They shrugged.
"We let one slip away," Wade said.
Wade said something else that resonated: "We're more confident now than we've ever been."
If anything, the Heat now know what they're up against. This isn't 2006. These Mavericks won't go easily. No one has played better in the biggest moments of this postseason than Dirk Nowitzki(notes). He's as locked in as any star in years, and he now has the next three games at home. So far, this series has been a test of Nowitzki's resolve against the talent of the Heat – and it's 1-1.
The Mavericks also exposed old concerns about the Heat from earlier in the season. From assigning Bosh to guard Nowitzki on that fateful possession to not keeping a final timeout in his back pocket, Game 2 wasn't Spoelstra's finest moment. Bosh said the Heat have been "sick" over the loss, and if anyone has cause for feeling ill after the first two games, it's him. He's made just nine of his 34 shots.
"It hurts bad," Bosh said. "But things like that happen. …It's not about what happened, it's how you react."
The Heat will likely react how they have most of these past few months. For all the criticism they received for celebrating too early in Game 2, that's not going to change. This is a team that feeds off its emotion. James' throwing celebratory jabs at Wade's chest falls short of Kevin Durant(notes) trying to strap an imaginary championship belt around his 28-inch waist in the West finals – or anything Jason Terry(notes) has done when he's made a big shot.
"If [Terry] runs down the court doing the whole wings expanded," James said, "do we count that as a celebration as well?"
The Heat know they've been the better team for longer in this series. They've already won on the road in Boston and Chicago in these playoffs. The Mavericks can win these Finals, but they won't make the Heat feel real pressure until they put them in a hole. And for those who see Miami's collapse in Game 2 as a possible turning point the same way the Mavs' collapse in Game 3 of the 2006 Finals was, there's one noticeable difference: Spoelstra's young, but he's not wound as tight as Avery Johnson. Don't expect him to panic by berating reporters and forcing his team to switch hotels the way A.J. did.
"We're a non-traditional team," Spoelstra said.
No, these Heat aren't easy to like, but their cockiness works for them here. They've stewed over this loss for two days. If they're capable of feeling humility, maybe it even embarrassed them. It just likely won't crack them.
Seven minutes was all the Heat needed to lose their grip on these Finals, and all those doubts and questions returned. As Wade said: They're used to it.