Dwyane Wade scored 42 points and orchestrated a furious fourth-quarter Miami comeback on Tuesday that reached its crescendo on Gary Payton's jumper with 9.3 seconds left as the Heat escaped with a 98-96 win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 3.
"As a team, we just came out and said this could be the season if they win this game," Wade said. "We came out, ran our offense to the crisp, locked down on defense and came back and won this game."
Despite blowing its big lead, Dallas still had plenty of chances late but Dirk Nowitzki missed one of two free throws with 3.4 seconds to go and the Mavericks couldn't convert on an inbounds play in the final second thanks to Wade, who tipped away the last gasp pass after scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter.
Wade has been battling flu-like symptoms for several weeks.
"I had legs at the end to go down there and finish and make things happen. ... I feel a little bit better," Wade said.
As the final horn sounded, Heat fans simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated, tossed their "White Hot" white T-shirts into the air, a celebration that seemed unimaginable just a few minutes earlier.
Now, after watching Wade's heroics and Shaquille O'Neal and Udonis Haslem hit four straight crucial free throws in final two minutes, they're coming back for Game 4 on Thursday night.
"We had 2 1/2 horrible games and now we can use this momentum and pick it up and just try to win four," said O'Neal, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds, atoning for a miserable five-point performance in Game 2.
Miami was down and apparently done after Jason Terry's basket made it 89-76 with 6:34 remaining.
That's when Wade, playing with five fouls and conjuring memories of Michael Jordan's playoff miracles, decided it was time for him to take over.
He hit a jumper, completed a 3-point play and dropped in another bucket to bring the Heat within five. Then, after a miss by Nowitzki, Wade drove baseline, hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, and hit a floater to make it 91-88 with 3:36 to go.
Dallas, meanwhile, which had shown so much poise through 3-1/2 quarters, was coming apart at the seams. Nowitzki's two free throws slowed Miami for a moment, but O'Neal, whose abysmal foul shooting had contributed to Miami's 0-2 deficit in the series, calmly spun in two attempts to pull the Heat within 93-90 1:48 left.
Wade's jumper got Miami within a point, and Haslem came up with the play of the game, picking off a pass intended for Nowitzki. Haslem, playing with a badly bruised shoulder suffered in Game 2, was fouled and the Heat's toughest player made both attempts after firing bricks on his first four tries.
Then, with the game tied, Payton, the defensive specialist coach Pat Riley brought in this season, knocked down a 21-foot jumper -- just his second field goal of the series.
Nowitzki, who finished with 30 points, was fouled trying to answer Payton's shot with a drive to the hoop. At that point, he was 25-of-27 from the line in the series, but he could only make the first. When he misfired on the second, he triggered a roar inside AmericanAirlines Arena that could be heard back in Dallas.
The Mavericks appeared on their way when they outscored the Heat 34-16 in the third quarter to open a 77-68 lead entering the final 12 minutes. Josh Howard scored 21 points for Dallas. Erick Dampier added 14 points and Jerry Stackhouse managed just four points on 1-of-9 shooting.
Beyond what the Mavericks' defense did to him in Games 1 and 2, O'Neal, who was fined US$10,000 by the NBA for skipping his postgame interview on Sunday in Dallas, has taken a public beating in the media and from fans wondering what has happened to one of the NBA's pre-eminent towers of power.
Riley, for one, thinks O'Neal has been treated unfairly.
"Shaquille O'Neal is one of the most worthy professional athletes who has ever walked the face of the planet," Riley said before the game. "And he has one bad game ... but that's the way it is in life."
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