Heat reclaims NBA Finals advantage with 88-86 victory over Mavericks
The lingering image from Game 2 of the NBA Finals was the Miami Heat fiddling on the perimeter while the Dallas Mavericks burned Miami on a 15-point comeback in the final seven minutes.
The Heat made no secret of its objective for Game 3 on Sunday in Dallas: attack, attack, attack.
With Dwyane Wade in attack mode from the start and leading the way with 29 points, the Heat regained the upper hand in the best-of-seven series with a 88-86 victory.
But in the end it came down to defense, defense, defense.
This time the Heat withstood a second-half comeback by the Mavericks and a last-second shot by Dirk Nowitzki.
“We wanted to win the game on the defensive end of the floor, and it came down to getting a stop,” Wade said.
It also took a clutch shot by Chris Bosh, who hit the winning jumper with 39.6 seconds remaining. Bosh had struggled for much of the game, but he scored seven of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. That final 16-footer from the left was the biggest shot of his career.
Wade had been giving Bosh an earful throughout the game.
“It’s our job to be on each other. Myself, Chris and LeBron [James], if we’re not on each other, nobody will. I don’t ever want him [Bosh] to pass up a shot,” Wade said. “But I was more on him about rebounding. I felt Tyson Chandler got too many rebounds, and he took it. Hopefully next game he’ll stop it.”
Bosh had been beaten by Nowitzki for the winning layup in the final seconds of Game 2. This time Udonis Haslem drew the assignment and forced the Mavericks’ 7-footer into a fadeaway jumper from the top of the key. It clanked off the rim.
“That’s a makeable shot, even for him. But UD did a great job of keeping his chest in front of him and forcing him into a fadeaway,” Heat Coach Eric Spoelstra said.
Nowitzki finished with 34 points after leading a strong second-half surge that brought the Mavericks back from a 13-point deficit. He scored the Mavericks’ final 12 points of the game as they erased a seven-point Heat lead.
Unfortunately for the Mavericks, Nowitzki didn’t get a lot of help generating offense. Their second-leading scorer, Jason Terry, scored 15.
“We would like to make it easier for him, and at times we can give him some relief, you know, with some rest and some better balance. But tonight was tough. Tonight was not one of those nights,” Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle said.
While it is difficult to place more importance on a particular game in a seven-game series, since the 2-3-2 scheduling format was instituted in 1985, of series that were tied 1-1, the team that won Game 3 went on to win the title all 11 times.
The game carried added importance to the Heat after blowing the big lead at home and facing the next three games at Dallas. Game 4 of the best-of-seven series will be Thursday.
“We want to play more to our identity,” Spoelstra said before the game. “We’re an aggressive, attacking team that tries to get into the paint, to the rim, to the free throw line.”
The first two games were uncharacteristic of the Heat as it attempted 54 three-point shots compared to 50 free throws. Miami came out more aggressive with Wade and James taking it to the hoop from the start.
The tactic did not get the Heat to the foul line nearly as often as Dallas. The Mavericks were called for 14 fouls compared to 27 for Miami. The Mavericks made 10 more free throws than the Heat, with Nowitzki making all nine of his attempts.
Every time Miami appeared on the verge of running away with the game, Dallas battled back. The Heat opened the second half with an 8-0 surge to forge a 13-point lead. The Mavericks answered with a 17-2 run to take their first lead since the first quarter, with Nowitzki scoring nine.
Consecutive three-pointers by James (17 points) and Mario Chalmers enabled the Heat to pull ahead and take a 67-64 advantage into the fourth quarter.
Another three-pointer by Chalmers, his fourth of the game, put the Heat up 79-72 with 7:19 to play. That was about the same time Miami went up by 15 in Game 2. Dallas came back this time with smothering defense and clutch shooting by Nowitzki.
Unlike in Game 2, the Heat showed fortitude at the end.
“Our guys really competed. At times it was a little uneven, but we found ways to make plays on both ends of the court, to grind this game out in a very enduring win,” Spoelstra said.
A high-energy Wade led the Heat to a 47-42 halftime lead with 19 points on nine-for-13 shooting, many on high-flying dunks. He blocked Jason Terry’s shot and scored on a runaway dunk and James followed with two free throws to put the Heat up by 14, its biggest lead of the half.
But the Mavericks closed the half on an 11-2 run. Nowitzki did his part to disrupt the Heat express with three first-half blocks and 10 points.
The Mavericks were without backup center Brendan Haywood because of a strained right hip flexor. That put Ian Mahinmi on the spot for his first significant playing time of the playoffs. He had five fouls in eight minutes while scoring two points.