MIAMI – It was simply the biggest collapse on the biggest stage, and even the Big 3 were utterly helpless to stop it. In a six-minute span that caved in on Miami like a massive sinkhole Thursday night, the Heat saw their NBA championship hopes turn perilous.
Dallas 95, Miami 93.
Stunning. Stunned. Heat fans, delirious with joy in the middle of the fourth quarter, emptied the building and staggered into the downtown night after the club’s first home loss of this postseason – a defeat that will haunt if Miami can’t recover from it now.
Call it a Mavericks miracle or an utter choke by the Heat. Either way it had to be one of the most astounding losses in Florida sports history, one that snatched a 2-0 NBA finals lead from the Heat and sends a 1-1 series back to Dallas for three consecutive games.
“That’s about as tough a fourth quarter as you can have,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When it started to slide it just kept going.”
You can second-guess some of Spoelstra’s calls now. Miami had a late foul to give but didn’t use it. The Heat switched Chris Bosh instead of Udonis Haslem onto a hot Dirk Nowitzki on his winning last shot, failing to double-team him. And Dwyane Wade, Miami’s best player all night, didn’t see much of the ball late.
The what-ifs are the residue of collapse, and this was that.
Win, and the questions don’t even get asked.
Lose, especially this way, and the questions sound loud, and they echo.
“I really don’t know what happened,” said a shell-shocked Bosh.
Miami led by 88-73 with 6:20 to play. It happened on Wade’s 3-point shot from the far corner that gave him a heroic 36 points and gave Miami its biggest lead. Engulfed by merry, sonic noise, Wade luxuriously left his right hand high in the air for several moments.
He was posing. He had earned the right.
LeBron James swaggered over to Wade at that instant and started barking praise at him. Then James balled his fists and started mock-punching Wade in the chest, love-taps to maybe mimic the knockout punches No. 3 had been throwing at Dallas all night.
Six minutes later the Heat were on the canvas, and it was Dirk Nowitzki – with a hurt finger and Dallas’ final nine points – standing over Miami’s title hopes.
Now a shocked, devastated Heat squad must hop a flight to Dallas today and face three consecutive games on the road beginning Sunday, with at least one win a must.
Now, with a championship at stake, this Miami team must do what it has done all season – overcome the hate and the hostility.
Find the mute button on that voluminous venom.
Leave the love of the home arena and go win where the anger awaits them.
“The majority of the noise, we’ve been able to compartmentalize it,” Spoelstra said.
All season, the Heat have not been ignoring that angry, everywhere-but-here noise as much as treating it like a meal. Something to be devoured for sustenance.
Savored, even. Enjoyed.
Except now there is some desperation in play as momentum shifts to the Mavericks – more so by the way Thursday night’s Game 2 was lost by Miami.
“When we’ve felt like our backs are to the wall,” said Spoelstra, “that’s when we’ve responded and been our best.”
Now they’d better be, after such a sweet storyline collapsed with the Heat’s big, late lead.
The clock had spun back five years for Wade Thursday. It was the NBA finals, it was the Dallas Mavericks, it was his own planet Mr. Wade had once again found. And time travel hadn’t been this much fun since Marty McFly hopped in the DeLorean.
Call it a Flash-back.
Wade had consecutive slam dunks and then a bank shot in a flurry that gave him 16 points by the middle of the second quarter, channeling 2006 when he dominated and was finals MVP – when he scored 35 or more points in every victory as the Heat claimed their first championship.
Five years later, Wade was breaking Mavs’ hearts again for so long Thursday, taking it upon himself to make certain Miami stayed aimed squarely at a second championship.
That was until the end, literally, when Wade’s 3-point heave to win it missed the mark, and the arena went so quiet you could almost hear the air-conditioning hum.
It was during that can’t-miss period inside Wade’s particular zone when the pitch of Jeff Van Gundy’s voice rose and the ABC-TV analyst exclaimed: “He’s the second-best guy on his own team! It’s unfair. How do you have two guys like that?”
The better question: How do you stop two guys like Wade and James?
Answer: Sometimes you don’t have to. They combined for 56 points on 21-of-35 shooting, but it wasn’t enough.
Wade’s hero’s night had everything but the ending.