Last night, Heat fans were getting 2006 flashbacks for all the wrong reasons.
Five years ago almost to the day, Miami’s season looked all but over, down double digits in the fourth quarter to a Mavericks team that already had a 2-0 series lead. You know how that particular story ended.
It may have been a long time coming, but last night Dallas returned the favor, erasing a 15-point fourth quarter lead in a matter of minutes, stunning Heat players and fans all over the city.
For many Heat fans, the loss took them right back to the especially painful Heat-Knicks days.
Those series set a precedent for stomach-churning collapses, albeit on smaller stages.
In Game Two, Dallas again reminded everyone why you cannot count this team out or afford to let up.
You can actually pinpoint the exact turning point.
It came about midway through the fourth quarter, or the 7:13 minute mark to be exact.
Wade had just hit a three-pointer to give Miami an 88-73 lead.
It gave Wade 36 points for the night and would be the last points he scored.
After hitting the corner three right in front of the Mavs bench, Wade stood with his arm in the air for a few seconds, holding the follow-through, Jordan-style.
LeBron James walked over, pounded Wade on the chest and might as well have said, “Game over.”
Even if he didn’t, that’s exactly what many of the Heat fans in the building or packed in crowded sports bars across Miami were thinking.
Up 15, Wade in the zone, the Heat rolling and a swaying American Airlines Arena. When you throw in the numerous poster-worthy dunks, it had all the symptoms of a signature win.
And that’s when Dallas woke up.
Maybe it was the Wade celebration that provoked the Mavericks.
Or perhaps Miami just got complacent.
But all of a sudden Dallas started making shots. First it was Jason Terry. Then Jason Kidd. And finally, of course, Dirk Nowitzki.
Time and time again, Dallas found quality shots against a suddenly slow to switch Heat defense.
On the other end, Miami kept looking for one final knockout punch and instead all it found was contested three-pointers.
The same shots that James hit to close out games against Boston and Chicago all of a sudden looked far more ill-advised when they were clanging off the back of the rim.
The next thing you knew, Dallas had the ball with seconds left on the clock in a tie game, with Chris Bosh defending Dirk Nowitzki.
An uncontested Nowitzki layup capped off a 20-5 run. 95-93. Game over.
THE BLAME GAME
In complete crumbles such as this, it is rather simplistic to blame a single person or error.
You don’t give up a 15-point lead at home without making a multitude of mistakes.
There were, however, a few key ones.
The first: not getting Wade the ball.
This falls on Wade’s shoulders, but Erik Spoelstra and James are also at fault here.
After hitting that three-pointer, Wade only had the ball in his hands on three more plays.
Those three plays resulted in Wade twice facing a double team and passing off the ball and on the other occasion, missing a well-defended three-pointer.
Considering that Wade was playing his best game in weeks and was by far the most effective player on the court last night, Spoelstra should have called a few more plays to get Wade the ball in the final minutes.
James should have also looked for Wade instead of wasting consecutive plays pounding the ball as time wasted away, only to take contested jump shots.
But above all, Wade should have demanded the ball or at the very least made himself available.
Too often, Wade waited in the corner for a pass that never came.
For as well as Miami had been playing the last few weeks, after the game tightened up, the team resorted to the individualistic, one-on-one play that was at the heart of the Heat’s early season struggles.
While Spoelstra has done a phenomenal coaching job in these playoffs—almost all of his adjustments have paid off—you can’t help but feel as though he got outcoached in the fourth quarter.
By burning through all of his timeouts, he forced the Heat to go the length of the court in three seconds on the final play.
But what was even more indefensible was the decision to put Bosh on Nowitzki on the final play.
Out of all the Heat defenders, Bosh is the least effective when it comes to defending a scorer as potent as Nowitzki.
Considering how effective Haslem has been, you have to wonder why he wasn’t given the assignment.
Haslem was a nonfactor on that last defensive sequence. If he’s not on Nowitzki, he can’t exactly protect the rim, which is hardly his fault considering he wasn’t even playing a few weeks ago.
If Spoelstra was absolutely set on the Bosh-Nowitzki matchup, at the very least he should have put Joel Anthony in the game instead of Haslem. Anthony surely would have offered more in the way of last line defense.
What compounded the error was the decision to leave Bosh alone with Nowitzki.
Miami should have swarmed Nowitzki and force someone like Shawn Marion to beat them.
Allowing Nowitzki to win the game on a layup is inexcusable.
Even though it was just one game, it’s hard not feel as though this was a momentum-shifting defeat.
Yes, James and Wade as well as the rest of the team play incredibly well on the road and have won games in both Chicago and Boston.
And yes, Miami was tied with Dallas for the best regular season road record in the NBA this year.
But the last thing you want to do is give a Dallas team full of streaky shooters confidence.
Don’t forget this is the same Dallas squad that shot the Lakers out of a series, making contested three-pointer after contested three-pointer.
In front of their fans, knowing that they simply have to win the next three home games to win it all will make things incredibly challenging for Miami.
Miami fans know all too well how an improbable comeback win can affect a series.
Now, this Heat team will face its toughest test.
Win one game in Dallas or the series is over.
Win two games or come back home facing elimination.
Dallas just raised the stakes and forced Miami to move all of its chips to the middle of the table.
The only question: will Miami fold?