With the memory of Game Two’s monumental collapse still painfully fresh in the minds of Heat players and fans, last night’s game again got tight in the final minutes after Miami led most of the way.
This time, the ball was in Dwyane Wade’s hands.
And Wade responded.
Following a Game Two performance in which Wade played like he was 29 going on 23, he again came through with an ’06-calibre performance.
“I took it upon myself as a leader to lead my guys by example,” Wade said in the postgame press conference. “I’ve been here before.”
After Game Two there were many, yours truly included, who felt that the offense should have ran through Wade in the last few minutes, considering how well he had been playing.
LeBron James apparently agreed, allowing Wade to take over this time when the game was in the balance.
“Since D- Wade had it going … we allow him to handle the ball, bring it on offensively,” James said in the postgame press conference.
Throughout the game, Wade displayed his offensive versatility, often posting up his defender.
Wade’s comfort level with his back to the basket is something most similarly-sized guards don’t have.
But Wade, who played power forward in high school, has seemingly had that ability since he came into the league.
The power forward mentality is also apparent when he is attacking the glass with such tireless persistence.
Last night, he led the Heat with 11 rebounds and Miami needed every one of them as the Heat struggled inside against the Mavericks, losing the rebounding battle, 42-36.
Wade is now averaging nearly nine rebounds per game in the Finals to go along with his 29 points. After three games, he has clearly been the team’s MVP.
Wade’s 20-foot jumper gave Miami an 86-84 lead with two minutes left in the game, but it was Chris Bosh who scored the Heat’s final two points with 40 seconds left.
For Bosh, it was a rare moment worth screaming for.
Playing through the pain of a swollen eye courtesy of a Jason Kidd poke, Bosh again had an inefficient shooting night, going just 7-for18. For the series, he is shooting just over 30 percent.
JAMES CRITICISM CONTINUES
The final points came courtesy of a James assist.
There are some who enjoy throwing certain damning clichés in James’ direction.
Like, “He doesn’t have the clutch gene.”
Or, “He is scared to be ‘the man.’”
This simplistic analysis overlooks one key facet of what makes James great: his unselfishness.
James realizes that there isn’t a Dallas defender who can handle Wade.
Certainly not the smaller Jason Terry. Jason Kidd is Dallas’ best option and he’s a slow-footed 38-year-old.
So James sees the bigger picture and instead of gunning for the Finals MVP trophy—something that would be the ultimate response to his innumerable critics, by the way—he instead puts his ego on hold and keeps feeding the ball to Wade.
It’s something that Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan could never really do.
If Bryant had James’ mentality you could argue that he’d have another two or three championships.
There were countless instances when Bryant would bypass Shaquille O’Neal (see: 2004 Finals) to instead get his numbers. His ego was part of the reason the most dominant duo in recent history ended prematurely.
Bryant wants to take every big shot, regardless of its quality. His confidence never wavers and few would ever question his "clutchness," regardless of what the numbers say.
There are many in the media who love that about Bryant. It looks especially impressive to those who love statistical milestones.
But you don’t score 81 points by yourself in a game without a considerable amount of selfishness.
So sure, Bryant will go down as the quintessential alpha dog and would have never teamed up with someone like Wade the way James did, but is that really something that should be heralded?
Isn’t a team-first, selfless mentality something we are supposed to be equally impressed with? Is that not what guys like Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Larry Bird had in boatloads?
Not when that player is LeBron James apparently.
But luckily for Miami, James is far past the point of caring how the media construes him.
“I think you’re concentrating on one side of the floor,” James responded when a reporter asked him if he was shrinking in the fourth quarter.
“All you’re looking at is the stat sheet. Honestly, I’m a two-way player. You should watch the film again and see what I did defensively. You’ll ask me a better question tomorrow.”
James again shutdown Jason Terry, holding Dallas’ second best player scoreless in the fourth quarter, while playing more minutes (45) than anyone else on the court. He also led the Heat with nine assists.
This time around, Mavericks players and fans will not be able to point an accusatory finger in the referee’s direction as they did in 2006.
Had Miami lost Game three, the officiating would be a huge talking point today. But even so, the numbers are worth mentioning.
Miami got whistled for almost twice as many fouls in the game (27 to Dallas’ 14) and twice as many loose ball fouls (eight to Dallas’ four). The imbalance is surprising considering the Heat generally attacks the rim far more frequently than the Mavericks.
In the fourth quarter alone, the referees called five loose ball fouls on Miami and only one on Dallas.
There were also two surprising no-calls in the last three minutes of the game. The first came when James got Shawn Marion off his feet with a pump fake and even though Marion landed on him, no foul was called.
The other came when Mario Chalmers was seemingly pushed out of bounds, and after throwing the ball into the air, a loose ball foul was called on Miami.
No, this is not a silly half-hearted conspiracy claim, but you do have to wonder how conscious the officials are of avoiding a repeat of 2006, when many blamed a referee crew that featured Tim Donaghy for allowing Wade to set a Finals record for free throw attempts.
You could make a pretty convincing argument for ‘06 overcompensation.
With Game Three in the books and a 2-1 series lead in hand, Heat fans have to feel confident going forward despite the next two games still being in the Lone Star state.
Should the Heat simply win one of the next two games, the team would come back to Miami up 3-2, with Dallas on the verge of elimination.
Considering how well Wade again played, it now seems that his Game Two performance was not an aberration, but instead his Finals coming out party.
If Wade can simply continue to dominate his matchup and draw double teams, winning another game in Dallas becomes a far more feasible proposition.
Similarly, last night’s game winner could have been the confidence-builder Bosh so badly needed.
If he can consistently start taking open shots without hesitation, you could see a far more fluid Heat offense.
Miami is not yet firing on all cylinders and already has a 2-1 series edge.
Without Game Two’s historic collapse, the Heat would be on the verge of a sweep.
And that can’t be too settling for Dallas.