Basketball NBA Joint

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

DALLAS - Dwyane Wade stopped in his tracks, grabbed a Wheaties box with him and Shaquille O'Neal on it and said, ``Oh, I like this.''
Udonis Haslem sat, soaked in champagne, crying with a hat covering his eyes.
Alonzo Mourning walked into the locker room preparing for a champagne shower, saying ``Show me the bubbles, baby.''
They are all snapshots of a plan executed to perfection.
Heat coach and president Pat Riley altered a team built around Wade and O'Neal for this very moment, for those embraces, for that celebration that he has waited 11 years to experience as the leader of the Miami Heat.
Behind 36 points from Wade, the Finals MVP, and double-doubles from Udonis Haslem and Antoine Walker, the Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks 95-92 to win its first NBA title in its first trip to the championship series.
''I said it, and I mean it,'' Riley said after the Heat took the Finals series 4-2. ``I'd give up the six [previous championships] for this one. It's not disrespectful to any of them that I won, but after 18 years, you keep chasing it, you get tired. So that gives me an absolute sense of freedom.''
The formula that brought home the Larry O'Brien trophy may have been altered a bit some since last summer. A little more Wade and a little less O'Neal than Riley would have envisioned. O'Neal scored just nine points in Tuesday's clincher, and he averaged just 13.7 for the series. But it worked nonetheless, and the Heat won't have to go through another offseason wondering ``what if?''
''I didn't have the type of Finals that I'm used to,'' O'Neal said. ``D-Wade told me if they were going to keep doing it, he was going to take over the series. As you can see, he put up MVP-type numbers.''
Wade was named MVP after averaging 34.7 points for the series. And Tuesday, when it looked like the Heat would crumble in Dallas once again, it was Wade who lifted his team.
After Miami fell behind 26-12, Wade scored seven points in an 11-4 Heat run to end the first quarter. By the 9:06 mark of the second quarter, a Wade jumper had brought the Heat within a point at 32-31.
But the Heat quickly got sloppy, committing five of its 12 first-half turnovers in a five-minute span, and found itself trailing by double figures again, 46-36 with 3:31 left in the half.
That's when the Heat answered once again, this time with a 13-0 run to tie the score and eventually went into halftime with a 49-48 lead. This run, which almost encapsulated the Heat's comeback experience in this series, wasn't just about Wade.
It included a Haslem jumper, a Wade three-point play, an O'Neal follow dunk, a Walker six-foot turnaround shot and an Alonzo Mourning fast-break dunk off a feed from Jason Williams.
''We just kept fighting,'' Walker said. ``We never felt like we played good basketball against them. Even tonight, we turned the basketball over early and we gave them every chance to win. But we just kept fighting. We watched a great young player perform, and you saw so many guys step up and make shots and make plays.''
As the Heat walked off the floor and into the tunnel leading to the locker room, Wade gave each of his teammates a high-five while waiting to be interviewed by ABC. Given the Heat's 25-game playoff win streak when leading at halftime entering the game, perhaps it was just an early celebration by Wade.
''I don't want to say I put this team on my back,'' Wade said. ``We did it together. They gave me the opportunity by putting the ball in my hand. And my will to prove people wrong -- I tried to prove people wrong all the time.''
Wade had 19 points at the half, including 7 of 7 from the foul line. The Mavs as a team went to the line just two times in the first half. Dirk Nowitzki wasn't far behind, putting together his best half of the series, scoring 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
O'Neal, meanwhile, was limited to six points on 3-of-7 shooting, though the big man was clearly energized to close out the series, grabbing eight rebounds to make up for his inability to participate in the Heat's halfcourt offense.
O'Neal, though, got some help in the pivot from Mourning, who had six points in his six first-half minutes to go with three rebounds and a blocked shot.
With 9:54 standing between the Heat and a title, O'Neal picked up his fifth foul on a DeSagana Diop dunk. It forced the big man to the bench, replaced once again by Mourning. This time Mourning couldn't do much to keep the Mavericks from tying the score at 79-79 with 7:06 left in the game, and suddenly it looked like the Heat's close-out effort could go unrewarded.
But a Haslem jumper started a quick 8-2 spurt, which included a James Posey three-pointer, to give the Heat an 87-81 cushion it would desperately need in the final 3:44.
Haslem finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, fulfilling the prophecy O'Neal had before the game.
''It's crazy,'' said a teary-eyed Haslem. ``I call the big fella a prophet. He told me on the way to the arena I was going to have a big one tonight, and I did. I knew they were going to try to trap Dwyane and it was probably going to be me that they trap off of.
``Nobody ever gave me nothing, man. Never. Coming out of college, they never gave me nothing. They never gave me nothing when I came in the league. They never gave me a chance against Dirk. They never gave this team a chance. And we just continued to fight. I'm just so happy.''
And after Jason Terry missed a potential game-tying three-pointer with the clock running down, Wade threw the ball in the air to start the celebration.
''It's unbelievable,'' Heat owner Micky Arison said. 'When Dwyane threw the ball up in the air, I was going, `Why did he do that?' I couldn't believe that it was over. Then I realized we won.
``The exhilaration of this is something I've never felt in my life.''


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