DALLAS — It started painfully for Chris Bosh, this trip back to his hometown for the most important days of his professional career. It ended with the biggest shot of his life.
After struggling through a poor shooting night and an injury to his left eye, Bosh swished a 16-footer with 39.6 seconds to play to give the Heat its go-ahead points in an 88-86 victory at American Airlines Center in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. The Heat now leads the series 2-1 and once again holds home-court advantage after losing it in fantastic fashion Thursday.
“We felt this was a must win,” said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who led his team with 29 points and 11 rebounds.
Since the NBA Finals went to its current 2-3-2 format, the series has been tied 12 times at 1-1. In previous 1-1 ties, the team that won Game 3 went on to win the series all 11 times.
The Heat led for most of Sunday’s game, but for a few tense moments it appeared Miami was on its way to blowing another late-game lead. The Heat was whistled twice for shot-clock violations in the final three minutes, and the Mavericks tied it at 86 with 1:40 to play when Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki capped his own 10-0 run.
It set the stage for Bosh, who found space on the baseline to the give the Heat its lead. The Mavericks had two chances to tie the score, but Wade forced a key turnover against Nowitzki on the Mavs’ first attempt to tie. Udonis Haslem smothered Nowitzki on his shot at the buzzer.
After the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called Haslem’s defensive effort at the end the difference between Games 2 and 3.
“(Haslem) did a great job of keeping his chest in front of (Nowitzki) and forcing him into a fadeaway,” Spoelstra said.
Bosh guarded Nowitzki unsuccessfully at the end of Game 2 and his luck didn’t improve to begin Game 3 when he was injured less than four minutes into the first quarter. Bosh was raked in the face by Mavericks guard Jason Kidd on a steal attempt, and the Heat forward’s eye was nearly swollen shut by halftime.
“Things are going to happen,” Bosh said “It’s not about what happens. It’s about how you react. We knew this wasn’t going to be easy.
“I thought it was quite fitting that I got poked in the eye early. You just have to keep going.”
Bosh finished the game 7-of-18 shooting with just three rebounds. None of that mattered after scoring the most important field goal of his career to sink his hometown team. Moments after the game, Heat president Pat Riley slapped hands with Bosh in celebration while Bosh was waiting to be interviewed by ABC.
“We’ll spit on it and patch it up later,” Bosh said of his eye after the game.
Wade carried the Heat for long stretches Sunday, scoring his 29 points on 12-of-21 shooting. The Heat outscored the Mavericks 40-22 on points in the paint with Wade’s consistent aggression being difference. Sunday was just Wade’s second win against Dallas at American Airlines Center in his career. The other victory, famously, came in Game 6 of the 2006 NBA Finals.
The Heat wore its alternate red jerseys on that night and once again donned those uniforms on Sunday. Little else was similar between the Game 6 in 2006 and Sunday night, though. Five years ago, the Heat trailed early before mounting a comeback. On Sunday, the Heat led by 14 points in second quarter and held off a late-charging Dallas team.
“We were digging out of holes the whole game,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s very difficult playing from behind all the time.”
Similar to the ending of Game 2 in Miami, the Heat’s offense went dormant with less than two minutes to play. Meanwhile, Nowitzki tied the score at 84 with a dunk. But Wade never let the Mavericks take the lead. His three-pointer with 4:34 let gave the Heat an 84-78 lead, and his field goal with 2:08 remaining answered Nowitzki’s dunk.
Heat forward LeBron James had 17 points, nine assists, three rebounds and two steals. He had nearly half of the Heat’s 20 assists, but it was one of James’ quietest games of the playoffs. Still, his aggressive tone to begin the game helped the Heat build a strong lead.
The Mavericks threatened the Heat’s lead to begin the fourth quarter, tying it twice on a three-pointer by Nowitzki and a driving layup by J.J. Barea, but the Heat responded with a 9-2. Chalmers’ fourth three-pointer of the game gave the Heat a 79-72 lead with 7:18 to play.
After trailing since the first quarter, the Mavericks tied the score at 57 when Shawn Marion finished a fast break with 4:37 to play in the third quarter. The points capped a 15-2 run that spanned more than five minutes.
The Heat’s offense managed just four points (all from Wade) midway through the third quarter, but James and Chalmers broke the scoring drought with back-to-back three-pointers with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“This series is turning out to be an absolute series of endurance, mental and physical,” Spoelstra said. “Now we just have to move on. The tough part right now is amnesia.”