(Wade slaps the ball from Howard. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein, Getty Images)
After a pair of convincing home victories, the Dallas Mavericks needed a win in Miami to lead the 2006 Finals 3-0, a deficit that no team had ever made up. Dwyane Wade provided 21 points in the first half of Game 3 to give the Heat a nine-point advantage and a glimmer of hope.
The Heat's outlook went from optimistic to gloomy when Shaquille O'Neal unintentionally fell on Wade's leg early in the third quarter. For the rest of the game, Wade grimaced as he hobbled on his injured left knee. Dallas retook the lead thanks to a big quarter from Erick Dampier and Josh Howard. The Mavs outscored Miami 34-16 in the third, and entered the fourth period with a nine-point lead.
Jason Terry hit a jumper with 6:34 left to give Dallas a commanding thirteen-point lead. Miami's offense was stagnant, Shaq had only scored six points since the first quarter, Dallas was shooting over 70% in the second half, and Wade was injured and had five fouls. The Heat's title chances were slipping away as a 3-0 deficit loomed on the horizon.
It was then then that Dwyane Wade hoisted the team on his shoulders. "Flash" scored a dozen points in the final six and a half minutes to resuscitate the lifeless Heat, helped by a pair of huge free throws from O'Neal and Udonis Haslem. Miami went on an 18-4 run and recaptured the lead with 1:03 left.
After a James Posey free throw with less than a minute to go, Devin Harris took advantage of Miami's small lineup by rolling to the basket for an uncontested layup. The score was now 95-95. Dallas double-teamed Wade and forced him to pass the ball. Jason Williams swung it to Gary Payton with the shot clock running down. Payton pump-faked Josh Howard and moved in for a twenty-footer. The 16-year veteran drained the shot to give Miami a 97-95 lead with 9.3 seconds left.
(Payton hits the decisive jump shot. Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler, Getty Images)
The Mavericks called timeout and put the ball in the hands of Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk drove to the basket and drew a foul on Haslem, much to the chagrin of the Miami crowd. Nowitzki got nothing but net on the first foul shot. Yet on the second freebie, Dirk -- a 90% free throw shooter -- unexpectedly rattled it out. Wade came down with his thirteenth rebound and was quickly hammered by Nowitzki. Wade split the pair, leaving Dallas with 1.0 seconds to send it into overtime.
D-Wade's imprint on the game wasn't done yet. The Mavericks' final play of the game was a lob at the basket to Josh Howard. Even on his bum knee, Wade was able to sky high enough to deflect the pass and cement the win for Miami, 98-96.
"He just rises to the occasion," said Heat coach Pat Riley. "He kept it simple in the end; he kept making play after play after play. You just couldn't stop him."
"I kept looking up at the score thinking, ‘I ain’t going out like this!'" Wade said. "You just try to do what you can to help your team get over the hump. If you make some plays it might energize some other guys and that’s what I did. It was a total team win and I think it’s going to help us out for the next game."
The 13-point comeback was the second-largest ever in a Finals game, and the largest in a fourth quarter. It was a blown win that the Mavericks would look back on for years and years to come. Miami came out two nights later and trounced the Mavericks, 98-74, and tying the series at two games apiece. However, Game 5 was a much closer affair.