Wednesday , Jun , 14 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

The Heat is on: Miami rallies late to win Game 3

In a game full of pressure-packed moments, Dwyane Wade’s rebound off a rare Dirk Nowitzki missed free throw and his leaping deflection of a lob pass intended for Josh Howard in the closing seconds sealed Miami’s 98-96 victory over Dallas in Game 3 of the NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Wade found the perfect balance of caution and aggression, scoring 42 points and pulling down 13 rebounds while playing the majority of the stretch run with five fouls.

With its back against the wall, Miami closed the contest with a 22-7 run marked by Wade’s performance with an injured ankle and several key defensive stops.

Shaquille O’Neal posted a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds while Jason Williams and Antoine Walker donated 12 points apiece for Miami, which now faces a 2-1 series deficit with Game 4 scheduled for Thursday in Miami.

The Heat improved to 12-0 when leading at halftime during this postseason and have come out victorious in their last 24 postseason games when holding the edge at the half.

Trailing 93-92 with under 1:20 left, Udonis Haslem stepped in front of a Jason Terry pass intended for Nowitzki around the top of the circle. Haslem raced the other way and was fouled, eventually draining two free throws to give the Heat their first lead since the 5:15 mark of the third period.

After James Posey made one free throw, Devin Harris blew past Wade for the tying layup with 33 seconds remaining. However, Miami answered with Gary Payton’s go-ahead jumper from the right wing with nine ticks on the clock.

Dallas called a play for Nowitzki, who was fouled by Haslem near the rim. The star forward was 9-of-10 from the charity stripe to that point, but missed the second attempt and Wade corralled the rebound.

The guard made 1-of-2 from the foul line, giving Dallas one last chance at the tie or the win. Nowitzki inbounded the ball in the direction of the basket toward Howard, but Wade skied above the rim to knock the ball away and preserve the victory.

"(He) overcame fatigue and injury," said Miami head coach Pat Riley of Wade’s play. "Incredible, just the heart that he has. The only trouble is that when we’re down by 12, he’s pacing himself waiting for the end. And you’ve got to give him a rest somewhere, but, you know, right now, he just rises to the occasion."

Nowitzki scored 30 points to pace the Mavericks while Howard added 21 points. Terry contributed 16 points and Erick Dampier continued his solid NBA Finals with 14 points and nine rebounds in the loss.

"Give them some credit," said Dallas head coach Avery Johnson. "We’re playing in The Finals. Like I’ve been saying all along, you have two teams that are pretty evenly matched."

Dallas seemed to have a firm lock on the game and the series with about 6:30 remaining. Five straight points from Wade cut a 13-point deficit to 89-81 with 5:36 left.

After a Harris jumper, Posey sank a three-pointer and Wade converted a baseline jumper and layup to make the score 91-88.

Nowitzki drained a pair of free throws and then Dampier fouled O’Neal before the big man could convert an easy slam. Despite struggles from the stripe, O’Neal confidently buried both bonus shots to bring the Heat within 93-90 with 1:48 remaining.

"Make them," said O’Neal when asked what was running through his mind before stepping to the line.

Wade then converted a jumper, sending the partisan crowd into a frenzy and prompting two women to hold up a sign that read, "I Still Believe."

Miami used an 8-0 burst in the first quarter to set the tone. Wade drained a jumper and slashed to the basket for a layup, Williams converted from in close and Walker scored a layup off a solid interior pass from O’Neal to make the score 13-7.

Wade tallied the final four points of the period, including a beautiful ball fake and coast-to-coast layup that gave the Heat a 29-21 edge.

It was more of the same in the second stanza, as the Heat closed the half on an 8-2 run. Wade drained three free throws then Williams buried a three- pointer with 28 ticks remaining to make the score 52-43.

Game Notes

Wade’s 42 points tied a postseason career high…Payton’s go-ahead jumper in the fourth stanza was his only shot of the game…Miami held a substantial edge on the glass, outrebounding Dallas, 49-34…Miami improved to 9-1 at home during the playoffs…The Heat won for the first time in five meetings this season with the Mavericks…Jerry Stackhouse finished 1-of-9 from the floor for four points…Haslem grabbed 11 rebounds…O’Neal made 4-of-6 from the charity stripe.