MIAMI // Chris Bosh held up three fingers after the buzzer sounded to end Miami's 92-84 win over the Dallas Mavericks, indicating that the Heat needs three more wins in this NBA finals series to take the championship.
He could also have been indicating the importance of Miami's 'Big Three' of himself, Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, who moved a step closer to delivering on the promise that was apparent from the moment they came together in preseason.
James scored 24 points for his first win in five NBA finals games, Wade scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half and the Heat also worked hard defensively, holding the Western Conference champions to their lowest point total of the playoffs.
"Feels good because it's the first game and we played well as a team," James said. "We've got a lot of work to do. ... That's one in the books. We're excited about this game. Tomorrow we prepare for Game 2, and I see ways we can get better."
Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki scored 27 points despite tearing a tendon in the middle finger on his left, non-shooting, hand, which is expected to mean he wears a splint for the remainder of the series.
Shawn Marion had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Mavericks, while Jason Terry got most of his 12 points in an early flurry.It was Dallas' fifth straight loss to Miami in finals games, dating to the Heat rally for the 2006 crown.
Dallas held the Heat to 39 per cent shooting, Miami's second-worst showing of the playoffs. However the Mavericks shot 37 percent - by far, their worst night of the postseason offensively.
"We're a veteran team," said Nowitzki. "You can't get down with a loss. You've got to come back strong on Thursday. If you're the road team, you're happy with a split. So we've got another opportunity on Thursday to get one. We don't want to go home down 0-2."
Wade's 3-pointer with 3:06 left put the Heat up 82-73, then the largest lead of the game for either team. The Mavs shaved two points off it on the next possession when Nowitzki hit two free throws, but James gave the Heat their first double-digit lead of the finals a few seconds later.
He dribbled up court against Marion, crossed his dribble over and got clear for a dunk while being fouled. The free throw made it 85-75, and most in the sellout, white-clad crowd began standing in anticipation.
Nowitzki made two more free throws - he was 12 for 12 from the line for the game - with 1:36 left, cutting the Miami lead to six.
Wade grabbed a key defensive rebound, dribbled away from three Dallas pursuers and found Bosh for a dunk with 1:08 left that restored the 10-point lead. Another dunk by James came with 38.6 seconds left, sealing the outcome.
"By and large, we've got to play better, just overall," said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, especially noting Miami's 16-6 edge in offensive rebounds.
Miami ou trebounded Dallas 46-36, got a gritty effort on both ends from reserve Mike Miller - who left with his left arm in a sling, but insisted he would be fine - and reaped rewards again from another strong fourth-quarter finish by Wade and James.
"That's who they've been their entire careers," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Bosh scored 19 points and Mario Chalmers added 12 for the Heat, who trailed by eight points early in the third quarter before pulling away. Miami remains unbeaten - now 9-0 - at home in these playoffs and snapped Dallas' five-game road postseason winning streak.
Take away the 2006 NBA finals, and Dallas came into Game 1 having beaten Miami 14 straight times. In the finals, it simply doesn't seem to matter.
"We'll play better. I'm very certain of that," Carlisle said. "We had some opportunities. Shots we normally make, they didn't go down. Look, it's a long series. We'll adjust."