The Miami Heat may have regained home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, but Dwyane Wade said they will face an even bigger challenge from the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 tonight in Dallas.
"The next game is a big game," he said. "We have to bring our hard hats, understanding it's going to be tougher to win that game than it was to win this one [on Sunday]. I believe in this team. If anyone can do it, I believe we can."
The Heat beat the Mavericks 88-86 on Sunday night to take a 2-1 lead in the series, but Erik Spoelstra, the coach, said it was important for the Heat to quickly focus on tonight's game.
"Now we just have to move on," he said. "The tough part right now is amnesia. Both teams are highly competitive, this is a competitive series. We have to really gather ourselves in 48 hours and get right back and do this again."
Recent history favours the Heat. In 11 series that have been tied 1-1 since 1985, the Game 3 winner has won the title every time.
On Sunday night, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem provided the final push for the Heat. Bosh made a 16-foot, go-ahead jumper from the baseline with 39 seconds left and Haslem held Dallas star Dirk Nowitzki scoreless in the closing moments.
"This is a total win," said Wade, who led Miami with 29 points and 11 rebounds. "You want to win the game on the defensive end of the floor and we got a stop."
The Heat led 81-74 with 6:31 left, and everyone knew the Mavericks' comeback bid would be in Nowitzki's hands. But it did not matter - he still scored 12 straight points as the Mavs pulled even at 86-86.
With under a minute to go, Wade got the ball to LeBron James near the top of the key. Haslem screened Nowitzki while Bosh got set, took the pass from James and ripped it through the net, quite a thrill for the Dallas native who had been 0-8 in his hometown.
It was even more impressive considering his left eyelid was swollen because of an accidental poke by Jason Kidd in the first quarter, and he had been misfiring all series, even when his vision was good.
"I don't care if he missed 15 in a row," James said. "He was wide open and that's his sweet spot. ... It's the trust we have in each other's ability, no matter what the point of the game is at."
The Mavericks went back to Nowitzki on their last two chances, and Haslem was right there both times for the Heat.
Right after Bosh scored, Nowitzki wanted to take a shot near the foul line but had Haslem swarming him and Wade charging at him. He jumped to shoot but twisted and threw toward Shawn Marion near the three-point line on the right side. Marion had already taken off toward the basket, so the ball went into the front row instead.
After James missed, Dallas had 4.4 seconds left to go for the tie or win. The inbounds pass went to Nowitzki and he was alone against Haslem just above the foul line. Haslem anticipated what Nowitzki was going to do and walked the fine line between disrupting the shot while avoiding a foul.
"He's a great player, 7-feet, so he's going to shoot over me," Haslem said. "I've got to make it tough on him."
When the buzzer went off, Haslem swung his arms and screamed in delight while a frenzied crowd of 20,340 sighed in agony.
"Emotional game, fought back, and to fall short at the end is tough," said Nowitzki, who scored 34 points. "But they need two more. Hopefully we can play a better all-around game and finally get some shots to go down."
Wade made 12 of 21 shots and was at his dynamic best from the start, looking like the guy who lifted the Heat past Dallas and to the title in 2006.
"He was aggressive and took good shots," Bosh said. "We rode the wave for a little while. He set the tone for us."
Most of his baskets came in the paint and many of them were spectacular.
"I've been here before," Wade said. "So [I was] just trying to lead. My guys did a great job of following that lead. We were able to come out with the win."
Nowitzki scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, but did not get much help, in the period or the rest of the game.
"We have to have somebody step up besides Dirk," Kidd said. "We have to figure out how to get up front and play up front. The big thing is we've got to be able to make plays late in the game."
* Associated Press
Game 4, 5am Wednesday, Aljazeera Sport +3 & +6