Heat Celebration Fuels Dallas Rally

Eleven months later, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are still being pilloried for their prancing. The hyperscrutinized Miami Heat stars cannot pump aNBA Finals fist, high a five or otherwise show elation without a quick backlash.

So, after their offense had sputtered and their defense escaped them Thursday night, James and Wade were back on the defensive, rationalizing another premature celebration while trying to explain a horrendous collapse against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 2 of the N.B.A. finals.

The Heat blew a 15-point lead in the final 7 minutes 14 seconds and lost, 95-93, allowing Dallas to tie the series. Wade and James were shockingly ineffective down the stretch, missing their last seven shots combined, including five 3-pointers.

But first they frolicked a bit, at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

The clock showed 7:14 when Wade hit a 3-pointer that pushed Miami’s lead to 15 points. The arena boomed. James and Wade boogied. Wade held his follow-through longer than usual and had his arms up in the shape of a V. Then James joined him, smiling, backpedaling and fake-punching Wade in the chest, right in front of the Dallas bench.

The Mavericks noticed.

“Just seeing them celebrate like that, man, it was disheartening for us,” said Jason Terry, who scored the Mavericks’ next 6 points to start their game-closing 22-5 run. “Then I took another glance at the score and at the time; there was a lot of time left.”

From there, the story took a familiar turn. Wade and James were asked repeatedly about the premature celebration — echoing the criticism they invited last July when they held a raucous rally upon becoming teammates. They were skewered again, albeit less intensely, when they exuberantly celebrated after eliminating the Boston Celtics in the second round.

“It was no celebration at all,” James said of his tango with Wade. “I was excited about the fact that he hit a big shot and we went up 15. The same thing we’ve done over the course of the season. There was no celebration at all. We knew we had seven minutes to go still to close out the game.

“As far as celebration, that word has been used with us all year,” James continued. “But we knew how much time was left in the game still.”

The discussion did not end there, as another reporter pointed out that the cameras had captured the entire sequence. This time, Wade answered, more indignantly.

“First of all, every team in the league, when they go on a run, they do something,” Wade said, adding: “A celebration is confetti. A celebration is Champagne bottles. There was no celebration.”

This is the Heat’s burden, its penance for that audacious party last summer, when James predicted “four, five, six, seven” championships after a smoke-filled, bass-thumping introduction. James, Wade and Chris Bosh danced that day, and have been targets ever since.

For the last six weeks, there has been little to criticize, and no schadenfreude for the Heat-hating masses. Wade and James have been splendid and dominant, powering the Heat through the three rounds of playoffs with 12 wins against 3 losses.

For six weeks, James and Wade had owned fourth quarters, overtimes and anything that could remotely be defined as a clutch situation. Their late-game playmaking, dunks and 3-pointers buried the 76ers, overwhelmed the Celtics and finally extinguished the Bulls. The Heat’s defense has been its most stifling in the final minutes of playoff games, with James locking down Paul Pierce and Derrick Rose and Wade blocking shots at just the right moments.

They seemed nearly invincible until late Thursday night. James and Wade, perhaps the two best closers in the game, could neither score when they needed to, nor stop the Mavericks when they had to.

The Heat’s usually fluid offense became stagnant down the stretch, which accounted for the high number of low-percentage shots. Seven of their last 11 field-goal attempts came from the arc, or deeper. Only one of those shots went in, a Mario Chalmers 3-pointer that tied the score at 93-93 with 24.5 seconds left.

Twenty-one seconds later, Dirk Nowitzki drove around Bosh, past James and over Udonis Haslem to drop in the game-winning layup.

“We said in the huddle, when we were up 15, that this team is very capable of coming back,” Wade said. He added: “We didn’t have to score another point to win the game. Our defense was what we lay our heads on. We didn’t play it the way we normally play. They deserved it. And we didn’t.”

The Mavericks, meanwhile, surprised the Heat by blitzing pick-and-roll plays and forcing James to give up the ball or take bad shots. Miami attempted 30 3-pointers — the second most in postseason franchise history — which as Coach Erik Spoelstra noted, “is not our style of basketball.”

So, for the first time in this postseason, Miami is in a tied series, and with the next three games on the road, starting with Game 3 on Sunday. It is unfamiliar territory for James and Wade as teammates. The chirping criticism about their celebratory tendencies, however, is not.

“Don’t make nothing out of that celebration, like you guys did in the Boston series,” Wade said. “It’s just being excited about the moment. It had nothing to do with the outcome of the game for us.”

For 48 hours, at least, there would be no chance of repeating the mistake.

Posted by: Howard Beck

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One Response

  1. To be honest, I don’t think the celebration played much of a part, if any, in the comeback. If you need motivation from something as small as that in the NBA Finals then there must be something wrong with you. I just think everything fell into place for them and they pounced on it.

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