Following Tuesday night's game four win, the Miami Heat's LeBron James stressed that the team would be treating game five as a must win. If you watched the first three quarters and most of the fourth on Thursday night, you would not have thought Miami had that mindset.
They made poor decisions, took ill-advised shots and turned the ball over. A lot. Dwyane Wade had nine turnovers to call his own, tying his postseason career-high and falling just two short of setting the all time record for a playoff game. After starting hot in the first quarter, James couldn't buy a bucket for almost the entire remainder of regulation.
Basically, Heat fans thought they were surely gearing up for a game six in Miami for about 44 minutes on Thursday night. With 3:53 left in the game and Miami trailing by 12, it didn't look good.
But that's when the magic began. James rediscovered his stroke and Wade again decided to wake up when the game was on the line, a repeat scenario of game four, except much more drastic this time around.
Wade scored eight of his 21 points in the final three minutes, including an incredible four point play to bring the Heat within three. His three quarters of putrid basketball were suddenly no more than a distant memory.
James also scored eight of his 28 points in the final three minutes, including a clutch three-pointer to knot the game up at 79 with just a minute remaining, followed by a 21-foot jumper with 29 seconds left to give the Heat a two point advantage.
James was on a mission and he wasn't being denied.
Chris Bosh then sealed the deal at the line with 16 seconds remaining, calmly sinking two of the biggest free throws of his basketball career and giving the Heat a three point lead.
James then ended the game and series with an exclamation point by swatting Derrick Rose's Hail Mary three ball as the game clock expired. As I said, the man was (is) on a mission.
At the blink of an eye, the Miami Heat were suddenly in the NBA Finals after riding an improbable 18-3 run.
A Look at How it Happened
In the postgame press conference, James and Wade both said they didn't even know what happened in those final minutes. To be honest, I think there's a lot of people who still don't know what happened.
However, the answer to what went down is simple - Miami's defense kept them in the game all night, keeping the score just close enough for Miami to pounce at any time. The Heat had chances all night long to take advantage of their stops and Chicago's mishaps, but they didn't.
Not until the final four minutes or so, that is.
Then LeBron James and Dwyane Wade happened. The dynamic duo combined to score 22 points in the final quarter of the series after each of them had struggled mightily all game, especially Wade. However, their struggles didn't matter.
As we've seen time and time again this postseason, James and Wade always kept their cool and never panicked. It paid off as the two fearlessly attacked the Bulls in the final minutes, putting their teammates on their back and carrying the Heat franchise to its second Finals appearance in its history.
Impressive? I'd say so.
A Brief Finals Intro
The stage is now set for the 2011 NBA Finals which will feature a rematch of its 2006 opponents, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks.
The storyline will undoubtedly be one of firsts, as each team is laden with guys who have yet to have their first rings slipped on their fingers. The two most prominent? LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki, of course.
At 33 and the window of opportunity closing, Nowitzki clearly needs a ring much more than James does at this point in his career. However, it will not be a matter of need, it will be a matter of want.
Only time will tell who wants it more.
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