- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

MIAMI — Shaquille O’Neal sat on the Miami Heat bench, sweat-soaked and saddled with his fourth foul. Larry Hughes took advantage with a spinning drive, and when Gilbert Arenas followed with a free throw, a scoring run seemed imminent.

Was it ever.

Unable to capitalize on O’Neal’s absence, the Washington Wizards staggered through a frigid and sloppy third quarter, yielding a decisive 20-5 run en route to a 105-86 defeat yesterday in Game1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Heat guard Dwyane Wade totaled 11 points and four assists in a quarter that saw Miami shoot 53.1 percent, score nine points in transition and push a two-point halftime advantage to 18.

“In the third quarter they just took control of the game,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “Wade was assertive. Alonzo [Mourning] had a game-altering type of block. They protected the paint, and we had to rely on perimeter shooting. That’s what we rely on. We’ve always said, ‘You live by the sword, you die by the sword.’”

In Washington’s case, death came courtesy of 5-for-16 shooting, with forward Antawn Jamison missing long (a 3-pointer), Hughes missing short (a layup), Arenas missing repeatedly (1-for-5) and center Etan Thomas misfiring on two shots from inside the paint, the second a point-blank put-back of the first.

It was that sort of afternoon.

“I don’t know [what happened],” said Thomas, whose five points accounted for all of the Wizards’ bench production. “Everything happened so quickly. We’ll have to look at the tape.”

Alternately, Washington could cue up “The Amityville Horror.” Before the game, Jordan stood outside the Wizards’ locker room, discussing the necessity — and general futility — of attempting to slow O’Neal, who finished with 19 points in just 26 minutes.

The Wizards coach also sounded a warning note.

“They have so many weapons,” Jordan said. “It’s not just Wade and Shaq.”

Indeed. While Wade dominated the third quarter, Mourning and forward Udonis Haslem combined for 10 points during the Heat’s game-seizing run.

Haslem opened the outburst with a jump hook, later connecting on a pair of jump shots set up by Wade. Mourning followed his own miss with a muscular basket, and when Haslem scored again on a fast break, the Heat led 81-64 — never mind that O’Neal was comfortably parked on his posterior for eight long minutes.

“Obviously, we don’t want [O’Neal] having to sit down that long,” Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. “But all 12 guys on this roster will contribute in the playoffs. We have great confidence in them.”

Not to mention Wade. An All-Star and recent Olympian, he rebounded from a forgettable, 2-for-9 first-half performance, scoring or assisting on 12 consecutive Miami points.

Wade, who was too eager to attack Washington’s zone defense in the first half, picked his spots in the second, finding open teammates and shooting before defenders could fully rotate.

“Dwyane is such a competitive guy,” Van Gundy said. “When he gets thwarted going to the rim, he tries to go harder. But he’s also an intelligent guy. When it gets to halftime, he gets a chance to think about things, settles down and makes plays.”

Miami was helped by Washington’s sudden — and surprising — ineptitude. After tallying six steals and shooting 55 percent in a torrid second quarter, the Wizards went cold and clumsy.

Hughes traveled. Brendan Haywood set an illegal screen. Jared Jeffries stepped on the baseline, negating a slashing basket. Near the end of the quarter, Heat guard Damon Jones stole the ball from Hughes, leading to a Wade free throw and Miami’s 18-point advantage.

Washington struggled with and without a visibly pained Jamison, who scored 10 second-quarter points but suffered a sore right knee and did not return to the game after coming out with 3:27 left in the third quarter.

Though the Heat committed seven turnovers in the second quarter — leading to 11 Wizards points — they had a single turnover in the third. Washington’s gambling defense yielded open shots instead of quick points.

“The biggest thing we did was take care of the ball,” Van Gundy said. “If you handle the ball, you end up with easy shots. If you don’t, you end up looking like we did in the first half.”

Or how the Wizards looked in the third quarter.

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