- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2006

MIAMI — The Miami Heat kept their hopes for a first NBA championship alive behind 42 points from Dwyane Wade, a huge fourth quarter comeback and a missed free throw by Dallas’ best player.

Dirk Nowitzki, with a chance to give the Mavericks a commanding series lead, made just one of two free throws with 3.4 seconds to play and the Mavericks leading by two, and the Heat got their first win in the finals last night 98-96 at American Airlines Arena.

Dallas outscored Miami 34-16 in the third quarter to turn what had been a 52-43 Miami lead into a 77-68 advantage going into the fourth quarter.

A cold-shooting bunch that made just 14 of 40 shots in the first half, the Mavericks responded by connecting on 70 percent (14 of 20) of their attempts in the third.

Meanwhile, the Heat, which played with energy in the first half, was just 8-for-21 from the field in the third.

But the Heat, with Wade leading the way, hung tough. Down by 89-76, the Heat went on an 18-4 run to take the lead 94-93 on a pair of Udonis Haslem free throws.

When Dallas’ Jason Terry missed a shot, Miami’s James Posey was fouled and hit one free throw. At the other end, Dallas’ Devin Harris tied it up at 95-95 with a jumper.

However, Heat veteran Gary Payton gave the heat back the lead when he hit a jumper with just under 10 seconds to play.

Nowitzki, fouled driving to the basket, then proceeded to make just one of two from the line.

Dallas, down by 33-23 following an O’Neal dunk, Dallas climbed back in the game when O’Neal picked up his third foul with 9:18 left in the second. Arena replays showed that O’Neal barely even brushed Nowitzki on his shot, and Heat guard Gary Payton voiced his displeasure and picked up a technical foul.

Nowitzki sank three free throws to spark a 17-7 Mavericks’ run that culminated in a 40-40 tie when Josh Howard sank a 3-pointer with 4:32 left in the half.

Interestingly enough, the Mavericks never tried to attack O’Neal at the basket by driving the lane and trying to force O’Neal into picking up his third foul.

Heat coach Pat Riley finally got O’Neal out late in the second quarter and this, coincidentally, coincided with the Heat once again putting some distance between themselves and the Mavericks.

While it was O’Neal who jump-started the Heat in the first quarter with eight points, it was Wade’s daredevil-like forays to the basket that enabled the Heat to hold off the suddenly revived Mavericks.

In the final 3:48 of the first half, Wade, who made 11 of 14 free throws by halftime, made five of six shots from the line, the last of which gave Miami a 49-43 advantage.

And not long after Wade left the game, his sub, Jason Williams, closed a 12-3 Heat run with a 3-pointer with 28.1 seconds to play and give the Heat a 52-43 halftime advantage.

Still, the Heat had no reason to be especially giddy. After all, the Dallas shot the ball awfully (35 percent) from the floor. Nowitzki, who opened the game missing his first five shots, scored 11 points but made just two of nine shots.

Dallas quickly rectified its shooting problems early in the second half.

The Mavericks hit their first five shots of the second half and opened on a 12-2 run that produced a 55-54 lead.

Miami crept out to 60-57 lead when Walker blew past Nowitzki for a layup but Dallas responded quickly again.

A pair of Terry baskets gave the Mavericks the lead back 61-60. Those buckets keyed another Dallas run, this one 13-4, for a 70-64 Dallas lead with just over three minutes to play in the third.

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