- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

MIAMI — With Dwyane Wade leading the way with 36 points and Miami getting solid performances from his supporting cast, the Heat evened the NBA Finals last night in dominant style, crushing the poor-shooting Dallas Mavericks 98-74 at American Airlines Arena.

Just like in Game 3, when the Heat blew a halftime lead and then needed an incredible effort out of Wade to steal a victory and prevent the Mavericks from taking a commanding 3-0 lead, the Heat once again had a comfortable halftime cushion.

But unlike Game 3, when the Heat came out flat to start the second half, Miami played with a sense of urgency not exhibited in their 98-96 miracle comeback.

The Mavericks, on the other hand, continued to look nothing like they did in their home victories which gave them a 2-0 series lead. The Heat held the Mavericks to just 31.6 percent shooting last night and limited forward Dirk Nowitzki to 16 points. Nowitzki made just two of 14 shots from the floor. Dallas was limited to a finals-record seven points in the fourth quarter.

Miami led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter and appeared to be on the way to an easy victory. But Dallas rallied back from a 72-52 deficit and closed the third quarter on an 8-0 run that narrowed the lead to 78-67 at the beginning of the fourth.

The game took an ugly turn in the third quarter when former Wizard Jerry Stackhouse smashed into Shaquille O’Neal’s face with a forearm shiver that would have made former San Francisco 49ers safety Ronnie Lott blush.

The blow sent the 330-pound O’Neal tumbling to the ground and resulted in a flagrant foul on Stackhouse with 6:29 left in the third.

But the real frustration should have been over Dallas’ poor shooting — made worse by the Heat’s commitment to defense. With the Heat struggling offensively, the Mavericks were outscored 16-5 at the start of the fourth quarter and trailed 94-72 when reserve James Posey tipped in a miss with 3:38 to play.

The Heat did exactly what they wanted to start the game, getting the ball inside to O’Neal for an easy layup and a foul.

But as much as they wanted to get O’Neal going in the early stages of the game, the one thing they probably didn’t want to happen occurred a few minutes later.

Trailing 10-9, O’Neal stepped in front of Nowitzki, trying to draw an offensive foul.

But O’Neal instead was charged with his second foul of the game and had to sit with 7:36 left in the period.

The weight immediately shifted back to Wade’s shoulders, and the guard handled the burden.

Despite his sore knee — the one that kept him out of practice Wednesday and had him walking with a limp over the last two days — Wade played the entire first quarter without a breather. However, he showed little indication that he was ailing on the way to 14 points in the quarter.

Alonzo Mourning did an admirable job in place of O’Neal, who returned for the start of the second quarter. Mourning made his presence felt with a block on Dallas’ Devin Harris. And even though the Mavericks cut the Heat’s lead to 24-22, Miami closed out the period on 6-3 run to lead 30-25 going into the second.

Miami got the shots it wanted in the first quarter as evidenced by its 12-for-21 shooting. Conversely, the Mavericks, who have started slowly in every game this series, converted just nine of 23 shots.

Still, Dallas was able to cut the lead to just 34-31 on DeSagana Diop’s layup with 8:01 left in the half.

But Wade scored 10 more points in the second quarter and got help from what has been the Heat’s relatively invisible bench. The reserves accounted for nine of the Heat’s 24 second-quarter points.

Dallas continued to struggle from the floor in the second quarter, and, in fact, the Mavericks were even worse in the second quarter than they were in the first. Jason Terry led Dallas with six points in the quarter, but the rest of the Mavericks were putrid. Terry shot 3-for-5 from the field in the quarter. However, his teammates shot a combined 2-for-15.

As a result, the Mavericks trailed 54-44 at the half.

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