CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Heatles' finish in Finals opener validates Riley's grand vision

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MIAMI -- Our national nightmare was unveiled in the NBA Finals on Tuesday night, and it was ... ordinary. Just OK. Not great, but good enough to beat the Mavericks.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, a trinity hatched at the height of a game-changing July, didn't bring the full force of their sheer unfairness until it was almost June -- the clock creeping closer to midnight ET and the Big Three wielding their hammer for the first time in these Finals.

Plenty wasn't going the Mavs' way in Game 1, but one thing was: they weren't getting eviscerated by the Big Three. Not until it mattered. Not until it was winning time in Game 1 of the Finals, where Miami's star-studded trio had been aimed for almost 11 months.

It was a three-point lead for the Heat, 72-69 with 8:03 left. The Mavs missed their next three shots. The Big Three -- James, Wade and Bosh, the dream team assembled for this moment -- scored 15 of the Heat's final 17 points.

And even better, they wouldn't let the Mavs score, too.

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It was just what Pat Riley envisioned when he rolled his championship rings onto a conference table in Cleveland and clinched Wade's months-long recruitment of James to join him in Miami and win championships. He would have two closers, and neither one would have to do it all in a moment like this.

"Obviously, that was one of the ideas of us playing together," Wade said after the Heat beat the Mavericks 92-84 to take a 1-0 lead in the Finals. "One individual doesn't have to carry the load."

This will be the unending challenge for Dallas in this series, and for every team with championship designs for the next five years in the NBA. The Celtics' older stars and championship-tested defensive schemes weren't enough to stop these three. Derrick Rose, the MVP, and Tom Thibodeau, the coach formerly known as a LeBron-or-Wade killer (but not both), weren't enough for the Bulls.

In Game 1 of the Finals, Dirk Nowitzki and a roster top-heavy with Finals experience weren't enough for the Mavs.

"We know to beat Miami," Jason Terry said, "we're going to have to bring it."

In his former life, when James was winless in the Finals after getting swept by San Antonio in 2007, he was a man on an island on nights like this. Wade actually joked with James afterward, congratulating him on his first Finals win. The night before, Wade got an unintended glimpse of his former life as Mr. Everything for the Heat, stumbling on a TV replay of Game 3 in the 2006 Finals between Dallas and Miami, when Wade erupted for 42 points to ignite a comeback from a 2-0 deficit.

"I see I had no conscience back then," Wade said.

No conscience, and a survival instinct that he doesn't need anymore.

With Dallas struggling to score a basket in the fourth -- James locking down Terry, who was scoreless in the second half -- two free throws by Bosh were sandwiched between a jumper and 3-pointer by Wade. For most normal teams, it wouldn't have gotten any more horrifying than that. But the Heat got James in July, too, and now he was coming for his first Finals victory as the clock ticked closer to June. A dunk for a three-point play by James made it 85-75 Miami with 2:48 left, and just like that, the Big Three had their victims underfoot.

"It's a very confident feeling," Bosh said, "just to know that we have each other's back."

James finished with 24 points, Wade 22, and Bosh 19 -- an outcome the Mavs undoubtedly would take again in Game 2 on Thursday night if they can get it. The Heat got no points from their other two starters, Joel Anthony and Mike Bibby, but their bench outscored the Mavs' supposedly better and deeper bench 27-17. Wade called Bosh, a former leading man in Toronto, a "luxury" with 19 points and nine rebounds.

"If we rebound the ball and take care of the ball, I think it would've been a close game and our game," said DeShawn Stevenson, who spent time guarding both Wade and LeBron. "Those guys are going to make tough shots. That's what they're here for."

But this is the kind of fool's gold, loser's remorse, that the Celtics and Bulls tried to cling to in the previous two rounds. It is the kind of wishing and hoping that any team looking to derail the Heat without two or three top-shelf superstars will be engaged in as long as they are together.

"For me, going into the fourth quarter, it's winning time," James said. "That's when the game is won."

The Big Three closed this one out at both ends of the floor, taking turns getting stops, forcing turnovers, and turning them into devastating baskets at the other end. Taking turns carrying the load, which was a welcome change for all of them and a nightmare for everybody else.

"We always said we would figure it out," James said. " ... We have guys that have closed games before. We just had to figure out how to do it together."

Just as they envisioned. Just as everyone feared.


Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
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