MIAMI -- This was everything we love about the Miami Heat of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. This was basketball played at some of the highest levels it can be played, two historically gifted players toying with a great opponent for most of 40 minutes, and doing it with such joy, such passion. Just watching it -- the running and dunking and shooting and defending -- I kept thinking: This is a privilege.
But then it became everything we loathe about the Heat of LeBron and Dwyane. This was premature celebration at a level we haven't seen since July, when James, Wade and impressionable Chris Bosh celebrated their signed contracts as if an NBA championship can be won with a pen. Just watching it Thursday night -- the preening and posing, then the choking and excuse-making -- I kept thinking: This is nauseating.
Ultimately, this was everything we have come to expect from these fascinating, infuriating Miami Heat: Hollywood as hell. Damn good.
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But a bit too full of themselves.
And now the NBA Finals are tied at one game each after one of the biggest comebacks-slash-meltdowns in postseason history. The Mavericks stunned the Heat 95-93, finishing Game 2 with a 22-5 flourish capped by Dirk Nowitzki's spinning layup with 3.6 seconds left.
Dirk Nowitzki is the anti-Heat -- a quiet, humble, mentally tough SOB. He played with a splint on the middle finger of his left hand, and for more than 45 minutes he didn't play well. But he scored Dallas' final nine points, seven in the last minute, four with his left hand. That game-winning layup? He created it, then finished it, with his left hand. It probably hurt, but Nowitzki had more important things to worry about than pain. He had a game to win.
Contrast that with the Heat, who forgot they had a game to win because, honestly, they thought they had the game won. They led 88-73 with 7:14 left, the crowd going bonkers, the Mavericks crumbling. Miami thought the game was over, and Miami wasn't alone. Nobody gets off easy here, not even me. I was the idiot on Twitter who saw that 88-73 score and wrote the following: "Someone on the Dallas bench, throw in the towel. This is about to get ugly."
Boy was I right.
Just not like I meant.
This got ugly, ugly in a way that can't happen to a team with as much talent as the Heat -- but ugly in a way that could happen only to a team as self-satisfied as the Heat. The shot that gave Miami that 88-73 lead with 7:14 left was a 3-pointer by Wade. The sequence was beautiful to watch, started by James as he roared into the lane, elevated, floated until Mario Chalmers cut to the rim. James hit him with a pass, which Chalmers one-timed to Wade in the corner, where he buried the shot.
In front of the Dallas bench.
LeBron, as only LeBron can do, walked over to Wade and celebrated as if they'd signed a contract. Or won an NBA title. He danced with Wade, danced and pounded his chest until Wade relented and danced back. They were smiling, gloating.
In front of the Dallas bench.
"Hitting shots, posing on us," Mavs center Tyson Chandler said, "it's upsetting. I think it angered a lot of us."
While Wade and James made a mess with their premature celebration, they were oblivious to Mavs guard Jason Terry standing behind them. Watching them. Thinking things he wouldn't share with the media afterward, but things -- angry things -- you and I can guess. Coming out of the timeout, Terry hit a shot. Then another. And another. A few minutes later he hit again, bringing the Mavs within 90-86 and laying the foundation for the magnificent nine-point finish erected by Nowitzki.
As for the reaction of James and Wade to that final Wade 3-pointer, Chandler said: "You see all the celebrations, and they're throwing towels, and you say ... 'Is the game over?'"
For Miami, it was. There were more than seven minutes to play, but the Heat scored just five more points. In those seven minutes, James and Wade -- after the taunting, the preening, the posing -- took seven shots from the floor and missed all seven. Wade missed three shots, including the last one, a game-winner if it went, a running 3-pointer at the buzzer that hit the glass and rim.
|This isn't the first time LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have celebrated prematurely. (Getty Images)|
"He short-armed it," Nowitzki said.
While the action went the other way, James turned to a referee and asked for a foul, hacking one arm with the other to show what (hadn't) happened to him. It was cowardly, is what it was. James blew the shot. It happens. Then he blamed it on a foul that didn't happen.
The fiction continued after the game when James was asked about that celebration in front of Dallas' bench at the 7:14 mark.
"It was no celebration at all," James said.
No, really. That's what he said. And then he said, "I was excited about the fact [Wade] hit a big shot and we went up 15. We knew we had seven minutes to go still. As far as 'celebrations,' that word has been used with us all year."
Afterward James and Wade bickered with the media over the definition of "celebration," giving more thought to a stupid word than to the havoc it wrought.
"A celebration is confetti," Wade said. "A celebration is champagne bottles."
A celebration can happen in many ways. So can a meltdown. On Thursday night, the Miami Heat offered examples of both.