With the NBA Finals only a few days away, for us Heat fans (and I'm sure, for the Thunder fans as well), the time spent waiting for game 1 can be slow and filled with apprehension. During that time span, it's best to entertain ourselves with video games and booze with the guys just to prolong that ECF celebration. Some of us may finally out with our girlfriends now that there's a few days of break time before the Finals start.
But now that you've finally found your way back to PiM, anxious about the final chapter of this years postseason, you can now entertain yourself and take yourself away from this year for a while and relive The Top 10 Greatest Playoff Performances in Miami Heat History. Have at it.
The Miami Heat aren't as old as the Lakers or the Celtics or the Knicks. They've only been around since the late 80's. But it's safe to say that the team has had it's fair share of success since since the 90's up til now. Under the guidance of the legendary Pat Riley, the Miami Heat, in their 23 years in the league, have 9 division titles, 3 conference championships and 1 NBA championship. But it wasn't all Pat Riley of course. Pat brought in talented players that carried out his vision for the Heat. From the trades that brought the tandem of Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, to the drafting of the greatest Heat player of all time in Dwyane Wade and the trade that brought the most dominant center of the last 2 decades, Shaquille O'Neal. And of course, the arrival of possibly the best player in the NBA right now, LeBron James. All products of Pat Riley's ambition.
And each and every one of these players, without a doubt, gave Pat Riley what he asked of them. Be it defense or heart. Or jumpers or 3 point bombs. Or just plain dominance in a much needed win in a playoff game. They all gave us some legendary games. Games that marked iconic firsts in the franchise's history, marked the birth of a superstar, clinched us a win to propel us through the playoffs and games that ultimately brought us to the promised land. Now, before we all get caught up in the 2012 NBA Finals, let's first relive 10 great performances by 5 great Heat players.
10. Shaquille O'Neal vs. The Chicago Bulls - May 4, 2006
Shaq grabbing one of his 20 rebounds against the Bulls (05/04/06) via i.i.com.com
Back in 06, the Chicago Bulls were lacking a Derrick Rose, and although mediocre as a 7th seed may be, those Bulls the Heat faced in the first round of what would be their championship season turned out to be a real pain in the behind. The Bulls, led by a sharpshooting Ben Gordon and pesky both-sides-of-the-court player Kirk Hinrich, were able to push Miami to game 6 and were looking to try and win game 7 on the road and possibly upset the eventual champions.
Luckily for the Heat, they received some big, BIG help from their star big man, Shaquille O'Neal. Already past his prime by then, Shaq gave the Heat a performance reminiscent of his MVP tenure with the Lakers, leading the Heat to an escape of the first round with his monstrous 30 points and 20 rebounds.
And that's just the first of many performances from that magical year of 06.
9. Dwyane Wade vs. The Washington Wizards - May 14, 2005
Wade about to shoot a free throw against the Wizards to seal the win, the sweep and his 42 points (05/14/06) via i.ytimg.com
Dwyane Wade has always been a gifted scorer. But during game 4 against the Wizards in the second round of the 2005 playoffs, D-Wade sealed his legacy as the Heat's greatest scorer, trumping Glen Rice and Tim Hardaway. Wade scored 22 points in just one quarter, beating Alonzo Mourning's previous record of 20. And that's not the only record he broke. He surpassed Tim Hardaway's 38 points in a single game, scoring 42 points, with the last 2 coming off of free throws that sealed the game and the sweep against the Wizards, making Wade the first ever Heat player to score 40 points in one game. How's that for a scoring punch?
8. Alonzo Mourning vs. The Dallas Mavericks - June 20, 2006
Alonzo Mourning has always been one of the fiercest, most intense warriors in NBA history and his defense was pretty much the best part of his game. Despite being one of the best players in the 90's, Alonzo's anti-social behavior and short temper caused him and the Heat a lot of chances to possibly win a title in the late 90's. But after a change of heart, he vowed to redeem himself, but unfortunately, a rare kidney disease wasted the last few years of Zo's prime and he never got the chance to do so. But in 2005, he joined the team on their deep playoff run but failed once again to help the Heat reach the ultimate goal.
Enter game 6 of the Finals in 2006. The Heat were just one win away from winning the NBA championship and with so much on the line, Zo finally got his chance to bring the D and help the Heat win. He personified the saying "Defense wins championships" with his amazing 5 blocks that squandered what could have been 10 points for the Mavericks in a game decided by 3 points. He also had contributions on points with 8 and on rebounds with 6. In the end, even though Alonzo Mourning wasn't the main man anymore, he still managed to give us enough of the old Zo to help us win it all.
7. Dwyane Wade vs. The Boston Celtics - April 25, 2010
Dwyane Wade going for a tough shot against the Boston Celtics (04/25/10) via www.theepochtimes.com
Nobody wants to be swept in the playoffs. And knowing Dwyane Wade and his competitive nature, he wasn't about to let the Boston Celtics sweep his Miami Heat at home. He was going to put on a show. Everyone knows the Heat were bound to lose the series. They were down 3-0 and simply put, no team has ever come back from 3-0 to win the series at game 7. That said, Dwyane Wade still did not want to go down without a fight. What happened next was to be one of the best postseason performances of Wade's already illustrious playoff career.
Wade scored 46 points, still the most by any Heat player in the playoffs and added 5 and 5 to an amazing all around game that at least gave Miami fans something to feel good about. Though they lost to the C's in game 5, they at least avoided a sweep and they at least got to see one of the best in the game dominate and carry a mediocre team to a playoff win against perennial Finals contenders. Wade = Competitive.
6. Dwyane Wade vs. The Charlotte Hornets - April 18, 2004
Dwyane Wade shoots the game winner against the Charlotte Hornets (04/18/04) via cdn.bleacherreport.net
They say that the playoffs are the true proving grounds of great NBA players. Young and fresh, how a rookie performs will determine if he will become one of the best young stars in the league, or if he'll have to take a backseat to other rookies who have had better games. Most rookies just wilt under the added pressure of a post season game, especially a first post season game. But Dwyane Wade thrived under the hot lights. Dwyane Wade thrived under the pressure of being given the ball with only a few seconds left in game one against the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of his first playoff appearance in his rookie year of 2004 (woah, that's a mouthful).
Dwyane Wade was tasked with trying to hit a game winning shot or risk having to go to overtime against the Hornets. With eleven second left on the clock in a tie game, a brave and young Dwyane Wade received the inbounds pass and dribbled against Baron Davis. Then Wade overcame the All-Star, losing him on a quick crossover and then pulled up for a shot over Jamaal Magloire to give the Heat an 81-79 lead with only about a second left. The Heat went on to win the game and with that, I think Dwyane Wade proved once and for all who the better rookie was. It wasn't LeBron James. It wasn't Carmelo Anthony. It was that man who just led his team to a game 1 in in the playoffs.
BONUS: The Heat would go on to win the series and advance to the second round against the powerhouse Indiana Pacers led by Jermaine O'Neal, Ron Artest and Brad Miller. Although they do lose in 6, Wade also put an exclamation mark on his team's playoff run with a posterizing dunk on Jermaine O'Neal. (no photo, sadly)
5. Shaquille O'Neal vs. The Detroit Pistons - June 2, 2006
Shaquille O'Neal going up against the Detroit Pistons (06/02/06) via cdn.bleacherreport.net
After falling to Detroit in 2005, the Heat were looking for revenge when they faced them once again the following year. This time though, Shaq was ready to give us another herculean performance. And that performance allowed to give Wade some rest as he manhandled the Pistons and hi matchup, defensive monster Ben Wallace, and made 85 (!) percent of his shots en route to 28 points and 16 rebounds and the Heat went on to the Finals where they would beat Dallas. This would turn out to be Shaq's last real dominant game for the Heat. And a great one at that.
4. Tim Hardaway vs. The New York Knickerbockers - May 18, 1997
Before Dwyane Wade, the best guard in Miami was Time Hardaway. Joining Miami during his 30's, he could still tear up the opposition with his quick UTEP two-step and sink those deep threes. In the 1996-1997 season, Miami witnessed their first super duo in Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, products of Pat Riley's genius. The Heat went on to win 61 games and in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, they faced the much hated New York Knicks. This series would mark the hatred between the two teams that would go on until the end of the decade. And I guess it's safe to say that Timmy really threw a mean first punch.
In game 7 of the East semis back in 97, the Heat and the Knicks were battling to see who would go on the the ECF. And Tim Hardaway pretty much knew the answer to that, as he went crazy from all over the court, hitting threes from all around the arc. He finished with 38 points, then a Heat playoff record and his hot hand sunk the Knicks and the Heat took round 1 of the Heat Knicks rivalry. The Heat would go on to face Jordan's Bulls, where they lost in 5 games. Imagine if Wade had been there against the Bulls. Hm.
3. LeBron James vs. The Boston Celtics - June 7, 2012
LeBron James with his game face on (06/07/12) via static7.businessinsider.com
The most recent performance in this list. Memories are still fresh regarding this legendary performance from our own LeBron James. With the Heat facing elimination on the road in the Eastern semis against Boston, LeBron turned in a game for the ages. Definitely his best Heat game to date, LeBron absolutely exploded from the get-go. Making 73 percent of his shots and finishing with 45 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists. A very complete game and considering the stakes, truly a game for the ages. But not quite as complete as the next one...
2. Dwyane Wade vs. The Dallas Mavericks - June 20, 2006
Dwyane Wade, 2006 Finals MVP (06/20/06) via www.midwestsportsfans.com
The playoffs are where stars are born, but the Finals are where legends are made. And on June 20, 2006, Dwyane Wade became a legend. After leading his team to an improbable comeback after being down 2-0, the Heat became champions of the basketball world and their young star became just the fifth youngest Finals MVP in NBA history.
In just his third year, Dwyane Wade showed grit and determination. A will to win and a desire to be the best. His amazing stat line of 36 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, 3 blocks on 56 percent shooting while sitting down for less than 3 minutes of the game is probably one of the best stat lines you'll ever see in a Finals performance. And his averages of 34.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.7 steals and 1 block earned him a PER of 33.8, the highest in NBA Finals history. His performance in the Finals was arguably the best ever. And at number one, the game that started it all.
1. Dwyane Wade vs. The Dallas Mavericks - June 13, 2006
Honestly, I'm torn as to which is better. Game 6 or game 3? The game that sealed it, or the game that started the sealing? But after quite some time staring blankly into my laptop screen, I've concluded that Wade's epic comeback deserves to be number one on this list. It's just the fact that his performance in the final 6 minutes of game 3 sparked what would be four straight victories for the Heat. If there was no game 3, there would be no game 6. There would be no trophy in Wade's hands and there would be no parade down Biscayne Boulevard.
The Heat were down 2-0 after losing both games on the road to start the Finals. Now the Heat were back at home, and were looking forward to trying to shift the momentum back to Miami as they had 3 straight home games to play. But during the first 3 and a half quarters, the Dallas Mavericks were still having their way and manhandling the Heat. With only 6 minutes left in the 4th, Wade fueled his team, saying "I'm not going out like this" and when the minute he stepped on the court, he knew that somehow, the Heat were still gonna win this. Not just the game. But the series. The Championship.
Wade scored 15 points in the fourth quarter (12 in the final 6 minutes) and the Heat climbed from a 13 point deficit to upstart a comeback for the ages. Despite playing with 5 fouls, Wade just did not allow the Mavs to take a commanding 3-0 lead against them (a death sentence in the playoffs). He made his jumpers, he drove and made 3-point plays, he pulled down more rebounds than anyone on his team and he saved the game with a tip on a possible game tying last second inbounds play by the Mavericks.
Many compared Wade to Jordan but in my opinion, on that day in the NBA, just to be so clutch, so driven, so determined not to lose, not to give in, to be able to make plays and save the day, I think Wade was above Jordan on that one day. On that one day in mid-June, Dwyane Wade not only became the best basketball player on the planet, but he became the best player in history, just for one day. Call me an overly exaggerated fan, but I stand by what I said. That game was the single best individual performance I have ever seen. The stakes, were the highest ever and Wade dominated. And that's what makes it the best performance in Miami Heat history.
The Miami Heat are in for another run at the NBA Finals, this time, against a young and hungry Thunder team. Will we be getting another performance worthy of being put on this list? I hope so. But only time will tell. For now, all we have to do is wait and cheer them on. The rise of LeBron James will certainly make for more monstrous and iconic games. But personally, I'd give anything just to see one more game where Wade dominates like he did in 2006. Just one more game, where we'll be proud to say our team is being led by the best in the world.