Our seventh entry is another classic on the biggest stage — Game 3 of the 2006 NBA Finals. In a matchup between two franchises making their first trip to the Finals, the Dallas Mavericks won the first two games on their home court. The Heat were on the ropes.
Miami started the game off strong and went into the second quarter up 29-21. But the Mavericks weathered the storm. At the 6:34 mark of the fourth quarter, Dallas took an 89-76 lead. Years later, Pat Riley recounted that Dwyane Wade gritted his teeth in a timeout huddle and said, “I ain’t going out like this.”
Wade put the team on his back — much like he did against the Detroit Pistons in February 2006 — scoring from everywhere. Miami also played some of their best defense of the playoffs, making quick rotations and preventing easy baskets. By the 3:36 mark, he had cut the deficit to just three points. At the “dos minutos” announcement, Miami was down five. Jason Williams attempted a 3, but Shaquille O’Neal grabbed the rebound. He went back up and missed the jam, but drew a foul on Erick Dampier.
With 1:48 left, Shaq went to the line for two of the biggest free throws of his line. And he made both. Twenty-four seconds later Wade made a jumper to cut the lead to just one. On the Mavericks’ next possession, Udonis Haslem a stole a Jason Terry pass to Dirk Nowitzki, leading to a fast-break opportunity. Terry fouled Haslem at the rim, and UD made both free throws. The Heat had the lead back.
But it wasn’t over. With 35 seconds left, Devin Harris eluded Wade to make a layup, tying the score at 95. On Miami’s next possession, Wade was tied up. He passed the ball to Williams, who kicked it out to Gary Payton. Payton pump-faked a jumper and stepped into an open shot. Splash. With nine seconds left, Miami had a two-point lead.
Dallas’ coach, Avery Johnson, called a timeout to advance the ball and draw up a final play. Haslem fouled Nowitzki with just three seconds left, giving the player who shot 90 percent from the foul line that year to tie the game. But Nowitzki made just one of two shots, and Dallas fouled Wade with 1.4 seconds left.
Wade also split the pair, and Mavericks had one last chance, down two with one second left. But Wade made one last stand, this time on the defensive end, and deflected a lob pass from Nowitzki to Josh Howard from in-bounds. Miami survived to avoid going down 0-3 in the series.
Wade, of course, continued his fourth-quarter dominance to win the next three games and deliver the Heat their first championship.