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Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Heat drop the ball in another meltdown

By Tom Haberstroh

Dwyane Wade
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
The Heat's clumsy final possession was indicative of a disastrous, turnover-prone fourth quarter.

DALLAS -- “The execution just wasn’t there.”

“You have to give them credit.”

“That’s uncharacteristic of us.”

“We will be better.”

Those were the words Heat coach Erik Spoelstra uttered after watching his team collapse in Game 2.

Five days later, Spoelstra sat at the postgame podium following another Heat meltdown and, like a broken record, repeated those very same words. Almost verbatim.

Despite Spoelstra’s assurances after Game 2, the Heat were not better in Game 4. In Game 2, the Heat blew a 15-point lead with six minutes remaining, allowing the Mavericks to storm back with a 22-5 run to finish the game. In Game 4, the Heat squandered a nine-point cushion with 10 minutes remaining, letting the Mavericks go on a 21-9 run to end it.

Although the magnitude of the Heat’s collapse in Game 2 outweighed the one suffered Tuesday, the historic slides were mirror images of each other in several ways. Dirk Nowitzki’s game-winning layup against one-on-one coverage. Chris Bosh’s noticeable disappearance offensively in the final frame. An encore of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s hero-ball act down the stretch.

But there were new factors that crippled the Heat this time around.

Chief among them: the bizarre flurry of fumbles in the fourth quarter.

It started with Bosh mishandling James’ bounce pass with 7:40 remaining that should have resulted in an easy bucket, which would have put the Heat up by five points. Instead, the ball bounced off Bosh’s hands, and the Mavericks scooped up the loose ball, going the other way.

Two minutes later, Bosh got the yips again. This time, he successfully caught a bounce pass but subsequently coughed up the ball on his way into the paint. Unforced error, and the Mavericks went the other way and took the lead on a fast-break layup from Terry.

On the following Heat possession, Wade dribbled into a double-team and lost the ball out of bounds. Another turnover.

Next possession, Mike Miller followed up by trying to dribble his way out of the right corner and fumbled the ball into the Mavericks' bench.

Noticing a theme?

Just when the Heat appeared to solve their catching affliction -- they saw two straight possessions without a miscue -- Bosh failed to control yet another bounce pass that could have led to layup from close range, this one coming from Wade as he penetrated into the paint with 2:30 remaining in the game. Luckily for the Heat, however, they were able to recover the ball, but it resulted in a fadeaway hero-ball shot from James with 10 seconds remaining on the 24-second clock.

But none of the Heat’s six fourth-quarter fumbles were as debilitating as Wade’s flub at half court, down by three points with 6.7 seconds left in the game. Miller passed the ball in from out of bounds, hitting Wade as he curled around a screen from Bosh. Wade turned his head toward the rim at the last moment and the ball ricocheted off his hands, bouncing across the half-court line. Wade managed to save the possession, valiantly flipping the ball backward to Miller for the desperation shot.

The damage had already been done.

With the 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler standing in his way, Miller flung a 30-footer as he fell out of bounds. The shot missed everything, and the Heat let another game bounce away.

“I saw an opening,” Wade said. “Mike threw the ball and I was trying to get to the opening, probably before I caught it. That’s how I lost it.”

And that, really, was how the Heat lost it -- with unforced errors.

“Obviously I would love to have that play back,” Wade added. “We would love to have a lot of plays back.”

In the end, the Heat shot themselves in the foot down the stretch, which differed from the Game 2 meltdown when they shot themselves out of the game. On Tuesday, the Heat turned the ball over six times in the final 12 minutes of the game, which led to five Dallas points on the other end. In a game decided by just three points, those fumbles cost them the game.

And this is what will keep Spoelstra up all night: nearly every single one of them could have been avoided.

Equipped with a nine-point lead, the Heat just needed to put the gear into cruise control and coast their way to a 3-1 lead in the series. At that point, they owned the momentum, not just in the game, but in the entire series. Instead, the Heat literally threw away a golden opportunity to take an enormous two-game edge.

Of course, the strange turnovers don’t tell the whole story. James silently loitered around the perimeter in the lowest-scoring game of his playoff career. Moreover, the Heat shot 2-for-14 from downtown, their worst shooting performance of the season beyond the arc.

Above all else, the Heat self-destructed in a Game 4 performance that was a flashback not just to Game 2, but to their fragility in November. The Heat were their own worst enemy Tuesday, dropping the ball both literally and figuratively. And now, the Heat are tied up at 2-all with another game in Dallas on Thursday.

Replying to the final question of his postgame presser, Spoelstra said his group will respond.

“We will be better."