By Chris Sheridan
DALLAS -- For Pat Riley, it's the first time in 18 years he can say it. For Shaquille O'Neal, it's been four years, and for Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton and Dwyane Wade -- especially Wade -- it's the first time they can make the claim.
Champions, all of them. All of the Miami Heat.
In a decisive Game 6 that capped one of the most stunning turnarounds in NBA Finals history, the Heat finished off the Dallas Mavericks and showed themselves to be worthy of being crowned champions by riding their young superstar to the first title in franchise history with a 95-92 victory Tuesday night.
Wade didn't quite score 40 this time, as he had twice before in this series, but he came awful close with 36 points and avoided a nightmare finish after blowing a pair of free throws with 9.1 seconds left to give the Mavericks one final chance.
But that chance ended with Jason Terry's 3-point attempt bouncing high and hard off the rim, Wade getting the rebound with a second left and no Mavericks anywhere near him. He tossed the ball high in the air and the Heat players bounded off the bench in celebration, so many years of waiting for so many of them finally having come to an end.
"I don't want to say I put the team on my back. You know, we did it together. Like Coach said, like we've all been saying, it's been 15 strong," Wade said. "They gave me the opportunity by putting the ball in my hands to prove people wrong. When I came [into] the series, it was, I can't shoot. I don't know where they got that from. So I proved to them I can shoot, and then after that, I proved I can play, and that's all I tried to do: prove people wrong."
Miami became just the third team in NBA Finals history to win a series after dropping the first two games, and the first to do it after losing Games 1 and 2 by double-digit margins. This series actually looked lost for the Heat with 6½ minutes left in Game 3 when they trailed by 13 on their home court, but the Mavericks relaxed too soon and never got their groove back, earning the dubious distinction of becoming the first team to lose the NBA Finals in the fourth quarter of Game 3.
Dirk Nowitzki scored 29 points for Dallas but was barely a factor in the fourth quarter, scoring two points from the line. With Dallas trailing by three and the clock ticking inside 20 seconds, Nowitzki passed the ball off to Erick Dampier, leading to a turnover. The big German never touched the ball again, a disappointing finish to a disappointing quarter and a disappointing series for Dallas' best player.
"Dirk's a warrior," coach Avery Johnson said. "He tried. No excuses, Miami deserved to win."
Aside from Wade's 36, Miami got 17 points from Udonis Haslem, 14 from Antoine Walker and just nine from O'Neal. Still, he's a four-time champion now, and Wade might just be on his way to chasing Shaq's total. He won the Finals MVP Award and proved himself worthy in this series of carrying the superstar label that's bestowed upon him.
"He was very much the heart of an extraordinary team," commissioner David Stern said in awarding Wade the MVP trophy.
"I really believe it was our time," Riley yelled into the microphone in front of the few thousand fans who stuck around for the trophy ceremony.
O'Neal picked up his fifth foul just more than two minutes into the final quarter and went to the bench, but on this night the Most Dominant Ever wasn't even Much Of A Factor, and the Heat kept playing in front for the next few minutes, in large part because of the energy and defensive presence provided by O'Neal's backup, Mourning.
Josh Howard tied it 79-79 with 7:06 left on a pair of free throws, but Haslem made a corner jumper with 5:45 left to put Miami ahead for good. On each successive possession as the clock kept winding down, the Mavs looked tighter and tighter as they kept getting next to nothing from their three best offensive starters.
A 3-pointer from the corner by James Posey off a pass from Wade made it 87-81 with 3:41 left, but Dallas pulled to 89-88 when Stackhouse sank a 3 from the corner with 1:37 remaining. A putback by Haslem made it a 91-88 with 1:21 left, Howard made it a one-point game on a jumper with 42 ticks left, and Wade went to the line after colliding with Nowitzki and knocked down a pair for a three-point lead with 26.2 seconds left.
"He just took it to another level," Riley said. "You all witnessed it. You all watched it. Players like that are very hard to come by, and to watch them grow right in front of you, you know, he's making his legacy in his third year. We're blessed to have him."
In the beginning, the Mavs' long-lost aggression returned, especially when it came to Nowitzki, whose follow dunk in the lane off a missed dunk by Stackhouse put the Mavericks ahead 26-12.
It was looking at that point as though it might just be a rout like the last time these teams played here in Game 2, except for the fact that Wade hadn't even gotten started yet.
Wade's first point didn't come until 1:58 remained in the first quarter, and he had seven by the end of the quarter as part of a 15-4 run that got the Heat right back into contention. The score was 36-31 Mavs midway through the second quarter when Stern was shown on the videoboard, and the fans let him have it with boos. He hasn't been the most popular man in this town ever since Mark Cuban bought the Mavericks, and his league's suspension of Stackhouse for Game 5 and quarter-million dollar fine against Cuban prior to Game 6 fueled this latest booing, which was pretty intense.
Miami went scoreless during the 2½ minutes that Wade rested in the second quarter, and he came off the bench a little rusty. One of his three turnovers in the quarter led to a breakaway dunk by Marquis Daniels to get the Mavs' lead up to 46-36, but Wade led Miami back -- with some help from a highly questionable foul against Daniels that led to a three-point play as part of a 13-0 run that ended with a two-handed slam by Mourning off a behind-the-back pass from Jason Williams -- and ended the half with 19 points as Miami led 49-48 at the break.
Dallas had gone from tenacious to tentative, and it kept up in the third quarter. Howard picked up his fourth foul just more than three minutes into the second half, and Stackhouse joined him with four fouls two minutes later as Walker scored and was fouled off a steal by Wade. Walker did his famous shimmy shake as he lay on the ground after the bucket, which put Miami ahead 59-53.
A strong defensive stretch helped the Heat open a nine-point lead, but the game started to change after Mourning missed a foul shot that would have completed a three-point play, and the Mavericks turned the long rebound into a fast break that Daniels ended with an emphatic dunk. A subsequent three-point play by Daniels brought the Mavs even closer, and they trailed only 71-68 entering the fourth quarter.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.