MIAMI, FL - JUNE 02: Mike Miller #13 of the Miami Heat and Jose Juan Barea #11 of the Dallas Mavericks fight for control of a loose ball in Game Two of the 2011 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 2, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
After two days of intense film study and painstaking analysis of the final 14 possessions in their end-of-game collapse in Game 2 of the NBA finals, the Miami Heat finally came up with the reason why.
It wasn't a highly technical reason.
"We let one go," Dwyane Wade said.
And entering Game 3 of the NBA finals, the Heat will try to let Game 2 go again. The way Miami sees it, carrying over the stigma of that loss -- one of the worst late-game collapses in finals history -- would only doom them again Sunday night when the scene shifts to steamy Dallas for the first of three games on the Mavericks' home floor.
Dallas rallied from 15 points down in the final 7 minutes to beat Miami in Game 2, outscoring the Heat 22-5 to finish the game and knot the series. Thanks to that win, Mavs' fans still may see another NBA championship celebration, only this time, by the Western Conference champions and not a Heat team that hoisted a trophy at Dallas after the 2006 finals.
"In the playoffs, it's a win or a loss. However it comes by, it's a win or a loss," Heat forward LeBron James said. "We've moved on from Game 2, seen the mistakes we've made. Seen some of the great things we've done as well. It's a win or loss. The series is tied 1-1. We never get too high or too low in the series. We haven't gotten too high or low in the regular season as well."
Game 3 is crucial for so many obvious reasons, like the Heat wanting not to deal with another stumble and the Mavericks wanting to keep momentum rolling and retain home-court advantage. Statistically, there's proof that it's a Texas-sized swing game as well. Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format for the finals, teams have now split the first two games 12 times. In the previous 11, the winner of Game 3 has always gone on to win the championship.
Big whoop, both teams said in response to that one.
"We just can't let up. We're not good enough to just relax," said Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, who led Dallas' late-game charge in Game 2 at Miami. "We need to play with an edge at all times in every game. So hopefully (Sunday), with the crowd behind us, we're going to have a great game. Just looking at this one game."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was more succinct.
"I think both teams have bucked a lot of those numbers and odds up to this point already," he said. "We're a non-traditional team."
Maybe that's one of the reasons why the Heat were so loose Saturday.
Players arrived at the arena around noon, most with headphones on as they walked off the bus, bobbing heads in time with the music and nodding to people as they walked by. James and Wade were chatting and laughing, a few players checked out the turf that would host an Arena Football League game later Saturday night and some stretched their arms to tap the goalposts as they walked across the floor where a basketball court will be Sunday.
The mood couldn't have been more different from when they walked off the floor in Miami on Thursday, stunned by what just happened.
"We're coming home, but we know that's no guarantee of anything," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "We've lost at home this year in the playoffs. Now Miami has as well. The venue has significance, but it never guarantees anyone anything. ... The mistake that we're not going to make is feel like coming home is going to be something that helps get us over the hump. It's not going to be like that. Both these teams are too good of road teams."
Including the playoffs, the Mavericks have won 34 road games this season, tops in the NBA. Miami ranks second with 32.
The Heat also haven't lost consecutive games since early March, winning after all six of their most recent losses by an average of 11.7 points. And in their last 24 games away from home, they're 17-7.
All good signs for Miami now, given that if it doesn't win one of the next three in Dallas, the season will end here.
"We've been a pretty resilient bunch all year," Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. "We've bounced back every time we've been knocked down. I'm expecting the same thing with this situation."
There's stats the Mavs can point to as ones they like as well, including one that seems particularly significant: Miami rarely wins in Dallas, period.
Dallas has won 12 of the last 14 meetings between the teams at home, six of those coming in single-digit games. Of course, one of those two exceptions was the last time the Mavericks hosted a finals game, June 20, 2006, when Jason Terry missed a potentially game-tying 3-pointer, Wade got the rebound, threw the ball skyward as time expired and Miami prevailed 95-92.
"We're looking at Game 3. That's the only thing on our mind right now," Terry said. "We're at home. What does that mean? It means our building is going to be crazy. We're going to play with a lot of energy. Some of those shots we're missing better go down. That's what home court is all about."
The series is even.
So, too, was the level of confidence both sides were showing Saturday.
Come late Sunday night, neither of those statements will keep ringing true.
"I know I'm excited for the game tomorrow," James said before Miami's workout session on Saturday. "It hurt. We had time to let it hurt us as much as it could yesterday after the game. But today is a new day. And we're back and focused. We're a confident bunch. Me personally, I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's going to be fun."