By the time Dwyane Wade’s feet hit the ground with 16.8 seconds to go in overtime, AmericanAirlines Arena was already in a frenzy.
This wasn’t pretty basketball. This was a street fight.
But Wade’s steal and dunk was the final blow, the knockout, in a heart-pounding, much-needed 94-87 Game 4 victory over the Toronto Raptors.
Wade, like he did in Saturday’s Game 3 38-point performance, put the Heat on his back again Monday.
Only this time, he was rewarded with victory and now the Heat head to Toronto for Game 5 Wednesday tied at 2.
Wade’s 28 points in regulation got the Heat to overtime. But in the extra period he had help and enjoyed every second of it.
“It was great,” Wade said. “I was tired. I was pushing through and I was using myself as a decoy. All eyes were on me and I wasn't going to force anything at that time.
“A lot of my screens were with Joe [Johnson] at the end. Joe either went [to the basket] or he gave it to Goran [Dragic]. I was pumping confidence into those guys to continue to be aggressive because I knew all eyes would be on me at that time. Goran made a big, big basket. Luol [Deng] drove it to the hole. Justise [Winslow] had a big rebound. Joe had two big blocks. Everybody in the ball game made it happen. That's how you want it done."
The Heat, minus center Hassan Whiteside, didn’t use any of its reserve centers in overtime. Deng, the team’s undersized power forward, jumped for the opening tip.
Winslow, who didn’t play at all in Game 3, made some of the biggest plays. His tip-in on a Johnson miss was the first basket of the extra period.
Then, it was Johnson, who still hasn’t hit a three-pointer in this series (0-for-13), who drove to the basket and hit a floater. He finished with 15 points and those two early blocks Wade mentioned.
And then it was Dragic, who also finished with 15 points and six rebounds and four assists. He drove to the basket, drew a foul and made a layup with 22.7 seconds left that finally provided extra breathing room. Then, Wade finished it off with his steal and dunk.
“He’s getting stronger,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade, who is now just one of 15 players in NBA history have multiple 30-point games at age 34 or older. “You can’t just turn it on at this time of year.
He’s put in a ton of work in the offseason.”
Spoelstra wanted his team to stop playing in mud. He wanted the Heat, which came in with the fewest assists of any team in the conference semifinals (74) through its first three games, to get back to playing the free-flowing offensive style that made Miami a success in the second half minus Chris Bosh.
There was none of that Monday night. Every basket was a struggle – for both teams. The Raptors shot 39.3 percent and got next to nothing from their All-Star backcourt. DeMar DeRozan had nine points on 4-of-17 shooting and Kyle Lowry finished with 10 points on 2 of 11 shooting. Lowry fouled out with nearly two minutes to go in regulation and DeRozan played very little in the second half with a thumb injury.
And yet still Toronto had its biggest lead at 77-68 after Terrence Ross buried his third three-pointer of the game with 6:41 to go.
Then, Wade brought Miami back.
He hit a floater with 6:24 to go, made another with 4:11 to play, a layup with a foul with 3:42 left and and then tied it at 83 with 12.6 seconds left when he drove past DeMarre Carroll, took flight past Cory Joseph and found the basket for the lay-in.
When Cory Joseph missed a pullup jumper with 1.9 seconds to go Miami and Toronto went to overtime for the third time in the series. It’s the first time the Heat has ever played three overtime games in a playoff series.
Ross and Joseph had two points each in the first half, but turned into the primary scorers for the Raptors down the stretch while Lowry and DeRozan floundered. Ross and Joseph each finished with 14 points.
Both teams were playing without their starting centers: Whiteside out with a sprained medial collateral ligament and Jonas Valanciunas out with a sprained ankle.
Toronto trailed most of the first half and then opened the second half on a 17-4 run to take a lead 52-48 lead with 5:13 left in the third quarter. Lowry was on the bench for most of it. He picked up his fourth foul 10:06 left in the quarter and didn’t return until the fourth.
Miami led 44-35 at the half. The Heat closed the second quarter on a 9-0 run behind Wade, who had 15 points at the break.
Bismack Biyombo, who started in place of the injured Valanciunas at center for Toronto, did some flexing early. After grabbing a loose ball in the paint, the 6-9, 255-pound Biyombo dunked on Amar’e Stoudemire and drew a foul with 8:55 to go in the opening period.
Biyombo celebrated by flexing for the cameras. But he couldn’t keep the Heat out of the paint.
Miami outscored Toronto 54-38 in the paint.
And in the end, that’s where the Heat won the battle with its small lineup.
"We don't have Hassan back there, but we have a lot of athletic guards that can go up and block shots and just make shots challenging,” Johnson said. “That's pretty much it."