The story goes like this: On the final night of the regular season, the Miami Heat were playing against the Toronto Raptors — and had an eye on the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat were already locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, but the game was far from meaningless in the sense that by winning, Miami would finish with the NBA's third-best record.
Miami finished with 58 wins. Dallas finished with 57. Had the teams ended tied, Game 1 of the finals would be in Dallas, since the Mavericks swept the Heat in the regular season. Instead, the Heat hold home-court advantage going into the title series — hardly a minor deal considering Miami is the only team still unbeaten at home in this year's playoffs.
"We knew at the time that if we won that game, it would put us in position to have home-court advantage against most teams," Magloire said. "To us, it was very significant."
House scored a career-high 35 points that night, fueled by an 8-of-9 shooting effort in the first quarter. Magloire grabbed 19 rebounds, the most by anyone coming off the bench in an NBA game this season. Howard scored 18 points, his highest total in four years. And the Heat outscored Toronto 27-10 in the fourth quarter for a 97-79 win.
James, Wade and Bosh got the night off, resting up since the playoffs were starting in less than 72 hours.
It was a calculated gamble by Miami, which will reap the reward Tuesday night. In 15 postseason games for Miami so far, House, Magloire and Howard have combined for 14 points and 10 rebounds.
But what they did in Toronto — combining for 61 points — still resonates and is appreciated within the Heat locker room.
"That's what our team is all about," James said. "Eddie House and Big Cat (Magloire) don't have a big role in this playoff run, but when we sat out that last game to rest for the playoffs, those guys stepped in. Eddie shooting the ball extremely well and going for 30-plus. Big Cat having almost 20 rebounds. They won that game for us to be put in this position if we faced Dallas in the finals. That's just our team."
Since 1985, when the league went to the 2-3-2 format for the finals, the team with home-court advantage has won 20 of 26 championships — a trend Miami bucked in 2006 when it toppled the Mavericks in six games for that title.
Dallas, however, has won its past five games on the road in these playoffs. The Mavericks (5-2) and Heat (4-3) are the only teams with winning road records through the first three rounds of the postseason.
"At this point, you hope the home court holds importance," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Both teams have proven themselves as road teams. But we went into that last game trying to win, if you watched it. It was competitive and that's why all of our guys have been important."
Spoelstra said he wrestled a bit with the decisions made in that finale. Many in the crowd in Toronto were displeased that Bosh spent the night on the bench, robbing the Raptors fans to either cheer or boo the franchise's best player for the previous seven seasons. The only thing at stake in the finale was home court over Dallas.
So he said to his team before the game: Why not?
"We went into that last game trying to win," Spoelstra said.
This was why.
For their part, the Mavericks had their own issues on the season's final night, with much of the seedings in the Western Conference undecided until the end. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said Sunday that he barely paid any attention to the East race, or the overall NBA standings, because of all the possibilities in the West chase.
What makes that night even more interesting from the Miami perspective is that House, Magloire and Howard were likely feeling more than a bit rusty. House hadn't played in any of Miami's five most recent games entering the regular-season finale. Howard played more minutes in that game (32:04) than he logged in the previous five combined. Magloire played 29 minutes, his most in 27 months.
"It had been some time since I had been out there and got my number called," House said. "You just go out there when you get the opportunity and go as hard as you can."
And for that, the Heat won't go anywhere until after Game 2 of the finals. They've loved going on the road and facing hostile crowds all season, but to open the title series, Wade said there's no place like home.
"We understood at that time that you have to look forward," Wade said. "At that moment, we believed in our guys that they would go out and get us the win. And they did. ... It was inspiring for us, to see these guys who are in and out of the lineup, don't know when they're going to get time, always stay professional and always go out and do their job — no matter what."
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