MIAMI – At the start, the Miami Heat couldn't finish.
That's apparently no longer the case.
Among the many trends that have popped up during Miami's five-game postseason winning streak, maybe the most notable is that the Heat have outscored opponents in the fourth quarter in each of those contests.
That includes Game 1 of the NBA finals against Dallas. Game 2 of the series is Thursday night, when the Heat look to hold the home-court edge and move two wins away from a championship.
"We've been in a lot of these grind-out games and find a way just to stay in there, stay the course and find a way to win at the end," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday after practice. "Again, I think the more times you're in those type of games, the less you panic or become distracted."
The Heat have been in plenty of those games by now.
One of the major criticisms of the Heat in the regular season was how the team simply could not win one-possession games at the end. Even with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh leading the way, Miami went 5-14 in games decided by five points or less in the regular season.
In the playoffs, it hasn't been a problem. Miami has trailed at the half in each of its last three games, then outscored Chicago and Dallas by a combined 29 points after halftime to win all three of those contests. And to hear LeBron James tell it, the confidence for those wins comes — ironically — from losses.
"It comes from failure throughout the season," James said. "Having games where we felt like we could or should have won games, late in games, and we just didn't execute. I said (Tuesday) night, I was used to closing out games in the last seven years. C.B. was used to closing out games and D-Wade was used to closing out games. One thing was figuring out how to do it together. We were used to doing it individually, early on in the season."
No more, they're not.
When Dallas scored the first seven points of the second half to take a 51-43 lead, the Heat changed both their defensive disposition — the Mavs scored 18 points in the next 18 minutes — and their offensive tendencies. The balance was nearly perfect for Miami the rest of the way: Wade took nine shots in the final 22 minutes, Bosh took eight, James and Udonis Haslem each took seven.
The Heat didn't ask one person to carry the scoring load, and that meant the Mavericks couldn't overplay anyone.
It also meant that Bosh's struggles — he was 1 for 9 in the second half, the lone make being a game-sealing dunk with about a minute left after an assist from Wade — went largely unnoticed. That was thanks in part to the Heat holding a 7-1 edge in offensive rebounds after halftime.
"They won the line of scrimmage, is really what it came down to," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "They were more physical inside. It led to 16 second-chance opportunities for them. And that just takes the ball out of our hands."
Miami's defensive numbers in Game 1 may not have been better. Against a high-powered team like the Mavs, the Heat limited them to 84 points and 37 percent shooting.
The stat sheet looked great. The film, not so much, Wade said.
"We've seen a lot of possessions on the film that we can get better defensively," he said. "We can help each other out better and try to make it a little tougher. Some of the shots they missed were open. We can't let that happen next time. We have to do a better job of contesting all of them, at least 75 percent of their shots.
"We can be way better," he added. "It's not saying the score is going to be 150-149. But there's ways we can execute better. We can get better looks and better opportunities."
Wade left practice Wednesday again insisting he was fine, and after he scored 15 of his 22 points of Game 1 in the second half, the Mavericks won't argue that fact. Heat reserve Mike Miller insisted his aching left shoulder — he grabbed it and yelled in agony after reaching with his left arm for a fourth-quarter rebound in Game 1 — won't keep him sidelined on Thursday. The stakes are simply too high to miss games now.
"Old age," Miller said.
As the season wears down, the Heat look better at the end of games now than at any point in the campaign's first 82 nights.
"We're a really good team down the stretch now," James said. "It has a lot to do with our team as far as trust, it has a lot to do with myself and D-Wade and just the position coach has put us in in late games to have us have an ability to come down the stretch and make shots for our team. I guess it's a confidence of closing games out, but it's also the trust you have for your teammates."
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