When the final horn sounded, Dwyane Wade embraced LeBron James and whispered two words into his ear.
“That’s one,” Wade said.
The Miami Heat’s star then slapped five with his remaining teammates and repeated that refrain.
Final score: Miami 92, Dallas 84.
And between now and Thursday evening, when these two teams tip it up for Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals, we’ll be inundated with reaction and analysis of every aspect of Game 1.
Dallas’ poor shooting. Miami’s offensive rebounds. Dallas’ unusually ineffective bench production. Miami’s defense on Dirk Nowitzki.
But, really, the opening game came down to one simple fact: The Miami Heat have two of the best players on the planet.
And, now, maybe everyone again realizes that.
After years of struggles and setbacks, failures and flame outs, the Mavs had made believers out of the basketball world for the way they ran through the competition en route to the finals. They showed heart in a six-game opening-round series against Portland. They showed dominance in a sweep of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. They showed maturity in making quick work of the Thunder, winning the West finals in five.
Somewhere along that journey, so many seemed to forget the greatness of Wade and James. But so many times Tuesday, the duo delivered reminders.
James hit a third-quarter, buzzer-beating 3-pointer while falling out of bounds.
“Momentum,” was how Wade described it.
Later, Wade rejected a Shawn Marion shot attempt at one end then drilled a contested and cold-blooded 3 at the other end to push Miami’s lead to nine with 3:05 left to play.
“When D-Wade is dribbling the ball, he gets in his rhythm and pulls up for 3,” James said. “Once that went down, I knew he was feeling really good. We’re rhythm players. When we get in a good rhythm, when we get in a good groove, we feel like every shot we take is going to go in. Those are two cases of it.”
It was just the beginning.
James followed Wade’s big shot and a pair of Nowitzki foul shots with a rim-rocking slam, blowing by Marion and forcefully punching it in while getting fouled to extend the Heat’s lead to 10. Wade later grabbed a rebound, avoided three separate traps to squirt free, got just pass halfcourt and fired a bullet to Chris Bosh (remember him, the third member of the “Heatles” who had 19 points and nine rebounds?) for an uncontested dunk.
And, fittingly, the final nail came on a connection between Wade and James. It started when Wade attacked off a high ball screen. He darted right and sucked in the defense. He got just beyond the painted area before lobbing a sky-high pass for James. Of course, James threw it down hard to start the party with just about 40 ticks left on the game clock.
In the final 10 minutes, when Miami broke open a 68-66 ballgame, Wade and James scored or assisted on 16 of the Heat’s final 24 points. The two combined for 46 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists on the night.
At halftime, they sat on 17 points on 7-of-18 shooting with only eight rebounds. Wade was particularly quiet with only seven points at halftime. Then he came alive.
“He’s such an explosive offensive player, he spoils you a little bit,” said Bosh. “You kind of look for that every game. When it comes it’s like, ‘OK, here it is.’ He can really get it going. I mean, he really heats up at times.”
Somehow, everyone seemed to forget.
But that was the story of Game 1, and Wade and James will be the deciding factors in this series.
It’s not who guards Dirk, or how deep Dallas is, or what impact Dallas’ zone has on the Heat. If Wade and James play to their abilities, they’ll remind, as they did in Game 1, that they’re hands down the best two players in this series. And Miami will be awfully scary and this series could be awfully short if they are.
They’ve done it once. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking they don’t have three more in them.