Updated: June 19, 2006, 6:41 PM ET

Birthday boil: Dirk's down time

MIAMI -- It stretched into a fifth period. It strayed well past midnight. It spilled all the way into Dirk Nowitzki's 28th birthday.

It was a sequence of developments that, with one more defensive stop, would have framed Nowitzki's first triumphant moment in these NBA Finals.

Problem was, after No. 41 rang in No. 28 with his clutchest jumper of the series, Miami still had enough time to get the ball to Dwyane Wade one last time.

Finals Schedule

Heat lead Mavs, 3-2

Game 6: Tuesday, June 20
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

Game 7: Thursday, June 22*
ABC, 8:30 p.m. ET
Miami Heat at Dallas Mavericks

* if necessary

And ...

"He's the best right now," Shaquille O'Neal insisted, "and that's all you can say."

The Mavs had a lot more to say, actually, believing (a) that Wade committed a backcourt violation before his final winding drive to the hoop, (b) that Wade "pushed off, like, three guys," by Nowitzki's count, on his way to the rim, and (c) that Nowitzki never fouled him. Of course, Wade still had to sink the free throws for the win and coolly dropped them, finishing with 43 points and clinching a 101-100 overtime triumph that gave the Heat a 3-2 lead to take back to Dallas.

Nowitzki and his Dallas Mavericks thus find themselves closer to elimination than celebration after one of the worst Miami excursions on record. In Game 3, they blew a 13-point lead in the final six-plus minutes and the resultant shot at a sweep. In Game 4, they no-showed and saw Jerry Stackhouse suspended for a much-debated takedown of Shaq. In Game 5, they endured an ending that might prove tougher to digest than the sum of those outcomes.

Depends on what anger does for them from here.

"There's no tomorrow," Mavs coach Avery Johnson said, "and I like that 'no tomorrow' feeling for our team."

Johnson's faith stems from Dallas surviving a Game 7 in San Antonio, but it's not like he has much choice now. The Mavs' 0-for-3 tour of South Florida, after they won at least two road games in each of the previous three rounds, left them needing two doses of the elimination-game steel they showed in May.

Furthermore ...

Mad as they are about the Josh Howard timeout flap between Wade's clinching free throws and Wade's 25 trips to the line -- which matched the Mavs' team total -- Dallas did plenty itself to lament and fume about long before Nowitzki punted the ball into the stands in frustration at the final horn.

Nowitzki's unhappy Finals finally seemed poised for an upturn in the closing seconds of OT, when he sank a baseline jumper over two defenders for a 100-99 lead that at last prompted Nowitzki to remove his mouthpiece and resurrect his you-can't-guard-me sneer. He also delivered a couple of telling penetrations in regulation, one to set up a silky jumper and the other creating an uncontested dunk for Erick Dampier.

Nowitzki, though, will hear more about his missed free throw with 1:26 remaining, especially after the crunch-time free throw he failed to convert in the Game 3 unraveling.

This was not a night Dallas could afford squandered chances from the line, not with Wade getting there so frequently and then smooching a few jumpers in off the glass, Tim Duncan-style, once he shook a 5-for-17 start. But Howard missed two more freebies in overtime with 54 ticks left to cap another untimely fizzle from the Mavs' No. 2 option. Howard had 23 points and eight boards through three quarters but only two points and two boards thereafter.

The Mavs also paid for a general lack of aggression in the second half. They needed more than nine minutes of the third quarter to finally draw a foul on the Heat and didn't attempt a single free throw in the period ... compared to Miami's 18. Nowitzki, meanwhile, still seems reluctant to drive like he did throughout the West playoffs, as if he's convinced no one but Wade will be rewarded with whistles. The big German didn't consistently attack the bucket in this one until after his missed free throw and didn't score a point in the extra period until that jumper with 9.1 seconds left, even though Miami's Udonis Haslem was saddled with five fouls all that time.

"I think we had enough opportunities to win this game," Nowitzki said after scuffling for his 20 points. "We know we can beat this team. We showed it in Game 1 and Game 2. This is a tough one to swallow for a night, but starting tomorrow, we should feel a lot better about ourselves again."

The Heat, naturally, are already there.

They survived some Hack-a-Shaq and O'Neal's fifth successive game under 20 points to give themselves two shots at the road win they need to complete one of the most storied comebacks in league history. They just became only the second home team in two decades of the 2-3-2 Finals format to win the middle three games at home. They are also now 2-0 against the Mavs when Howard scores at least 20 points, after Dallas went 25-0 with Howard in the 20s before this series.

They haven't won the title yet, but the Heat have achieved a lot, with Wade responsible for most of it. Since his struggles in the first two games -- even Heat coach Pat Riley termed them "difficult" for Wade -- he's gotten progressively better.

Example: Riley put Wade on Jason Terry early on the fourth quarter, on top of everything else he was asking Wade to do, which briefly slowed Dallas' 35-point top scorer.

"We did not have a second option, believe me," Riley said of Wade's decisive drive.

Believe this, too: Nowitzki won't remember this birthday fondly, barring another stunning Finals turnaround in the next four days.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

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The Winning Bid
Dwyane Wade
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
Heat guard Dwyane Wade drives and Dirk Nowitzki is called for a foul ("a tough call," Nowitzki said) with 1.9 seconds left in OT. Wade hit both free throws to give the Heat a 101-100 win.

"Get Out Of My Face"
Josh Howard

Josh Howard was patient with my line of postgame questioning for about 30 or 40 seconds, and then he sort of lost it.

"What am I saying to you right now, dog? Please, don't come off on me right now because I'm going to come off on you, and I'm not in a great mood right now. Get out of my face, man. Get out of my face."

I was never in Howard's face, I was merely calmly passing along to him the explanation that referee Joey Crawford had given to my colleague, ESPN.com's Marc Stein, about the disputed timeout call with 1.9 seconds left. After Dwyane Wade made the first of two free throws, Crawford said Howard called for a timeout. The timeout came between Wade's free throws (of course, he made the second to forge the 101-100 final score and give the Game 5 win to Miami). So Dallas had to inbound after Wade's second made FT underneath the Miami basket rather than from midcourt. Devin Harris' final attempt never had a chance.

The Mavericks were livid when their final timeout was called, coach Avery Johnson running onto the court and protesting vehemently that no timeout had been asked for. But Crawford told Stein (who interviewed him as the designated pool reporter): "Josh Howard goes to Joe DeRosa and not only once, but twice, asks for a timeout. Forced to call it, simple as that."

Armed with that quote, I approached Howard in the locker room to see what he had to say about it.

The transcript, pre-meltdown:

ESPN.com: "Josh, Joey Crawford said you called timeout twice. Is that true?"

Howard: "No. I'm going to leave it at that. No."

ESPN.com: "A pool reporter went in there, and Joey said you called timeout not once, but twice, and we had no choice but to give them the timeout."

Howard: "If that's what he's saying, that's what he's saying. I know I didn't call a timeout twice. I didn't even say nothing to anyone. I just made a sign like that." [Howard places his hands in the shape of a 'T']

ESPN.com: "Were you looking over at the bench when you did that?

Howard: "I was looking straight at coach."

ESPN.com: "Never made eye contact with the ref?"

Howard: "Never. Like for real, never."

See the full Chris Sheridan blog

Rare Sweep Of Middle Three
• The Heat become just the second team to win the middle three games of the NBA Finals at home since the league adopted the 2-3-2 format in 1984-85. The only other team to win Games 3, 4 and 5 of the Finals at home were the Pistons in 2004. The Heat have won eight consecutive postseason home games and are 11-1 at home in the 2006 playoffs.

• The Heat are 8-0 this postseason when scoring 100 or more points. Miami is 7-7 this postseason when scoring 99 points or fewer. The Miami Heat are 16-1 all-time in the postseason when Dwyane Wade scores 30 or more points, including 9-1 this postseason.

-- ESPN Research

Fifth Dimensions

Shaq missed 10 free throws. The Mavs missed only four, but each seemed a heavy blow. Another stunning Wade performance. A timeout controversy. In all, a dramatic Game 5.

Wade's 43 Points Deliver Heat

Stack Backer
Mark Cuban
AP Photo by Lynne Sladky
Mavs owner Mark Cuban supported his team while wearing a Jerry Stackhouse jersey. Stackhouse was suspended for Game 5 after excessively hacking Shaq in Game 4.

Extreme Behavior
Dwyane Wade

Sunday's Best
Heat guard Dwyane Wade: Dropped 43 on the Mavs on 11-for-28 from the field and 21-for-25 from the line. Wade hit 17 in the fourth quarter alone and sealed the deal with two free throws with 1.9 seconds left in overtime.

Josh Howard

Sunday's Worst
Mavs forward Josh Howard: Missed two critical free throws in overtime and then called an ill-fated timeout. Too bad it ended this way for Howard, because he started out great (19 first-half points).

Quote of the Day
"What am I saying to you right now, dog? Please, don't come off on me right now because I'm going to come off on you, and I'm not in a great mood right now. Get out of my face, man. Get out of my face."
-- Josh Howard when asked by Chris Sheridan to comment on his controversial timeout call

See how all 19 who played stacked up
Hollinger playoff stats (D-Wade's No. 7)
Plus/minus stats from 82games.com

-- Chris Ramsay in Miami

The More, The Scarier
Stopping Dwyane Wade hasn't been easy for the Mavericks, especially since the series moved from Dallas to Miami. Wade scored 42, 36 and 43 in the three games here. On Sunday the Mavs tried giving Wade a number of different looks and at times appeared to be having some success.

Dallas used Devin Harris, Jason Terry, Adrian Griffin, Josh Howard and Marquis Daniels in single coverage, and they also threw a zone defense at Wade. The strategy worked fairly well in the first half. Wade had just three field goals at halftime and just one came in the half-court offense -- a jump shot over Devin Harris. One was a cherry-pick dunk and the other was a dunk off a broken play.

Daniels was best on Wade. In the second quarter, Daniels forced Wade to miss six straight shots and also did a god job of denying him the ball or getting him to pass off to teammates.

The Mavs used Daniels on Wade for three possessions in the third quarter and Wade passed off all three times. Interestingly, Daniels was not assigned to guard Wade in the fourth quarter or the overtime period.

Least effective was probably Griffin. Wade hit three straight jumpers over Griffin at the end of the third period and the beginning of the fourth. This got his offensive game going. In the final 2:16 of regulation, Wade made three jumpers and a driving bank shot on Harris, Terry and Griffin.

Part of the Mavs' strategy must have been to try to rough up Wade. All the Mavs were physical with him. They bumped him off the ball and when he had the ball. But Wade scored on 21-of-25 free throw attempts as a result, so coach Avery Johnson will have to re-evaluate that defensive scheme.

Good news for the Mavs, though. The series is moving back to Dallas, where D-Wade scored only 28 and 23 points in Games 1 and 2, respectively.

-- Chris Ramsay in Miami

Different Hotel, Same Result

When Dirk Nowitzki entered his room at the Mavs' new team hotel in the Fort Lauderdale area on Friday afternoon, he saw two empty beds and thought he was one of the lucky ones.

Then he heard the click of a sliding key card at his door. It was Darrell Armstrong, chosen by Mavs coach Avery Johnson to be Nowitzki's roommate for the two days leading up to Game 5.

Yet most Mavs emerged from the unusual arrangement -- players sharing rooms college-style and forbidden by Johnson from leaving the hotel -- believing that the switch did help the team bond for the biggest game of the season.

Asked before the game -- and thus before seeing how his players would respond -- whether Dallas should have isolated itself from family and friends from the minute the team got to South Florida, Mavs owner Mark Cuban said: "It probably would have been a better idea. We live and we learn."

Furious with his team's focus and what he called "a vacation mentality" after a 24-point loss in Game 4, Johnson took his players and coaches -- and just a handful of staff members from the club's expansive traveling party -- to a more remote location some 45 minutes away from the Mavs' original luxury hotel in downtown Miami. Even Cuban was excluded from the select guest list at the new team headquarters.

"This has been a new experience for pretty much all of our guys except maybe one or two -- and coaches except for one or two," Johnson said. "So a lot of things that we talked to them about before the series, they really didn't understand it until we got here to Miami.

"Sometimes when you're at home, you can see the media and a lot of different things. But once you got down here, then you can really understand what I'm talking about. So we got a little quiet time for ourselves kind of the way it was in the regular season and early in the playoffs. It was just us, the same people that we've been seeing all year. And hopefully not only for this game, but I think it sent a message as we move forward."

-- Marc Stein in Miami

Shooting For 35
After Dwyane Wade scored 43 points in Game 5, it marked his third straight NBA Finals going for 35 points or more. Here's the exclusive club he joins:

'06 Dwyane Wade MIA
'02 Shaquille O'Neal LAL
'01 Allen Iverson PHI
'00 Shaquille O'Neal LAL
'93 Michael Jordan CHI
'67 Rick Barry SF
'62 Elgin Baylor LAL

-- ESPN Research


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