Heat overcome history of horrible home losses
MIAMI -- For almost two decades, the Miami Heat's history was one of heartbreak, especially on their home floor.
Until Friday night.
From 1998 to 2005, the Heat watched on their own court as opponent after opponent celebrated bringing an end to Miami's season, each devastating loss adding a chapter to the franchise's brief and brutal postseason history.
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A year ago, it was Larry Brown's Detroit Pistons exiting the court triumphant after Miami's meltdown in the final 125 seconds of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, dooming the Heat to another offseason of what-ifs and creating the climate for the biggest trade in NBA history.
Eight years ago, it was the New York Knicks beginning a streak of three consecutive close-out victories over their former coach and fiercest rival.
But tonight was different, the Heat finishing off the mighty Pistons in Game 6 of the East finals to advance to the championship round for the first time.
By running roughshod over the Pistons, 95-78, the Heat did their best to stamp out a lot of bad memories.
But before Friday, big games and big-game disappointments had gone hand-in-hand down here, as this historical summary attests:
June 6, 2005: With Dwyane Wade severely hampered by a strained rib muscle and failing to score over the final 15 minutes, the Heat fell to the Pistons 88-82 as Detroit became the first team in 23 years to win an Eastern Conference finals Game 7 on the road.
It was the Pistons' 10th consecutive win when needing one victory to clinch a series, and for the Heat it was a loss that precipitated a large-scale overhaul of Shaquille O'Neal and Wade's supporting cast, with Damon Jones, Eddie Jones, Rasual Butler and Keyon Dooling being replaced by Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and Gary Payton.
May 18, 2004: In Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pacers, the Heat's 18-game home winning streak came to an end as Indiana defeated Miami, 73-70.
Wade, a rookie at the time, had guaranteed a victory, but he was on the bench for the final seconds as Rafer Alston airballed a 3-point attempt from several feet behind the arc that would have tied it. Indiana's Ron Artest gave the Heat that final chance by missing two free throws with 9.1 seconds left.
May 21, 2000: In one of the most controversial finishes to a Game 7 in NBA history, the Knicks emerged with an 83-82 victory after referee Bennett Salvatore awarded a timeout to New York's Latrell Sprewell with 2.1 seconds left even though Sprewell hadn't asked for one.
The Knicks ran the rest of the time off the clock to score the victory in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Several members of the Heat left the AmericanAirlines Arena court angrily gesturing at the officials following Miami's third consecutive ouster at the hands of the hated Knicks. Afterward, Miami's Tim Hardaway blamed referee "Knick" Bavetta for the loss, and Jamal Mashburn said the Knicks had the three officials "in their pocket."
May 16, 1999: Allan Houston drained the biggest shot of his career, a 14-footer that kissed off the rim and fell through with 0.8 seconds left as the eighth-seeded Knicks defeated the top-seeded Heat in the deciding Game 5 of the first round. New York won 78-77.
There was another disputed call prior to Houston's shot, the Heat believing Sprewell had knocked the ball out of bounds after Terry Porter nearly came up with a steal. But the officials ruled otherwise, and the Knicks saved coach Jeff Van Gundy's job before eventually advancing to the finals.
May 3, 1998: Alonzo Mourning was banned from the building after being suspended for fighting with Larry Johnson in Game 4 of this first-round clash. That was the famous fight in which Van Gundy grabbed onto Mourning's leg. In the decisive Game 5 at Miami Arena, the Knicks let a 20-point lead dwindle to two before Charlie Ward hit a 3-pointer to spark a 26-11 game-ending run. The Knicks clinched the series with a 98-81 victory.
The friendship between Van Gundy and Riley began to deteriorate in this series, and to this day it remains fractured.
Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past 10 years, covers the league for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.