Print 125 Seconds: The Heat lose it

125 Seconds: The Heat lose it

Dwyane Wade still hasn't gone back and watched the tape.

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For him, it was enough self-torture having the mental snapshots of Miami's meltdown in its 88-82 Game 7 loss to Detroit -- especially his own pair of mistakes -- lingering in his brain all summer.

"Yeah, you replay it in your mind," Wade said. "I've replayed the ones I felt I made a mistake on. That last 2:30 of that game, having a lead and then losing it."

Wade believes the summer would have unfolded differently had he and the Heat played smarter in the final minutes, but he has since come to terms with the gravity of Miami's "drastic" offseason turmoil.

Whether or not they were drastic, Miami's offseason changes were substantial -- especially for a club that came so agonizingly close to the finals.

The Heat pulled the trigger on the biggest trade in NBA history, involving five teams and 13 players. They brought in two contentious new point guards, a new small forward and a power forward who has changed teams four times in less than two years. A major coaching brouhaha, apparently an outgrowth of the Heat's Game 7 meltdown, consumed much of the summer.

Starting point guard Damon Jones was cast off as an accessory whose asking price was too high. Swingmen Eddie Jones and Rasual Butler were shipped out. Backup point guard Keyon Dooling was allowed to leave as a free agent.

Meanwhile, Jason Williams, long considered suspect at the point in his stops with Sacramento and Memphis, and Gary Payton, whose fiery personality landed him on his sixth roster in four seasons, were brought in to replace Damon Jones and Dooling.

After initially being skeptical of the need for so many moves, Wade seems more accepting now.

"It took us a long time to get over the reason, but I think we all understand the reason now," Wade said.

One of the Heat's strengths last season was having the right type of complementary players surrounding Wade and Shaquille O'Neal. Udonis Haslem had a breakout year at power forward (which is also Antoine Walker's natural position), while the two Joneses provided the outside threat that was so crucial given the number of open looks Miami's perimeter players typically receive after defensive collapses on Wade and O'Neal.

Both Williams and Walker like to shoot 3s, but neither is anywhere near as accurate as Damon Jones (.389 career) or Eddie Jones (.379). Walker is a .326 career shooter from 3-point range, while Williams has shot .315 and James Posey .329.

Last season, Damon Jones was third in the league in 3-point accuracy (.433) despite launching a mammoth 521 of them. He made 225, and Eddie Jones added another 142 3-pointers for a Heat team that was third in the league in accuracy from behind the arc.

"It was a drastic change because of the season we had, and a lot of guys had career years last year," Wade said.

In the final minutes of Game 7 vs. Detroit, neither of the Joneses contributed much of a positive nature.

The slide began with Miami leading 78-76 when Damon Jones drove the left wing and leapt into the air, unsure what to do. When the Pistons intercepted his desperate attempt to get the ball to Wade with 2:05 showing on the clock, the play set the tone for the final 125 seconds of the game and began a landslide that might not have ended yet for the Heat.

In addition to the turnover, Jones had a critical missed free throw with 47.5 seconds left, leaving the Heat trailing by two. A 79 percent free throw shooter during the regular season, Damon Jones shot only 60 percent during the playoffs.

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Some believe the lingering memory of Jones' miscues contributed to the Heat's decision to let him leave as a free agent. Jones, concerned about the likelihood of losing his job to Williams and unimpressed by the Heat's contract offer, saw the open door and walked through it.

"It's an interesting theory, but I think you're overanalyzing," agent Mark Termini said. "They were still interested in signing Damon until the day he signed in Cleveland. That's the strongest evidence I can cite."

Playing with a strained ribcage muscle, Wade missed his final five shots and made two sizeable mistakes as Detroit scored 12 of the final 16 points to deny the Heat what would have been the franchise's first trip to the NBA Finals.

If all great players must experience the frustrations of failure before achieving the ultimate success, suffice to say that Wade has already taken care of the first part.

A member of an upstart Marquette team that was routed by Kansas in the 2003 Final Four, Wade's rookie NBA season ended with him watching from the bench in Game 6 of the second round against Indiana as coach Stan Van Gundy opted not to put him on the floor with Miami needing a last-second 3-point attempt.

His summer of 2004 included three losses with the U.S. Olympic team in Athens and a disappointing bronze medal finish, and then came the night of June 6 against Detroit, Wade with the ball in his hands on two key fateful possessions.

Wade said he was most frustrated with his own decision to launch a 22-footer from the right wing with 16 seconds left on the shot clock and Miami trailing 80-79 with 1:17 left. The ball caromed over the backboard and out of bounds, and Rasheed Wallace scored 22 seconds later on a putback to make it 82-79.

Miami's next possession was likely the one O'Neal was referencing when he blurted after the game, "I'm not making the decisions. You have to talk to the guy who's making the calls out there."

O'Neal had been at his best just moments earlier, dropping in a pair of free throws and a turnaround bank shot to put Miami ahead 78-76 with 2:44 remaining. After a Detroit miss, O'Neal had the ball down low before passing out to Damon Jones. He was expecting to get it back before Jones made his fateful drive into the lane and left his feet without knowing what he'd do, beginning the 125-second sequence of doom.

With the score 82-79 in favor of the Pistons, Miami inbounded and Wade stood dribbling near the left side of the 3-point circle as O'Neal moved to the low right block and began looking to Wade for some sort of a signal. Haslem, who had gotten the ball to Wade, dropped his head and ran to the right corner instead of the lane, allowing Rasheed Wallace to cheat over to the strong side to await Wade's next move.

There were still nine seconds on the shot clock when Wade tentatively dribbled straight toward Wallace, and Hamilton stepped over and tied Wade up for a jump ball.

The Pistons controlled the tip and ran 23 seconds off the shot clock before Tayshaun Prince had the ball poked away by O'Neal, and the clock was down to 17.3 seconds by the time Damon Jones was fouled near the left sideline.

Jones made only one of two from the line to cut the deficit to 82-80. A pair of free throws by Billups made it a four-point game, and an alley-oop bucket by O'Neal was followed by two more free throws from Billups that iced it.

When Wade missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds, the game was official.

It was yet another amazing win for Detroit, which added to its burgeoning legend as a team that will get stops and big baskets when they matter most. The Pistons moved on to the NBA Finals, where they came within a few plays of upsetting the Spurs and defending their crown.

Meanwhile, the Heat went home for the summer, never to return as the same unit.

"I was hurt," Wade recalled in an interview with, "and maybe we didn't have enough firepower to win it, so what they did was get that firepower so that in case anything happens, we've got other guys, Antoine, Jason and James, that can step up and help will us to a victory no matter who's hurt or who's in the lineup."

Whether the Heat made too many changes will be a subject of debate throughout the season, and a definitive answer will not be known until springtime.

Using the recent past as a guide, history has not been kind to teams that have made major changes after coming up short in a Game 7.

In 2004, the New Jersey Nets said goodbye to Kenyon Martin following their Game 7 loss to the Pistons -- a departure ownership soon came to regret and which contributed to the Nets' 4-0 loss to Miami in the first round last season.

The Portland Trail Blazers have never recovered from their epic fourth-quarter collapse in Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference finals against the Lakers.

The breakup of the Sacramento Kings, aside from the core of Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic, came after Game 7 failures in 2003 and 2004.

In 2001, the Milwaukee Bucks looked like a team built to last before coming up short in Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals against Philadelphia. A year and a half later, Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson were gone, and the departures of Sam Cassell and Tim Thomas soon followed.

Sometimes, very close is as close as you're going to get.

Heat president Pat Riley declined to be interviewed for this article but said through a spokesman that the Heat's offseason changes were not unduly affected by the Game 7 loss to Detroit.

Over the next five months, he's hoping the Heat will develop enough chemistry to make everyone forget last season's Eastern Conference finals.

As for Wade, he's come to grips with the turnover in personnel while still trying to get over the memory of his mistakes. He didn't sound as though he'd be watching the videotape of Game 7 anytime soon.

"As we continue to get better as a team and you see how much firepower we have," Wade said, "we hope to get in that position again. And we'll feel comfortable and confident that we will have enough guys to get it done."

Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past decade, covers the league for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.