MIAMI, March 25 -- The game didn't really end on Dwyane Wade's launch from well beyond half court at the end of the third quarter. It just felt like it. The Miami Heat guard leaped to block a shot with the clock ticking down, then grabbed the deflection, dribbled and heaved a shot from 65 feet that somehow dropped cleanly through the net as the period expired, restoring a 12-point lead to a team that minutes before had allowed its first tie of the night.
As the crowd at American Airlines Arena leaped up in disbelief and elation, Wade celebrated with uncharacteristic showmanship, skipping gleefully around the perimeter of the court, collecting high-fives from fans that had spilled onto the court.
Dwyane Wade scores 35 points to lift the Miami Heat past the Phoenix Suns on Friday.
(Steve Mitchell - AP)
The Phoenix Suns, who had roared back from deficits time and again to that point, suddenly found a race they couldn't win. They lost to the Heat, 125-115, in front of a sellout crowd of 20,278 that briefly serenaded Wade with a chant of "MVP!"
On a night billed a possible NBA Finals preview and a matchup of two of the league's most dominant centers, the Suns failed to overcome the Heat and Wade, who scored 35 points and -- as has become his custom -- stole the headlines. As the Heat stripped the Suns of the honor of being the top team in the league, edging in front by a handful of percentage points, Wade outperformed Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire, both of whom scored 25.
Phoenix, still the top team in the West, left Miami with a painful end to its franchise-record 10-game road winning streak and a not-so-shabby 51-17 record (.750). The Heat, meantime, clinched the Southeast Division title and won its 16th straight home game, upping its record to 53-17 (.757).
"Wade, that guy is a tough cover," Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He got away from us a few times. He was the big difference. We just couldn't stay in front of him."
Though Wade's bomb from his opponent's three-point line was his biggest highlight, it proved just one of a handful of jaw-dropping scores that propelled him to game-high scoring totals with nine assists and seven rebounds. Wade interspersed short jumpers and driving layins with a few soaring, double-pumping scores through the Suns' defense that required slow-motion replays to appreciate fully.
"It's typical Dwyane," Miami forward Udonis Haslem said. "All season, when he's got it going, there's no telling what he can do or what he is going to do."
Even so, everybody but Wade drove the Heat's offense in the fourth as the Suns closed to within six with just under three minutes remaining. O'Neal scored 12 in the period and backup guard Keyon Dooling pumped in 10.
The Suns fell into trouble from the start -- and under curious circumstances. The most remarkable thing about the first quarter was neither that the Heat took a 22-4 lead six minutes into the game nor that the Suns converted just 1 of their first 11 field goals. The stunner was that Miami thoroughly outplayed Phoenix despite the fact O'Neal sat out all but three first-quarter minutes. The Heat, leading 11-2 when O'Neal was yanked after earning his second foul, extended its lead behind, of all players, backup center Michael Doleac, rarely considered an offensive threat. Doleac, averaging 4.0 per game, scored eight as Miami ended the period with a 13-point lead.
"That was the best quarter of defense we have played all year," Heat Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Then we made that lead stand up with our offense. We could not get a handle on them [defensively]. Offensively, we were terrific."
Indeed, the Suns, averaging a league-high 110 points per game, haven't spent much time this season stuck in scoring droughts. They used a surprising barrage by backup guard Leandro Barbosa, who scored 12 in the quarter, and six assists from Steve Nash, while taking advantage of a slew of Miami fouls to close to 50-49 at the 2:46 mark of the second quarter.
Only eight straight points by Wade, who had 20 in the first two periods, pushed Miami ahead -- but hardly comfortably -- 60-54 at halftime.
Five minutes into the third quarter, the Suns tied the game for the first time on a three-point play brought about by a foul and accompanying technical on the Heat's Udonis Haslem. By then, Phoenix had settled into its high-energy, gunslinging style and Miami seemed to be trying to hang on as Stoudemire and Quentin Richardson started hitting outside shots. Once again, however, it was Wade to the rescue. With 15 third-quarter points, Miami survived Phoenix's push.
"We proved we're one of the best teams in the league," Wade said. "We're tough at home and we can play with anybody."