Free throws cost Heat in first game

O'Neal vows to improve on 1-for-9 effort

NBA Finals

June 10, 2006|By IRA WINDERMAN

DALLAS -- The hard part was getting here, the franchise's first appearance in the NBA Finals.

That challenge the Miami Heat finally was able to overcome after 18 seasons.

The easy part was what kept it from its first Finals victory.

A deplorable 7-for-19 from the free-throw line, the Heat dropped the opener of the best-of-seven series, 90-80, on Thursday night to the host Dallas Mavericks.

"We were horrendous from the free-throw line," coach Pat Riley said.

Neither a torrid start nor a late push from a double-digit deficit could overcome the free-throw foibles of center Shaquille O'Neal and guard Dwyane Wade.

O'Neal closed 1-for-9 from the line, Wade 6-for-10, as the only two Heat players to attempt free throws. After missing his first eight attempts, O'Neal converted in the final minute.

"Throughout my career," O'Neal said, "I know in order for my team to win a championship, I have to step up from the line, and I will.

"We still had a lot of opportunities to win the game."

While Dallas got an unexpected 32 points from point guard Jason Terry, this clearly was a golden opportunity for the Heat to steal home-court advantage, especially on a night Mavericks starting forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard shot a combined seven of 28.

Nowitzki finished with 16 points on 4-for-14 shooting.

"You didn't see the real Dirk tonight," Mavericks coach Avery Johnson said.

Not even 28 points from Wade were enough to overcome the foul-line follies.

For a while it appeared the Heat might be able to overcome another shortcoming, its uneven zone defense that allowed a pair of three-pointers by Terry that staked Dallas to a double-digit lead early in the four quarter.

But with nothing from the line, the challenge proved overwhelming.

"It's a fight. It's a fierce battle," Riley said. "That's the way it's going to be. We've just got to try to come back on Sunday."

Consecutive dunks by O'Neal after Terry's three-pointers drew the Heat back within 82-76. Later, a layup by forward Antoine Walker and a Wade free throw drew the Heat within 82-79.

But the Heat would get no closer.

Notes -- A Phoenix Suns fan who got into a fight with the wife of Mavericks coach Avery Johnson in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals is no longer pursuing charges. Rebecca Kettle filed a criminal assault complaint against Cassandra Johnson, saying she was hit on the shoulder during a verbal confrontation May 30. She and her boyfriend, Jose Martinez, said in a statement yesterday that they were dropping the case. ... In his annual state-of-the-league comments at the NBA Finals, commissioner David Stern discussed the possibility of an American system similar to those used internationally, in which prospects would be identified early and then cultivated both socially and athletically.

Ira Winderman writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Wire reports contributed to this article.

NBA Finals

Dallas vs. Miami

(Best of seven; *-if necessary) Dallas lead series 1-0 Game 1: Dallas 90, Miami 80 Tomorrow: Miami at Dallas, 9 p.m. Tuesday: Dallas at Miami, 9 p.m. Thursday: Dallas at Miami, 9 p.m. *June 18: Dallas at Miami, 9 p.m. *June 20: Miami at Dallas, 9 p.m. *June 22: Miami at Dallas, 9 p.m.

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