It took Miami 18 years to reach the franchise’s first NBA Finals. Six years later, the city is watching its third Finals trip start tonight when the Heat play in Oklahoma City in Game 1. But don’t think just because it’s not a long history of playoff dominance that there aren’t some crazy moments from their Finals history that still have us in awe.
The constant theme throughout any remembrance of a Heat highlight tape from its two Finals appearances is, of course, Dwyane Wade (trust me, he’s well represented on this list). While LeBron James has become the certifiable story in these playoffs with his nearly 34 points per game average in the Conference Finals, he’s only been around for half of the Heat’s Finals trips. Here then, is the whole story of the top moments in Finals history for Miami.
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5. DWYANE WADE’S FACIAL DUNK ON ERICK DAMPIER
Not all highlights are created equal, which is to say this dunk on Erick Dampier‘s face from 2006 met nearly all criteria for it to be an incredible one. Finals? Check. Embarrass someone? Check. Have a highlight before the highlight? Check. The split of a Josh Howard-Keith Van Horn double team was nasty enough, but he had his eyes on another target. Nothing personal, Erick. You were just in the way.
4. ALONZO MOURNING’S CLINCHING 2006 BLOCK PARTY.
This was ‘Zo’s last stand after kidney trouble, but he could still jump, too. Just ask any of the shooters from Dallas whose five shots were blocked in the closeout game of the 2006 title. Shaq led all players with 34 blocks in that season’s playoffs, and even Wade’s 26 were more than Mourning could muster. Who else, however, but the pillar of the Heat franchise, would deliver such an enormous performance when it mattered? He only played 14 minutes in Game 6, but had eight points and six boards in addition to his game-changing swats.
We’ll get to the rest of Game 6 later in this countdown, but Zo’s is the one performance fans probably forgot about that series. Anywhere but Dallas, that is.
3. AIR MIAMI’S ALLEY OOP OF 2011
The play that capped the game that started a huge Scottie Pippen argument was this dunk from Wade to James in 2011’s Game 1. The play was a backdoor alley oop, simple enough. LeBron’s hot-potato finish, coupled with it being the coda to 92-84 win in Game 1, made the dunk seem much more valuable than two points, at the time. After helping take a 1-0 lead over Dallas, Pippen went on national radio and said: “Michael Jordan is probably the greatest scorer to ever play the game. I may go so far as saying LeBron James may be the greatest player to ever play the game.”
2. WADE’S JAW-DROPPING GAME 6 OF 2006
The clinching game in Miami’s only NBA title had all the more lore attached to it afterward when then-coach Pat Riley told the story behind it. Riley had told his players to pack “one suit, one shirt and one tie” for the trip to Dallas, where two games could have been played in the 2-3-2 format. Instead, he knew his team would close it out needing just one chance.
Wade, again, was on another level en route to scoring 36 points on 10-of-18 shooting, while dropping five assists, four steals and 10 boards. That, of course, and everyone’s collective jaws at the audacity of such a young player on such stage as the Finals.
1. BACK FROM THE DEAD: THE 2006 GAME 3 COMEBACK
Down 13 with the clock ticking toward the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter, Wade became a human missile to the basket en route to his 42 points and 13 rebounds. Personally, I was a bit too young to fully realize what Jordan was doing while he was doing it. I was the target audience for “Space Jam,” not of the age to appreciate the show I was watching tear up the Jazz. Eight years later, this was one of the first performances where the word virtuoso applied. Six minutes from Dallas taking a stranglehold on a title, Wade lifted himself to the NBA’s elite category (and one of the sickest Dime Magazine covers ever). He hasn’t left since. His third NBA Finals opportunity is a chance to return to that level.