MIAMI - Hours before the biggest game of his life and the most important in this city's hoop history, Dwyane Wade, brimming with confidence and South Beach coolness, gave his take on the NBA Finals.
"It's not over," he said.
Not if he says so.
Wade scored 42 points and orchestrated a furious fourth-quarter Miami comeback that reached its crescendo on Gary Payton's jumper with 9.3 seconds left as the Heat escaped with a 98-96 win over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 3 on Tuesday night.
The Heat rallied from a 13-point deficit in the final 6:34 to keep alive a series that looked to be over with Dallas up 2-0.
Despite blowing its big lead, Dallas still had plenty of chances late. Dirk Nowitzki missed one of two free throws with 3.4 seconds to go, and the Mavericks couldn't convert on an inbounds play in the final second. As the final horn sounded, Heat fans simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated, tossed their "White Hot" white T-shirts into the air, a celebration that seemed unimaginable just a few minutes earlier.
Now, after watching Wade's heroics and Shaquille O'Neal and Udonis Haslem hit four consecutive crucial free throws in the final two minutes, they're coming back for Game 4 on Thursday night.
Miami was down and looked done after Jason Terry's basket made it 89-76 with 6:34 left.
That's when Wade, playing with five fouls and conjuring memories of Michael Jordan's playoff miracles, decided it was time for him to take over the game.
He hit a jumper, completed a 3-point play and dropped in another bucket to bring the Heat within five. Then, after a miss by Nowitzki, Wade drove baseline and hit a floater to make it 91-88 with 3:36 to go.
Minutes later with the game tied, Payton knocked down a 21-foot jumper - just his second field goal of the series.