MIAMI — During the first timeout Thursday night, a video paying tribute to the rivalry between Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki played on the AmericanAirlines Arena video boards, playing highlights from both of their NBA Finals meetings and using the hashtag #ONELASTTIME.
In the final meeting between the future Hall of Famers, Wade got the last word, scoring six of his 11 points in the final 2:22 to help the Miami Heat move back into the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed with a 105-99 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
The Heat’s win gave Wade the slightest edge in the career series against Nowitzki. Wade’s teams and Nowitzki’s Mavericks had split the previous 34 games between them, including the Heat’s 2006 Finals victory and the Mavs repaying the favor in the 2011 Finals.
However, the history between the legends wasn’t on Wade’s mind down the stretch, as he swished a go-ahead jumper with 2:22 remaining, drained a pair of free throws to protect the lead with 20 seconds left and then sealed the Heat’s victory with a steal and layup. It capped the first time in 11 tries that Miami came back from a double-digit halftime deficit this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“It was just nice to get a win and nice for me to contribute to the game in a positive way,” said Wade, who has announced plans to retire at the end of the season. “More so than anything, just nice to get a win. We’re in a playoff battle. This was a crucial game for us, so glad we were able to come back.”
Nowitzki described his relationship with Wade as “frosty” for years after Miami’s comeback in the 2006 Finals, but they publicly buried the hatchet when they swapped jerseys and appreciative comments when the Heat visited Dallas earlier this season.
Nowitzki, a 21-year veteran who is likely to retire but does not plan to make his decision until after the season, quickly exited the court without mingling with Wade or any other Miami players at the end of Thursday’s game. Wade swapped jerseys with veteran guard Devin Harris, another member of the 2006 Mavs. Dallas rookie Luka Doncic and Heat guard Goran Dragic also swapped jerseys after playing in front of about 2,000 Slovenian fans who made the trip to see their countrymen face each other for the first time, providing an electrifying jolt of energy to the crowd.
Nowitzki, however, acknowledged after the Mavs’ morning shootaround that he felt some nostalgia when he walked into the building where he experienced such heartbreak and happiness.
“You always want to remember the good memories, even though ’06 will always be there, too — when we switched hotels and that whole fiasco,” said Nowitzki, who famously jumped the scorer’s table and sprinted to the locker room to bawl on a bench in the shower area after Dallas clinched the 2011 title. “Really, everything went south within one week. We’re up 2-0, feeling great about ourselves, come here and it was the most epic collapse. So that stays in mind.
“But when I see the scorer’s table there, I remember walking over there and just getting into the locker room and laying down. So it’s a little bit of both, a little mixed emotions, but usually the good memories win. It’s bittersweet, for sure.”
Nowitzki scored 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting in the loss, including a pair of 3s early in the fourth quarter, one of which he shot over Wade. Nowitzki had a chance to tie the score with 59 seconds remaining but missed a 3 on his first possession after checking back into the game.
“That was tough,” Nowitzki said. “I thought I had a good look at it. Dwyane actually closed out late, got up there pretty good. In hindsight, I might have had a little show and go, shoot a little side-step 3. But had a good look. Made two in the fourth, and even though I didn’t have a great shooting rhythm night, that’s going up every time.”
Asked if it felt like old times to compete against Wade in crunch time, the 40-year-old Nowitzki cracked: “Not quite for me, I don’t move as well.”
That didn’t prevent Heat coach Erik Spoelstra from lobbying for one more year from both of the all-time greats.
“Let’s get both of these guys to come back next year,” Spoelstra said. “There is too much fun, too much history, too much class. These are fun moments. It transcends the game.”