MIAMI — There might be nothing more deflating than to play 40-plus minutes of tight defense against the best the NBA has to offer, only to have to do it again with the game on the line and the ball in the hands of the Heat's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
The Mavericks did all they could Tuesday to prevent the sort of highlight-reel plays the pair had in the closing moments of Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
But James and Wade made up for nearly four frustrating quarters against stifling defense with three minutes of greatness, giving the Heat a 92-84 victory.
"That's who they've been their entire careers," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
"I just was aggressive," Wade said. "We understand that this is the kind of game we wanted to play. … You know they wasn't scoring a lot on us, and offensively we just executed."
But if Game 1 is a preview of what is to come, this matchup will prove as exhausting as it is bruising.
On this night, the Heat was the survivor, though no one on the roster would say it came easy.
Wade nailed a jumper after crossing over Jason Kidd for Miami's largest lead to that point, 77-70, following that with a 3-pointer over Kidd for a nine-point lead.
With 2:45 left, James seemed to eliminate any doubt of a Dallas comeback with his two-handed slam and three-point play. The pair capped it with a Wade-to-James alley-oop that James slammed through with 40.6 seconds left.
This was exactly the sort of thing the Heat envisioned when this roster featuring James, Wade and Chris Bosh was assembled.
Miami, after shooting 44 percent throughout the playoffs, converted just 37 percent of its first-half attempts and 38 percent for the game. That included a 3-for-10 start by Wade, who had struggled but refused to attribute to his bothersome left shoulder.
Meanwhile, Mavs star forward Dirk Nowitzki (27 points, 7-of-18 shooting) began by hitting just two of his first seven attempts. The Heat was consistently successful in preventing open shots from the Mavs' German sensation. And the 7-footer couldn't initially find his stroke.
Miami skillfully denied Nowitzki the ball and, when he managed to get it, two defenders came barreling toward him.
Outside of Bosh's success in the post (13 first-half points) and a handful of 3-pointers from the Heat's Mario Chalmers, James and the Mavs' Jason Terry, the defensive identities of these teams was dominant for much of this contest.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who developed smothering defensive teams in Indianapolis and Detroit, has brought that demeanor to a Mavs team once regarded mostly for its finesse.
Meanwhile, the Heat has long been a franchise built on defensive toughness, a concept instilled by former coach and current president Pat Riley. Part of what made James so attractive to Riley was the player's defensive ability, rewarded this year with a place on the all-defensive first team.
But James is, above all, a scorer, and he finally broke through with a pair of 3-pointers to close the third quarter. The second, which just barely beat the third-quarter buzzer, led the white-clad American Airlines Arena crowd into delirious celebration with Miami holding a 65-61 lead.
And the Heat's other megastar, Wade, would have something to say about this game's outcome, too, even after going 6-of-15 from the field through three quarters.
As for Spoelstra?
"It's one game, and that's it," the Heat coach said. "We're already moving on."
Heat 92, Mavericks 84
DALLAS (84): Marion 6-12 4-5 16, Nowitzki 7-18 12-12 27, Chandler 3-4 3-5 9, Kidd 3-8 0-0 9, Stevenson 2-3 0-0 6, Terry 3-10 3-4 12, Stojakovic 0-3 0-0 0, Barea 1-8 0-0 2, Haywood 0-1 3-6 3. Totals 25-67 25-32 84.
MIAMI (92): James 9-16 2-2 24, Bosh 5-18 9-12 19, Anthony 0-1 0-0 0, Bibby 0-4 0-0 0, Wade 9-19 2-5 22, Chalmers 3-8 3-4 12, Haslem 3-8 1-1 7, Howard 0-1 2-2 2, Miller 2-5 0-0 6. Totals 31-80 19-26 92.
Dallas 17 27 17 23— 84
Miami 16 27 22 27— 92
3-Point Goals—Dallas 9-22 (Kidd 3-7, Terry 3-7, Stevenson 2-3, Nowitzki 1-2, Stojakovic 0-3), Miami 11-24 (James 4-5, Chalmers 3-7, Miller 2-4, Wade 2-4, Bibby 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Dallas 46 (Marion 10), Miami 59 (Wade 10). Assists—Dallas 18 (Kidd 6), Miami 20 (Wade 6). Total Fouls—Dallas 22, Miami 21. A—20,003 (19,600).
Information from Times wires was used in this report.