The key is 3-point shooting. Three come in the final minutes to quiet a Knicks rally.
Trois. Trey. Trifecta.
Whatever way you want to say it, three was Miami's magic number Wednesday night. The Heat got three key three-pointers down the stretch to hold off New York 87-81 and get the all-important third win in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Dan Majerle, who had only hit five previous three-pointers in this series, delivered two in the final two and a half minutes to quiet a Knicks rally. Then, reserve Bruce Bowen, playing in place of star center Alonzo Mourning, who fouled out with just under a minute left, dropped the definitive three-pointer with 35.2 seconds to go. That one gave Miami a 83-77 lead that only a total collapse at the free-throw line could erase.
Miami hit just enough of those freebies to take Game 5 and a 3-2 lead at AmericanAirlines Arena, and could potentially vanquish the Knicks in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Friday.
"We had to trust our shots and we made them," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "That's the name of the game."
All five Heat starters finished in double figures in either scoring or rebounding. Jamal Mashburn, whose fast start in the post-season had cooled over the last two games, led the Heat with 21. Mourning had 18 and four blocks. Majerle, who had a trio of three-pointers in the game, had 16 points. Tim Hardaway added 12 and P.J. Brown had five and 12 rebounds.
Latrell Sprewell led all scorers with 24. Patrick Ewing added 16. Allan Houston and Charlie Ward each had 12 and Larry Johnson chipped in 10.
"We didn't have the will to get the stops when we needed them," New York coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "In those kinds of situations, you've got to dig down."
The loss was a tough one for the Knicks because they seemed destined to return home with a chance to close out this series on their home floor. The Knicks, who have struggled to score against the Heat, were in an offensive groove early.
Despite being in a hostile environment, the Knicks were poised and patient offensively, using good ball movement to always find the high percentage shot. They literally couldn't miss, hitting their first five field goals.
Mourning struggled early. He was hardly involved in the Heat's offensive flow and missed five of his first six shots, one of which was a routine layup with just under six minutes left in the opening quarter.
Playing ugly, though, is nothing new for these two teams. Both seem to suffer from it at some point every time they meet. Miami survived its morose start and eventually got going, leaving behind a first quarter when it shot 35 percent from the field.
New York's hot shooting cooled in the second and Miami slowly reeled in the Knicks, controlling the boards and eliminating turnovers. (Miami had four in the first alone.)
With Hardaway struggling, reserve point guard Anthony Carter canned a jumper midway through the second quarter to give the Heat its first lead of the game, 29-28.
The game stayed fairly close from there, but Miami made a surge in the third. Hardaway came alive, ignoring the tender left foot that has hampered him throughout this series. He was huge, scoring 10 third-quarter points to help propel Miami to its biggest advantage, 64-55.
Hardaway, shaking defenders with his trademark crossover dribble, hit a three-pointer and was 4 of 8 from the floor in the quarter. Mourning hurt New York too, scoring six points.
This is how crafty Miami played. In the third, when the Knicks shot a sizzling 63.2 percent, the Heat hardly gave up any ground. With Mourning and Hardaway virtually unstoppable, Miami rode its superstars, slicing through every crack in the Knicks' defense.
As well as Miami played, though, New York wouldn't go away. The Knicks, with Ewing and Sprewell starting to rise, hung around until they could find an opening. With the game tied at 66 and Mourning saddled with his fifth foul, the Heat went on an 11-4 run to take a 77-70 lead. The final points of the run came on one of Majerle's three-pointers.
Even when Charlie Ward answered with a three-pointer, Majerle came back with another one.