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Heat should learn to cool it

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / June 4, 2011

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DALLAS — Dwyane Wade celebrations were welcomed when the Miami Heat were harmless. Standing on the scorer’s table and proclaiming AmericanAirlines Arena as your house is viewed as fun when you’re part of a 44-win team, primed for first-round playoff elimination.

The Heat were hardly a controversial team the past few years. They were Wade’s team, an assortment of awkward parts only good enough to crack the top eight teams in the conference. Showboating went unnoticed.

Since the Heat did everything short of selling off their mascot and logo to clear salary cap space to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the team has been under a microscope. The Heat have faced criticism on every front. And the only thing that would pacify those critics is winning and a semblance of humility, but the latter has not occurred.

Wade always has been a demonstrative player, and when the Heat were a one-man team and Miami was merely a vacation destination and not an NBA juggernaut with three All-Stars, his emotion was viewed as good-natured celebration.

And although the Heat have been on a dominant postseason pace, wiping out their first three opponents in five games — behind fourth-quarter bursts and stellar play from Wade and James — it seemed that Wade got a little ahead of himself Thursday night in Miami by proclaiming victory after his 3-pointer with 7:14 left put the Heat ahead, 88-73, in Game 2 of the Finals against the Mavericks.

Not only did Wade leave his right arm raised for several seconds after hitting the shot in front of the Dallas bench, he raised his left arm as if to signify “game over.’’ Then he and James traded celebratory gestures on the way back to the bench. About 45 minutes after that display, Wade and James were left to explain their actions and how the Heat managed only 5 points the rest of the way, allowing the motivated Mavericks to rally for a 95-93 win and tie the series at 1-1.

The stakes are unquestionably higher and the microscope larger in the Finals. And Wade and James received instant criticism for their demonstration the moment the Mavericks stole the game behind Dirk Nowitzki.

Wade turned from America’s favorite shooting guard to a sensitive, prickly, exposed, and embarrassed figure. It’s not that the Mavericks rallied solely because of the antics, but it didn’t hurt. And now the Heat, especially Wade, will have pressure to respond, and do it humbly, tomorrow night in Game 3 at Dallas.

The Heat’s recent success has gone to their heads. They weren’t this confident months ago when James couldn’t finish games, and apparently there were tears following a fifth straight loss in March. But after that losing streak, Miami went on a tear, and James dispelled any notions about his inability to perform in the clutch.

Usually, the Heat knock out an opponent midway through the fourth quarter, and the opponent is too exhausted to make a comeback. But the Heat underestimated the Mavericks in two ways: They believed the Mavericks were done because Miami’s defense had been stifling throughout three quarters; and they were convinced they would score enough to maintain the lead even if Dallas rallied.

It was arrogance, something that has been prevalent lately in Miami. After a season’s worth of insecure moments from the new Big Three, they had a championship swagger without the championship.

So now the Heat are faced with their latest dilemma: How do they wipe the confetti off their face and win three of the next five games, with the next three in Dallas.

“We had breakdowns before throughout this year,’’ Wade said. “We learned from it. That’s why we’re the team we are. That’s why we’re in the Finals. Obviously, this one hurts, and we got two days to think about our mistakes and blowing a 15-point lead. So we made it a lot harder on ourselves. We’re going to see what we’re made of as a team. Now we have three straight games on the road, but I wouldn’t want to be in this position with any other team.

“The things that we’ve done over the season, the habits that we’ve built, we’re going to lay our hats on it, and we’re going to go out there and we’re going to, like we said, take each game as its own and get ready for Game 3.’’

The Heat were able to respond with four straight wins after losing Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Bulls. They came back from a Game 3 drubbing by the Celtics to win the next two games and the second-round series. They are capable of responding, but there has to be a sense of humility in their resurrection.

Arrogance and bravado aren’t becoming with unproven teams. The Heat believed they had the Mavericks beat, headed for a 2-0 advantage and likely the title. Miami’s only focus this season has been a ring, especially James, who understands that his career and legacy will be defined on what he does with the immense talent around him.

“It’s not going to affect us for Game 3,’’ James said. “It hurts right now because it’s right now. We’re competitors. We want to win the game. We feel like we have a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter, that our defense will prevail. That’s how much confidence we have in our defense. It hurts now, but we’ll be fine. I don’t feel like our confidence will be down going into Game 3. We’ll be back to square one and figure out how to win the game.’’

Maybe square one is where the Heat do their best work.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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