Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade make on of several baskets in the third quarter against the Washington Wizards in game 4 of 7 in the second round of the NBA playoffs at the MCI Center in Washington, Saturday, May 14, 2005.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
WASHINGTON While Shaquille O'Neal sat, the phenom-on-the-rise had a dazzling coming-out party.
The Miami Heat swept into the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night, finishing off the Washington Wizards 99-95 with an unbelievable third quarter from Dwyane Wade.
Wade scored 22 of his career playoff-high 42 points in the third, going 7-for-7 from the field and 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. He broke franchise records for points in a playoff quarter and a playoff game and scored 31, 31 and 42 in the last three games of the series. He averaged 28.6 in sweeps over New Jersey and Washington, more than compensating for the ailing O'Neal.
''To me, it's a remake of 'A Star is Born.' You could take the two series and make a movie out of it, because he's certainly raised his game,'' Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. ''He's certainly a bona fide star in this league right now at his tender young age, whatever it is.''
For the record, Wade is 23. More fans will want to know facts after Saturday night's prime-time show, intensifying a star status he has already started to sense as the playoffs progress.
''When you go out, you feel a little different. The players treat you a little different around the league,'' said Wade, who has been overshadowed by fellow 2003 draftees LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. ''But at the same time, I'm just going to try to get better. Hopefully, this whole season, not just the playoffs, people got an opportunity to see the way that I play, and I hope they like it.''
O'Neal missed his second straight game with a deep thigh bruise that has hobbled him for several weeks. The sweep will give him a minimum of eight days to recover, with the conference finals against Detroit or Indiana not scheduled to start until May 23, at the earliest.
''There's always a Diesel flow to our team,'' Wade said. ''Shaq came to us before the game and told us: 'I'm proud of y'all. You can do this regardless.' And we did it with the help of our big man. He wasn't in the game with us, but he was just as big in these two games. It's very big to give him some more rest.''
A healthy O'Neal wasn't necessary against New Jersey or Washington. The Heat went 15-0 against the two teams and are the first team in NBA history to sweep the same two teams in the playoffs that it swept during the regular season. Miami has also won 12 straight against Washington over two seasons.
For all of Wade's heroics, the series wasn't complete until Eddie Jones made a 3-pointer from the right wing with 14.9 seconds remaining. The Heat blew an 11-point lead over the final six minutes and had missed 16 straight shots until Jones' basket gave Miami a 97-95 lead.
Washington's Larry Hughes had a chance to tie the game with a drive to the basket, but Alonzo Mourning blocked the shot with 8.3 seconds remaining. Wade then made two free throws for the final points, ending the Wizards' best season in decades. They made the playoffs for the first time in eight years and won a series for the first time since 1982.
''We wanted to be a lot more competitive as far as wins in this series,'' Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. ''But it was a learning process for a young team, a team that had to deal with adversity.''
The Wizards simply could not stop Wade in the third quarter, whether he was working himself open for a jumper or grabbing an offensive rebound and going back up for a dunk. He finished 13-for-22 from the field and 16-for-17 from the line.
''Most people now think he's in the top 10 or 15 players in the league,'' coach Stan Van Gundy said. ''He's earned as much respect as you can earn in your second year.''
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