After two days of intense film study and painstaking analysis of the final 14 possessions in their end-of-game collapse in Game 2 of the NBA finals, the Miami Heat finally came up with the reason why.
It wasn't a highly technical reason.
"We let one go," Dwyane Wade said.
And entering Game 3 of the NBA finals, the Heat will try to let Game 2 go again. The way Miami sees it, carrying over the stigma of that loss — one of the worst late-game collapses in finals history — would only doom them again tonight when the scene shifts to Dallas for the first of three games on the Mavericks' home floor.
Dallas rallied from 15 points down in the final 7 minutes to beat Miami in Game 2, outscoring the Heat 22-5 to finish the game and knot the series. Thanks to that win, Mavs fans still may see another NBA championship celebration, only this time, by the Western Conference champions and not a Heat team that hoisted a trophy at Dallas after the 2006 finals.
"In the playoffs, it's a win or a loss. However it comes by, it's a win or a loss," Heat forward LeBron James said. "We've moved on from Game 2, seen the mistakes we've made. Seen some of the great things we've done as well. It's a win or loss. The series is tied 1-1. We never get too high or too low in the series. We haven't gotten too high or low in the regular season as well."
Game 3 is crucial for so many obvious reasons, like the Heat wanting not to deal with another stumble and the Mavericks wanting to keep momentum rolling and retain homecourt advantage. Statistically, there's proof that it's a Texas-sized swing game as well. Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format for the finals, teams have split the first two games 12 times. In the previous 11, the winner of Game 3 has always gone on to win the championship.
Big deal, both teams said in response to that one.
"We just can't let up. We're not good enough to just relax," said Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, who led Dallas' late-game charge in Game 2 at Miami. "We need to play with an edge at all times in every game. So hopefully (tonight), with the crowd behind us, we're going to have a great game. Just looking at this one game."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was more succinct.
"I think both teams have bucked a lot of those numbers and odds up to this point already," he said.
Maybe that's one of the reasons why the Heat were so loose Saturday.
Players arrived at the arena around noon, most with headphones on as they walked off the bus. James and Wade were chatting and laughing, a few players checked out the turf that would host an Arena Football League game later Saturday night and some stretched their arms to tap the goalposts as they walked across the floor where a basketball court will be tonight.
The mood couldn't have been more different from when they walked off the floor in Miami on Thursday, stunned by what just happened.
"We're coming home, but we know that's no guarantee of anything," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "We've lost at home this year in the playoffs. Now Miami has as well. The venue has significance, but it never guarantees anyone anything."