In the most crucial game of his career, the one that would most likely determine the eventual winner of the NBA Finals, LeBron James was wise enough to pull over so an ambulance could pass.
Dwyane Wade was driving, with lights flashing and sirens blaring, and he arrived on time to rescue the Miami Heat.
The bad news for those who don’t want to see James win his first championship is he’s a week or so away from winning a championship. The silver lining is James is getting there by following Wade’s lead.
Explosive from the start Sunday, Wade put on a show worthy of a dunk contest and finished strong in the fourth quarter to lift the Heat to an 88-86 victory and a 2-1 series lead over Dallas.
“LeBron is taking a back seat to Wade, in my opinion,” VegasSportsAuthority.com handicapper Jim Kruger said. “Wade is a real superstar, and Miami has two superstars who can score as compared to one. Wade is such a superior player to anyone on the perimeter for Dallas.”
Kruger placed a major wager on the Heat at minus-175 before the series, and the odds are heavily in his favor to cash it. The adjusted price is now in the minus-360 neighborhood.
I’ll regurgitate the fact we heard countless times going into Game 3: In the 2-3-2 Finals format, 11 previous times the series was tied after two games, and the winner of Game 3 won every series. That trend is as telling as it gets.
“Everybody in the world knows that 11-0 stat, so everybody is going to want to bet Miami (in the series),” Kruger said.
But the better strategy might be to side with the Mavericks in Game 4 on Tuesday, hope they win and force the series price to fall again, and then bet the Heat to eventually finish what appears inevitable.
“If Dallas is going to win another game, it’s the next game,” Kruger said. “I would rather be on Dallas in Game 4.”
But the problem for the Mavericks is simple math. They have only one win because they have only one superstar, and Dirk Nowitzki alone is not enough to overcome Wade and James. Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls faced the same dilemma, and failed in the Eastern Conference finals.
Nowitzki had 34 points Sunday, scoring his team’s final 12 to easily top his proposition total of 25½.
The rest of Dallas’ starters combined for 27 points, as Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion faded.
As Kruger noted, the tone for the game seemed to be set on the first play, when Kidd had his shot blocked by Mike Bibby, and Bibby buried a 3-pointer on the other end.
The Mavericks’ reserves were not much help, either. Jason Terry shot 5-for-13, and J.J. Barea looked more like the little guy standing next to Mr. Roarke on “Fantasy Island” than a backup NBA point guard. Barea shot 2-for-8 and had four turnovers.
The Heat players are faster and more athletic, and when they forced turnovers, Wade punctuated fast breaks with dunks.
“Dirk is really good, but he had nobody who helped,” Kruger said. “Marion’s first two games were above his normal performance, and this was below average. I really believe the Miami defense is just too much.”
The Heat defense, specifically Udonis Haslem, pressured Nowitzki into a turnover and a missed fadeaway jumper on Dallas’ last two possessions. Nowitzki was the only option, but this time Chris Bosh wasn’t the statue assigned to guard him.
Bosh hit the go-ahead jumper from the baseline, which is what half-superstars are supposed to do.
Mario Chalmers was the star of Miami’s bench by hitting four 3-pointers.
“I just think every game is going to be close in the fourth quarter. I said that before the series, and I’ll stick to it,” Cal Neva sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said.
When the line opened for Game 3, sharp bettors took the Heat plus-3.
The total closed at 189, and only the possibility of overtime threatened that decision.
As strong as the handle was for Game 2 on Thursday, Bogdanovich said wagering was weak Sunday.
“It was decent but nothing special. I expected more,” Bogdanovich said. “There were plenty of money line bets on Miami.”
More was expected of James, too, but Wade took control with 29 points and 11 rebounds. Wade is averaging 29 points in the series, putting his stamp on LeBron’s first championship.
James gave another authoritative, fist-pounding pregame speech for the cameras. When the heat was on, Wade backed up the talk.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts the “Las Vegas Sportsline” weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and thelasvegassportsline.com.