Miami — Heat owner Micky Arison talked to Alonzo Mourning in the parking garage after Miami took command of the Eastern Conference finals with a Game 4 win. The message was simple, and it struck Mourning deeply.
"He said, 'Make sure you remind those guys how they celebrated last year on our home court,"' Mourning said. "That was it. I think enough was said in that alone. And I haven't forgotten. Our owner hasn't forgotten. For him to bring that up and remind me, obviously that's been on his mind for a while."
The Heat - who lead this season's rematch 3-1 - get a chance at comeuppance tonight.
They watched helplessly last year as the Detroit Pistons celebrated winning the East championship on the Heat's home floor. Those memories - Larry Brown leaping on the sideline, Richard Hamilton hugging Lindsey Hunter as Chauncey Billups danced nearby with one finger aloft - are still fresh.
But with a win against the Pistons in Game 5 at The Palace, Miami could experience the flip side of that moment. And, more important, it would give the Heat an NBA Finals berth for the first time.
"When the game gets closer and closer, there's something this team has inside of them that I like," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "We have an opportunity to go somewhere we've never been."
Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade seemed primed to lead them there.
Wade has carried Miami in the first four games of this series, connecting on 70 percent of his shots against the Pistons and averaging 30.8 points per game. And O'Neal has been nearly as impressive, averaging 20.8 points on 62 percent accuracy in the series.
"It was something that we almost could have gotten done, but almost isn't good enough in this league, in this world," O'Neal said Tuesday when asked about falling short in 2005. "So, you know, it's something that stuck with us all summer. ... It's not really extra incentive. We have a chance to close it out and we're going to take full advantage."
A year ago, both Miami superstars battled injuries in the playoffs, and Wade went scoreless for the final 15 minutes of the Game 7 loss to Detroit.
Now, they're rolling, and the Pistons' quest to find a solution is running out of time.
"It's a new season and one thing about every year, there's always some type of change," Mourning said. "And this team has changed. The Miami Heat has changed. We've gotten better and we see a golden opportunity in front of us. We don't want to take that for granted at all."