After the Heat eked out a 91-85 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3, I was left with a sour taste in my mouth. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t clap. I just turned off the television.
In the history of my NBA fandom, I’ve generally privileged players over teams. D-Will and Boozer, so the Jazz; Mike Finley and Dirk, so the Mavs, etc.
You see, at least for me, I can only be truly content with the Heat winning the championship if Dwyane Wade has a hand in it. Now, I’m lowering my expectations: I just want Wade not to make a fool out of himself.
Perhaps it’s dramatic, but if the Heat had lost on Sunday because of those four turnovers Wade had in the fourth quarter, it’s the kind of thing that may have affected his legacy.
First, a quick note on OKC. They got a few tough calls in Games 2 and 3, (though KD should’ve been fouled out on that Battier charge; it was at the very least a no-call). But what has marked their run this postseason has been incredible poise and timely shot-making. They flipped the script and made the championship-tested Mavs, Lakers and Spurs look young and inexperienced. OKC seemed the wily veterans.
That’s all gone.
Harden mustered five points in Game 1, going 2-of-6, and nine points on Sunday, shooting a putrid 2-of-10.
Westbrook doesn’t know down from up, the balance between listening to criticism and keeping what makes him deadly to begin with. The man needs to shoot a lot if need be, but not at the expense of that other guy, KD, who wasn’t so great in the fourth quarter last game either.
Now, Russ is over-thinking everything and missing pressure shots he has made since the first round. (By the way, Good D, Spo!)
I have two favorite Dwyane Wade moments, before I get to his fall.
One is his dunk on Varejao, occurring off a turnover after LeBron was blocked at the rim by Jermaine O’Neal. It’s an incredible reversal of fortune and many of the comments play the joke: “After this, LeBron James took his talents to South Beach!”
The second is this steal and buzzer-beater from a classic Bulls vs. Heat double-OT game back in 2009.
I remember watching this beside my friend, also a Wade fan and Heat fan by extension. I remember us shouting when they went to that silly camera angle, as if a broadcast change on our television could affect Flash on the court—hey, anything to really feel a part of it—but the shot was ALL NET.
Check out Brad Miller at 0:16, first to voice what everyone was thinking. I don’t think there’s ever been a player of Miller’s caliber (not a star, but more than competent) who wore his heart on his sleeve so much. He always played like he was lucky to be there, like a fan would and like a superstar ordained since birth would not.
That attitude is the reason Miller went back to his old coach, Adelman, in his final season, and gave an equally genuine reaction as he walked away from the NBA for good.
And that’s where I’d like to begin with Dwyane Tyrone Wade, Jr., age 30, with a vague knee-injury.
It is true. Wade is older. He is injured to some extent. But I don’t buy that’s what’s ailing him. His attitude is his problem.
The changes began last year. There was the “LeBron and Wade laughing at a sick Dirk” incident. I don’t know what percentage of that was media manipulation, but Wade, the darling of the NBA since he began, increasingly found himself in the same hot water as LeBron.
Wade has always had two things on that other future-Hall of Fame shooting guard of his generation. One is being a better defender. The other is (was?) being far more likable than Kobe Bean.
That all changed when LeBron came to town.
To be fair, some incidents are entirely Wade’s fault, like the flagrant on Kobe after not getting a call during this year’s All-Star game, or even getting wrapped up with Rondo during last year’s playoffs.
Dwyane Wade was always popular league-wide because he paid his dues on mediocre teams a la Garnett, Allen Iverson and Chris Paul. Now he’s gone Hollywood to some extent after orchestrating the Wade-Lebron-Bosh triumvirate.
It’s one thing to whine about calls when you’re the only guy on your team who can ball. Now it comes across in a very different way, and he’s doing it all the time at the expense of his vaunted defense.
This year, though, the media has done a 180. Most analysts actually seem to be behind LeBron now, finally ready for his unprecedented gifts to be actualized in the form of a ring.
HIS ring. Not Wade’s, though he can go along for the ride if he wants to. Not Bosh’s. LeBron’s.
This has got to affect a guy like Wade, who, on those two spectacular plays I linked to above, not only proves to be a finisher but also a ham. He loves playing to the crowd. “This is my house,” he says.
So now a new guest comes in—granted, a guest you brought over—but Wade is just supposed to acquiesce?
This is an awkward and unprecedented alliance. Two friends. Former friendly rivals (that reversal of fortune dunk). Similar skill sets. But one who has been to the top in Wade, and one who is long overdue in LeBron.
Through three-and-a-half quarters of Game 3, Wade was having a solid game, though not shooting the best, percentage-wise. He finished with 25 points, seven assists and seven boards.
At halftime, all the talk was about LeBron. Charles Barkley once again called Wade a “scorer” (aka “JUST a scorer”) and “someone who can make everyone else better.” Wade, though, had the best passes of the night by far. In fact, he had the best passes going back to the end of Game 2 with that nice drop off to Bosh.
The man can pass in his own right and has been making his teammates better well before LeBron entered the scene. Trust me, I’ve been watching.
Actions speak louder than words. Wade claims he’s okay with deferring and that the team is now LeBron’s.
Oh yeah? In the 2011 NBA Finals, Wade was brilliant, pulling a 2006-style effort despite an All-Star on the block and the MVP on the wing with him. Up 2-1 to the Mavs (just like this year), if LeBron had simply fallen in line and contributed just about what Wade is contributing now, they would have won.
But LeBron was worse than bad—he was irrelevant.
It would be one thing if Wade was uniformly bad, showing no ability to drive at all or handle the ball. Instead, he’s been inconsistent, and to me that signals something mental.
In the first half, he played with a lot of desperation, so much so that he missed some bunnies. That’s what happens when you play frustrated and with a lot of bad energy.
In the second half, possibly because of Spo and possibly by his own design, this continued, with him ball-stopping. (Thought it was LeBron’s team; mixed messages much?!) He over-dribbled, made boneheaded passes and coughed up the ball three times in the clutch.
It was the most pathetic I’ve seen him professionally.
Even though the Heat are up 2-1, they are lucky. OKC has been right there.
In Game 2, despite some late miscues, I think the Heat found a formula they ought to go with from here on out. As LeBron entered another dreaded fourth quarter, Wade started to close, hitting teardrops and patented and-1s. Then LeBron did his thing, hitting that nice banker and icing the game from the line.
It was really a tale of two closers. A similar dynamic successfully brought the Heat back in their series against Indy .
Unlike everyone else, I’m not convinced it’s either/or for these two stars. They both need to be closing. They both need to defer when necessary. It can’t be LeBron’s team and LeBron’s ring if Wade is the closer. And I think if the media really wants LeBron to win, they ought to give Wade his due, too.
They both are the Miami Heat’s leaders.
I still think this is a long series. I had Miami over OKC in seven. So far my predictions have been pretty much on point.
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