PHILADELPHIA – Dwyane Wade was disregarded two months ago by a team trying to win a championship. He was the second worst jump-shooter in the league this season. And generally, he hurt his team whenever he stepped on the floor.
But Wade still has star power, the ability to make big shots and big plays on any given night, and Monday was one of those nights. Wade's performance in Game 2 of the Miami Heat's first round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting, was the difference in a 113-103 victory that gave the Heat home-court advantage as the series moves to Miami for Game 3 on Thursday.
Wade is only here because the Cleveland Cavaliers decided they no longer needed him in their quest for a fourth straight trip to The Finals. After the Cavs made two major trades on deadline day in February, they decided that Wade wasn't needed, and they gave him a chance to return to the place he spent the first 13 years of his career.
Wade got a hero's welcome upon his return to Miami, but he didn't give the Heat much of a boost. If anything, he compounded their offensive issues. He shot 41 percent in his 21 regular-season games with the Heat, and for the season as a whole, he had an effective field goal percentage of just 37 percent on shots from outside the paint, the second-worst mark among 207 players who attempted at least 200 shots from the outside.
His lack of shooting, along with an inability to get to the basket like he used to, hurt the Miami offense. From the time the Heat reacquired him, they were almost 11 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Wade off the floor (scoring 111 per 100) than they were with him on the floor (scoring 100). Their defensive numbers were worse with him on the floor as well.
On another team with another coach, another player would be out of the rotation with numbers like that. But this is Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat, coached by Erik Spoelstra. The history with this player, this franchise and this coach can't be disregarded.
"You put him in a Miami Heat uniform," Spoelstra said Monday, "I don't care what his numbers were anywhere else or all year long or at different times. He's (made) for these moments."
And so, in Game 2, Wade checked in late in the first quarter, and by the time he checked out midway through the second, he had made a huge - and positive - impact. In those 10 minutes, Wade shot 6-for-6, scoring 15 points and helping the Heat turn a nine-point deficit into a seven-point lead. He came back late in the second to score the Heat's final six points of the half and build that lead to 14.
Wade got into the paint off the dribble, pulled up from mid-range when the Sixers gave him space and took advantage of smaller guards in the post. It was old-school shot selection, with seven of his 11 buckets coming between the paint and the 3-point line.
The Sixers played Wade more aggressively in the second half, but he still made a near-impossible turnaround jumper over Robert Covington late in the third, and his big plays weren't limited to the offensive end of the floor.
After a 19-7 Philadelphia run cut the Miami lead to two late in the fourth quarter, Wade made the biggest play of the game, roaming over to strip Dario Saric at the high post and streaking free to receive a Kelly Olynyk pass for a dunk that put the Heat up four. Philadelphia never had a chance to tie or take the lead after that.
"Dwyane's steal changed the game," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "If you were to pick one defining moment, one defining play, I think it was that."
"I watched that play go down early in the game," Wade said. "I told myself, 'If they do that play later, I'm going to steal it,' because I could see the pressure that we were putting on the elbow guy and where the pass needed to go. So it gave me a little time to sneak behind. I definitely took a chance, but I thought it was good gamble."
This was a fantastic basketball game between two very good teams who are now past the "feeling each other out" phase of this series. There's a big difference between 2-0 and 1-1, and in the intensity of a back-and-forth affair, Wade seemed to be playing at his own pace.
"There was a rhythm and a calmness to his game like he didn't feel too much," Brown said. "And there was a real confidence the way he played to make those shots.
"That is classic Dwyane Wade."
A great individual performance made the team better. The Heat outscored the Sixers by 16 points with Wade on the floor in a 10-point win.
"You're not always going to be able to do it," Wade said. "But for the most part, to be able to come through for your team when they need you to, that feels good. The reason I was brought here was for a game like this."
Over the course of a full season, Wade is a relatively ineffective NBA player. But the full season doesn't matter anymore and a performance like this can be the difference in a playoff series. Wade was a star again on Monday, and the Heat got what they were looking for when they brought their star back home.
"I'm enjoying just every minute of this," Spoelstra said. "We've been through every stage of our pro careers together. I don't know how long this will last. That's why I want to enjoy it now. I want to make the most of these moments."
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