Dwyane Wade. Let me say that again - Dwyane Wade.
After going scoreless in the first half of Game 3, the first time that had happened in his 95-game postseason career, Wade bounced back to drop 30, 28 and 41 points in Games 4, 5 and 6 respectively to shut the door on the hapless Indiana Pacers.
Yes, LeBron James has been the Heat’s dominant player right through this series (30.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 6.2 APG versus the Pacers). But Wade stepping up after the no-show in Game 3 (5 points, 2-for-13 from the field, 5 turnovers) underlines the fact that one should never underestimate the heart of a champion.
The pressure was very much on Wade. Not only did he come up looking like a bum in Game 3, his run in with coach Eric Spoelstra
in the same game had people speculating about the Heat star self-destructing
at the rate of a punctured balloon.
Wade himself knew he had bungled up. “We’re not going to win a lot of ballgames with Chris Bosh out and me scoring five points, so it’s on me,” the Heat star had said after the Game 3 disaster.
And so, instead of looking for excuses, Wade shut up his critics in the best manner possible. He scorched his opponents with his athleticism, the kind that puts him amongst the current crop of the NBA’s elite players. At his best, which Wade certainly was in the last three games of the Eastern Conference semis, the Miami Heat shooting guard is unguardable. Just ask Danny Granger, George Hill, Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, David West or any one of those men who sit on the Pacers bench and they will all tell you the same thing.
What led to the turnaround you might ask? It may be to naïve to expect even someone of Wade’s pedigree to flip the switch on call. Spoelstra, after Wade had scorched the Pacers with 30 points in Game 4, had proffered a clue to Wade’s renaissance, “The one thing I know about the fabric of Dwyane Wade is that when he doesn't have the game he's capable of, he's very introspective.”
Wade, in fact, revealed the source of his inspiration after the same game all too willingly. “The last two days have been mental. I've spent some time up at I.U. [Indiana University] with Coach [Tom] Crean [his coach at Marquette], spent some time with a mentor, a father figure. It was great for me just getting away and to get that energy I needed from him,” said Wade.
Shaun Powell wrote of this energy in the most complimentary tone in his latest Hang Time blog, “Curiously, it was his lack of hustle that led Spoelstra to confront Wade in Game 3, which led to the now-infamous blowup. Well, Wade was both lost and found in Indiana. When you count the second half of Game 4, and all four quarters Thursday [Game 6], Wade was the best player in town.”
Wade and the Heat will wait the winner of the Boston Celtics-Philadelphia 76ers series. Here is a quick look ahead at the remaining action on the weekend in the 2012 NBA Playoffs:
Boston Celtics (4) v Philadelphia 76ers (8) – Game 7:
Eastern Conference Semifinals
When: May 27, 2012 – 5:30 AM (IST)
Where: TD Garden, Boston
Series Score: Series Tied 3-3
Preview: Boston had a golden chance to close out this series in Game 6 with Philly only shooting 1-for-9 from the 3-point line and only 60.7 percent (17-for-28) from the free throw line. But with the Cs themselves only shooting 26-for-78 from the field (33.33 percent) and turning the ball over as many as 17 times, the 76ers escaped with an 82-75 win that forced a Game 7 in Boston.
The Celtics will have to make a couple of adjustments if they are to play the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Rajon Rondo, clearly out of rhythm in Game 6 (just 4-for-14 from the field and only six assists), will have to jump out and run with the ball. Kevin Garnett, equally, will have to play a lot more from the post rather than settle for the mid-range jump shots at the top of the key, which had become his wont in Game 6.
The 76ers, on the other hand, will look to Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams to set the tempo by attacking the rim when they have the ball in their hands. Andre Iguadola, who has kept Paul Pierce from shooting below 40 percent in this series (27-for-68), will have to continue to hassle the Celtics veteran. Pierce might want to add to his legend by coming up with a big performance in this do-or-go-fishing matchup.
The Stat: 12-for-45: Hampered by his ankle injury, Ray Allen is clearly struggling to knock down the treys that have otherwise made him the NBA’s leading all-time scorer from the distance. Allen’s 26.7 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line in 10 games in the 2012 playoffs is his worst performance in the nine times that he has made it to the postseason in his 16-year career. Allen’s previous lowest shooting percentage from the 3-point line in the postseason was in the 2008-09 playoffs when he shot 35 percent over 14 games for Boston.
San Antonio Spurs (1) v Oklahoma City Thunder (2) – Game 1:
Western Conference Finals
When: May 28, 2012 – 6:00 AM (IST)
Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio
You can catch my preview of the Western Conference finals here.
All stats are after games played on May 25, 2012 (IST)