Dwyane Wade really isn’t The Flash anymore, the man with the super speed and reflexes who seemed to defy the basic laws of physics in a decade of heroic basketball with the three-time champion Miami Heat. Yes, Wade is more ground based these days, though not necessarily grounded.
“By basketball standards I’m considered old,” Wade was saying late Monday night in the Bulls locker room. “That’s true. I’m not as athletic as I used to be; that’s true. But I can play basketball. I’m a different player. I’m not young like I used to be. But like I told the crowd when they were calling me over, they would love to have me on their team.”
The Bulls are just fine that he is on theirs.
Because it might have been another disastrous and monstrous blown lead and loss if not for Wade’s flash back, or, at least, The Flash coming back. It was for just long enough to save the Bulls and a 112-107 victory over the Sacramento Kings with 31 points, the winners in the last 13 seconds and the last seven Bulls points.
And it was after the Bulls had given back all of a 27-point lead and looked like they were about to fall behind with DeMarcus Cousins finishing a three-point play.
It was now 107-107 with 30.8 seconds left, that mega lead with four minutes left in the third quarter and 17-point lead with 11 minutes left in the game gone like a blur. Remember, the last time this kind of thing happened, the locker room went up for grabs amidst recriminations, resentments and rage. But Cousins missed the free throw, and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wisely sent Wade off without a timeout for the Kings rag tag defense to set.
The Bulls cleared the right side, Wade’s new favorite side to finish, he disclosed afterward from all the years accustomed to seeing him take that winner going left. Wade squared up Matt Barnes, the other half of the Kings’ ditzy duo, and swished a 20 footer for a 109-107 Bulls lead with 13 seconds left.
It was obvious what the Kings would do next, though that they have to entrust Barnes and Cousins for pivotal plays explains lots why they are 20-32. Cousins lined up with Barnes inbounding. Cousins was barely interested much of the game, finishing with 18 points and 14 rebounds on five of 16 shooting. He made an amazing three with 56 seconds left to get the Kings within two. But mostly he shot them out firing odd threes throughout the fourth quarter. Wade sensed it as well, and while most players stand back, he flashed toward the ball, tipped it ahead and finished the game with the runaway dunk with 10.2 seconds left for a 111-107 Bulls lead.
Cousins then predictably got himself ejected with his second technical foul, the first when he and batty Barnes actually attacked Bulls assistant Jim Boylen, who was trying to ease Taj Gibson away from further trouble after a technical foul to end the third quarter.
The Kings’ daffy ducks — so big surprise they were in some similar scene in a New York nightclub recently — joined the fray and both pushed Boylen, who was just talking to Gibson.
“Boylen held his own out there; tough guy,” Wade laughed afterwards.
Yes, it was good times as the Bulls moved back to .500 at 26-26 in the second consecutive game with Jimmy Butler out with a heel problem. He could play Wednesday in Golden State. Cristiano Felicio was out with a leg issue. But it was Butler’s absence as the team’s designated closer that proved fatal in Friday’s loss in Houston when Wade looked very old, and very slow and without any flash at all in being stripped twice in the last seconds after the Bulls had an eight-point lead with three minutes remaining.
It was a brutal and disappointing defeat after the victory in Oklahoma City.
Gibson afterward sat stunned on the bench unable to move, team vice-president John Paxson on the trip finally urging him off the bench and back to the locker room. Wade admitted to a few sleepless nights since, his own basketball mortality flashing before his eyes.
“The guys knew it; everyone knew it,” admitted Wade of his own Houston meltdown before even the Atlanta Falcons. “It was in my mind. I kept telling the guys I want to be in position where I am redeeming myself. It was uncharacteristic of me to get stripped twice like that. I wanted that game winner in Houston and he hit the ball away, so I couldn’t sleep very well the last couple of days. Not saying I wanted them to come back, but I wanted the ball. Since they did, I felt it was fitting. It wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but without Jimmy, your best player, on the road, that’s a damn good game.”
The Bulls got some good games, especially from the starters.
Jerian Grant stayed in the starting lineup and had 13 points, making four of five shots and a pair of threes. Gibson added 13 points with a terrific game defending and frustrating the volatile Cousins. Robin Lopez had 17 points and Michael Carter-Williams, starting for Butler, had 21 points and six rebounds with eight of 12 shooting, showing an outside shooting ability not much seen before as he did in Houston.
“I think my defense is something that always needs to be there for me; that’s my backbone,” said Carter-Williams. “I’ve been working a lot on my offensive game. I try to play both ends and the work I’m putting in is showing. Getting a little more time with Jimmy out, but I just have to take care of my opportunity. I just have to continue to get better.”
It’s going to be difficult to keep Carter-Williams out of the lineup the way he’s been scoring aggressively, Monday getting the Bulls out to a 27-11 first quarter lead with a team high eight points.
The Bulls bench was outscored 58-17 as Doug McDernott got just nine minutes with one shot and Nikola Mirotic was three of 11. It’s possible Hoiberg looks at Carter-Williams for more forward minutes with Butler’s return and perhaps even a peek at Denzel Valentine, who was with the team after two games with the Windy City Bulls.
For now, it’s another terrific start on a Western Conference trip after 4-2 in November. The Bulls were within a few minutes of this being 3-0, though they face the powerful Warriors Wednesday. And since the Warriors play small so much, perhaps the Bulls will go with more smaller, more versatile players. Though Lopez and Gibson have been consistent and reliable throughout the season.
Gibson also kept in control, which isn’t easy sometimes against the angry Cousins.
“It was chippie the whole game,” said Gibson. “The Kings junk the game up in the fourth quarter. Boogie (Cousins), he gets to talking. There was a lot of profanity going on during the game. Things always happen in the fourth quarter in Sacramento. Joakim (Noah) went crazy in the fourth; gave everybody the FU and I’m out. Every fourth quarter here in Sac is pandemonium.”
Gibson was referring to perhaps the greatest ejection in NBA history when Noah chased the officials around three years ago this month in Sacramento, pointing at each with his own description as he was soon escorted off the court. Gibson couldn’t help but laugh at the reminiscence. Cousins makes you do that, though more often to his own team.
It was mostly a terrific game for the Bulls against a Kings team coming off beating Golden State. They might do that sort of thing more often if everyone weren’t afraid of Cousins and his lack of anger management. He stormed out of the arena without speaking to media for a change.
It looked like the Kings wouldn’t put that much passion into the game with the Bulls 20-5 start and that 18-point first quarter lead. The Bulls fall into these lulls of standing around shooting jump shots, which is not exactly their specialty. So the Kings got within 46-38 before Gibson converted Lopez and Wade passes for dunks, Carter-Williams made a three and a floater and Rajon Rondo had a snake-tongue strip of a Ty Lawson drive and full court underhand pass to Carter-Williams for a score.
So the Bulls led 60-45 at halftime, but there were concerns as Lawson kept getting inside along with Darren Collison. It seemed merely an annoyance as the Bulls blew ahead 73-48 four minutes into the third quarter with Lopez rolling inside for scores and Grant making his second three. It still was 85-69 Bulls after three quarters even with the odd ending to the quarter with Cousins and Barnes frothing.
“In the NBA it’s hard to shut teams down the whole game even when you are up 30,” said Gibson. “I hate playing with gigantic leads like that; it’s good to have leads like that, but sometimes you get lax and they are playing in front of their home crowd.”
Then it was a Bulls team we’ve seen before with quick threes, short armed 14 footers going 12 feet. The Bulls send doubles teams toward Cousins, which seemed a waste since it left open too many three pointers for others. And the way Cousins was taking his own shots better to let him. Twice he dribbled around as he likes to hold the ball and the 24-second clock expired. But without Butler to take over in the fourth, it looked bad for the Bulls as the Kings opened the quarter 21-8 and it looked like time to sweat and schedule another meeting.
The Kings got within 93-90 on a Lawson three with 5:41, but Carter-Williams answered with a driving score. Wade drove and was fouled and Carter-Williams again went left for a tough runner for a 99-95 Bulls lead with 3:42 left. Those Carter-Williams baskets were as important as Wade’s in cooling the crowd and the Kings’ run.
Cousins isolated outside, fired up a three that missed—good thinking—and Wade made a spinning, driving bank shot for a 101-95 Bulls lead with 3:09 left. Might be able to hold on this time.
Barnes slashed inside and scored on a Cousins pass as Cousins is an excellent passer. Lopez committed an offensive foul, but Collison missed a three, the Kings six of 12 on threes in the fourth. Carter-Williams then drove, drew the defense and passed back to Lopez for an 18 footer: 103-97 Bulls with 2:01 left. Lawson made a jumper, but Carter-Williams came back with a drive and was fouled, making both free throws for a 105-99 Bulls lead with 1:39 left. They don’t win it without him, either.
Barnes made a three as the Kings finally wouldn’t give up, but then the baton went to Wade. And even with another Cousins three that actually went in this time, it wasn’t enough to overcome the Wade who had for so many years tormented these Bulls.
“We stayed calm,” said Gibson. “D-Wade had everybody calm, making sure everyone was in the right spot, taking advantage of the different matchups. He stepped up big, especially knowing we should have been 3-0 at this point, having that tough game in Houston. Michael Carter stepped up big, Rolo (Lopez) stepped up big; everybody brought it. D-Wade became the closer tonight. I always tell him he’s the closer after so many years of shutting the door on us in the fourth quarter. I’m just happy he’s able to be that same closer for our side.”
Not every time, but enough times that it’s still no flash in the pan. That phrase comes from the gold rush days, which began not far from Sacramento in Coloma. For the Bulls, there still some gold in their Wade.