Dwyane Wade isn’t Flash anymore, the superhero so designated by Shaquille O’Neal, whose 2006 Finals was so magnificent that ESPN a few years back rated it the greatest Finals performance ever. But the Chicago kid still has some nights left in him, and Saturday was one with 30 points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals, four blocks and a half dozen brilliant offensive and defensive plays in the last five minutes that enabled the Bulls to defeat the Sacramento Kings 102-99.
“You find yourself in a situation like that in a close game, you have to find a way to rise up and make big plays and Wade made them,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “Just did everything tonight.”
In many respects as these things go, the game will be talked about the next few days for the foul call against DeMarcus Cousins with 14 seconds left on a Wade steal that enabled the Bulls to take a 100-99 lead on one of two Wade free throws. Wade stripped the ball from Garrett Temple, one of his three steals in the last three minutes, and raced ahead to break the 99-99 tie. Cousins, to his credit, took off after Wade and didn’t seem to make contact as Wade jumped a bit early on his dunk attempt and began to lose the ball when he went up. It hit the back of the rim and bounded out, the Kings rushing the other way as the whistle sounded for the foul and Wade free throws.
Though Cousins had his hand out a bit toward Wade’s back, it seemed mostly incidental. And Wade conceded afterward it perhaps was a questionable call. “I took off too far (back), as I look back,” Wade said. “Should have made one more dribble. I thought he probably nudged me a little bit. Sometimes you get a call, sometimes you don’t. I’m a person who hasn’t got a lot all year, so I’m not about to apologize for anything.”
And Wade shouldn’t, because as much as critics may point to one foul call, it was the Bulls and Wade who made the plays, both on offense and defense, and in the end Cousins after a majestic effort that displayed his breathtaking talents also showed why his teams are destined to remain losers despite his contributions. This time it was 42 points and 14 rebounds.
There also was a shredded garbage can on the way to the locker room, and so erratic is Cousins that many Chicago reporters headed to the Kings locker room after the game instead of the Bulls’ for the anticipated Cousins’ meltdown. It actually was more clever this time as Cousins went into a sarcastic routine to credit the officials.
“Incredible job by the referee crew tonight,” Cousins said. “I don't have a complaint in the world. I think they should get more recognition on how well they ref these games. I don't think they get the credit they deserve. So kudos to them and I applaud them." And then he did.
Yes, Cousins scored 14 Kings fourth quarter points, his back-to-back threes with just under three minutes left giving Sacramento a 97-95 lead with 2:13 left. Though Wade would tie it 20 seconds later with a spinning move for a right elbow jumper.
But it was Wade’s final play against Cousins that illustrated the difference.
Cousins doesn’t like to play nice with other kids. Yes, he has amazing skills, but he rarely gives up the ball, basically making every play on his own. He’s so good he can make many. But it takes everyone else out of the game. No other Kings player scored in double figures. Kosta Koufos on a short push shot and three-point play with 5:13 left that, by the way, seemed an obvious travel was the only Kings player other than Cousins to score a point in the last 10 minutes.
It was no secret what the Kings were going to do, and teams go to their best player late. That’s hardly novel. But Cousins is out there head down in those situations, and Wade took advantage. Hoiberg also played it well, putting Taj Gibson on Cousins, knowing when the Bulls did that Cousins drove. When Robin Lopez played Cousins, he stepped outside and shot threes. Cousins fell for the trap.
Cousins drove left, and as soon as he started Wade came running off his man knowing there was no way Cousins was playing with the other kids. Wade simply came up behind and took the ball away from Cousins with 6.8 seconds left—scorekeepers gave the steal to Gibson, though it was Wade’s play—and ran down and threw to Michael Carter-Williams for the dunk and final score. Hoiberg said Carter-Williams probably should have stopped and dribbled out the clock, but no harm was done as the Kings raced the ball in and threw up a half court shot to end the game.
“Just a read and knowing they were going to go to DeMarcus at that point,” said Wade. “I was on his weak side. We forced him to his left. He’s a guy who loves to go right. Once we forced him left and kind of cut him off, I knew he had to come back to his right hand. That’s something I would have done. Just being in the right place at the right time, trying to mess up his timing more than anything and the ball was right there for me.”
Perhaps his mind has more flash now, but for this night anyway, and a vital one for the Bulls, the wily old veteran had it over the talented kid.
The victory gave the Bulls a 22-23 record as the Kings fell to 16-27. More importantly for the Bulls, it was a spirited, energetic and committed effort after one of their poorest games of the season, the blowout loss Friday in Atlanta. Wade was so chagrined afterward that he posted a Twitter message apologizing for the team’s play.
So how special was that to put yourself out there and then deliver?
He’s not great as often anymore, but that truly is great stuff.
“In Atlanta, we had a lot of Chicago Bulls fans. Obviously, I am blessed to have a lot of Wade fans. I just apologized for our effort,” said Wade. “We are not going to win every game, and we are not going to play amazing every game. But the way that we came out, the way that we played the game, it wasn’t good for our fan base. So I just wanted to personally apologize, and then once you do that you have to back it up.”
That was the exceptional part, taking the blame even as it was deserved in many places, and then having perhaps your best game of the season. Jimmy Butler had 23 points, Paul Zipser moving into the sixth man role first off the bench had 13 points and Nikola Mirotic had 11 points. Cristiano Felicio had a game high 10 rebounds while Lopez had nine points and eight rebounds.
But this was vintage Wade stuff with 13 of the team’s 27 fourth quarter points, seven of nine fourth quarter free throws, three steals (and should have been four), a block on an Arron Afflalo corner three with the Bulls trailing 89-88 that led to a Kings miss. Butler then followed that possession with a three-pointer to keep the Kings from pulling away with 4:13 left. Wade shot three of six in the fourth quarter; the rest of the team was five of 18.
The Bulls might have been whistling a different tune if they didn’t get this one, in danger of falling into the Eastern Conference abyss with five losses in the last seven games coming in and that indifferent effort in Atlanta. So maybe Wade can play in the second of the back to backs.
It was a different Bulls team to start, moving the ball, sharing, pushing ahead without walking out of the backcourt; you know, basketball stuff.
“I think we had 15 assists on 20 field goals in that first half,” noted Hoiberg. “Really liked the movement, the unselfishness. We talked about going out and making those unselfish plays for your teammates, whether that was cutting, screening, hitting somebody. You may not get the rebound, but there is a cause and effect to everything. If you cut hard, you screen, it may not be for you but you open up something for your teammate. We talked about that and I thought it carried over to this game.”
The Bulls also had a 19-8 edge in fast break points and 19-4 on second chance points. They even were a not horrible six-of-17 on threes.
Finally, stuff from practice into the game.
The Bulls led 24-21 after one quarter and 55-52 at halftime. It was better, but it wasn’t going to be easy the way Cousins can score. Wade with a team high 13 points at halftime was an encouraging sign. He’d sat out two of the prior six games and had a total of 21 points on 10 of 31 shooting the last two games. He seemed to have little lift. It was Christmas Day the last time he shot at least 50 percent in a game. But he was five of 10 at halftime and running the court and pushing the ball ahead. Still, it was a see saw game with what would be 17 ties and 15 lead changes, five ties and three lead changes in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls led 75-73 after three quarters, the Bulls closing the quarter with Wade on the same possession blocking Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson. Wade turned 35 last week, but the legs hadn’t left him yet.
The fourth quarter was a classic of exceptional plays, especially the last five minutes. Yeah, yeah, I know, in the NBA just watch the last five minutes. No, there was plenty of great stuff throughout, but the NBA is talking about some sort of streaming package—whatever that is—of the last five minutes of games. This one was a season’s worth.
Cousins had his share of plays, the more amazing given his seven-foot size and soft touch. Though Lopez had a crucial put back score with 36.8 seconds left to tie the game at 99 with Cousins doing the same as I was on that play, watching with my hands by my side. Zipser made the other big play in that possession with the offensive rebound of the Gibson miss, Lopez following the Butler driving miss with the score.
Just before that Cousins had put the Kings ahead with an impressive driving bank shot as he beat Gibson, whose jersey was clearly held by Temple to keep Gibson from getting in front of Cousins. OK, just saying.
And just before those back to back Cousins threes, Wade and Butler converged on Lawson, Wade wrestling the ball away and Butler streaking ahead. Cousins came from behind strong. Foul? Wade running behind thought, maybe. Wade then tipped the ball back in and was fouled for a three-point play with 3:08 left for a 95-94 Bulls lead.
It was big play after big play, back and forth, on the defensive and offensive ends, the Bulls, as we’ve seen before, playing best when the urgency and demands are more, when they whiff of failure is about to overcome them.