BOSTON – Dwyane Wade had barely crossed halfcourt when Udonis Haslem streaked past him and all the way behind the defense. Wade tossed the ball toward the rim, and Haslem grabbed it and dunked, hanging on the rim an extra beat.
The Celtics called timeout, on their way to a 14-point deficit midway through the first half. Haslem would make his first six shots in the first quarter to go with four rebounds, two assists and two blocks in the period. Wade would lead the Heat in scoring.
The once the franchise’s most-dependable duo, Wade and Haslem were back in action, excelling together.
In three of the five seasons between 2005-06 and 2009-10, Wade and Haslem finished 1-2 on the Heat in win shares.* And in the other two years, Haslem came within a tenth of a win share of second place.**
*Shaquille O’Neal was definitely one of the Heat’s two best players in 2005-06, but he missed 23 games to Haslem’s one. As they say, the most important ability is availability.
**James Posey Haslem him 2006-07, and Chris Quinn edged him in 2007-08.
But besides 67 seconds two weeks ago – due only to a teammate’s foul trouble – Wade and Haslem hadn’t played together in Miami’s previous 27 games. Until tonight, Haslem’s first start since the Heat’s sixth game of the season.
“It was just like old times,” Wade said.
A bit too much, actually.
Of course, Haslem’s role has shrunk since Miami signed LeBron James and moved toward dynasty status. With LeBron out due to back spasms tonight, the Heat returned to their unsteady ways in a 101-96 loss to Boston.
This is Miami’s ninth loss to a team that currently has losing record, the most such losses among any of the NBA’s top 10 teams.
“That’s not good,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said with genuine-sounding concern. “That’s not good. We have to do better.”
Maybe tonight’s loss was an anomaly, though.
Not only was LeBron out with what seems like a relatively minor injury, Wade left the game with a nosebleed not caused by contact. He returned with a roll of cotton sticking out of his nostril and a noticeable uncomfortableness on the court.
“I didn’t feel right the whole time I was out there,” Wade said. “…I feel like a boxer. It wouldn’t stop.”
Wade led the Heat with 17 points. But unlike LeBron, who has averaged 37.0 points and scored at least 27 in the nine games Wade has missed since New Year’s, Wade hasn’t found his groove without LeBron.
Then again, does that really matter? If the Heat lose LeBron in the playoffs, they’re in deep trouble, anyway. And anything in between is becoming increasingly irrelevant.
The Heat still trail the Pacers, who lost to the Knicks tonight, by three games with 16 contests left for Miami and 14 for Indiana. It’s getting late to grab the No. 1 seed.
At this point in the season, the Heat should be focused on readying themselves for the playoffs – resting players like LeBron and dusting the cobwebs off players like Haslem.
Haslem played 27 minutes tonight – more than he’d played in Miami’s previous 20 games combined. He lost steam as the game progressed, finishing with 14 points and five rebounds, but this experience could serve him well if he’s called upon in the postseason. In the long run, it probably won’t matter the Heat lost tonight in Boston. It might matter whether Haslem found a rhythm he can carry into May and June.
“He’s been terrific. He’s been giving us incredible bottled-up energy and toughness. That’s what this group needs,” Spoelstra said. “We just didn’t do enough tonight to get the job done.”
That might just depend what the job is.