When LeBron James stole the ball, three Pacers were closer to the Indiana basket than Dwyane Wade.
LeBron – arguably the greatest athlete in NBA history – took off in the open court, using his unique blend of speed and power to create space for a layup.
Wade – 32 years old and battling perpetual knee injuries that would make you think he’s 37 – ran just as hard.
It paid off. LeBron missed his shot, and Wade followed with a putback dunk.
“Usually, D Wade don’t even chase me down. He know if it’s a one-on-one matchup with me, most of the time I’m going to score,” LeBron said smiling. “But I was glad that he did.”
That was part of a decisive 10-0 run that propelled the Heat to an 87-83 win over the Pacers in Game 2 Tuesday. LeBron or Wade scored or assisted Miami’s final 33 points, including scoring the final 20 themselves.
“That’s what we want,” Wade said. “We came here, and that’s what we envisioned – having two guys that is able to be dynamic at the same time.”
Neither LeBron nor Wade are playing their best right now, which is precisely why they must lean on each other. The Heat aren’t playing their best either, making them especially reliant on their biggest stars, and there’s only one way LeBron and Wade can meet that dependence – together.
In the final 16 minutes – a full third of the game – LeBron (14 of 22 points) and Wade (10 of 23 points) absolutely dominated. They had to. Here was the production in that span of Miami’s other three starters:
- Chris Bosh: three points, one rebound, one block, one steal
- Mario Chalmers: did not play
- Udonis Haslem: did not play
Erik Spoelstra changed his starting lineup from Game 1, inserting Haslem for Shane Battier, but the the switch didn’t really pay dividends. Haslem proved ineffective against Roy Hibbert and didn’t help enough on the glass. Credit the Heat coach for having the guts to bench Haslem and Chalmers, who didn’t provide the spark Norris Cole did.
Meanwhile, Bosh is not producing while battling Indiana’s behemoths. He has just 18 points on 8-of-21 shooting and eight rebounds in the series.
Chris Andersen came off the bench to grab 12 rebounds and produce a stunning +25 plus-minus in a four-point game, but he’s just one of several Miami role players. the Heat can’t rely on a single one of them on a nightly basis.
As the Heat have aged, their talent gap over the rest of the league has shrunk. The Pacers are absolutely good enough to win this series, and there are several Western Conference teams – including both still playing – capable of beating Miami, too.
That leaves a lot on the plates of LeBron and Wade.
The four-year examination of how LeBron and Wade fit together has been overblown. Let’s get that out of the way. LeBron and Wade are both tremendously skilled and versatile players. They fit with everyone.
But LeBron and Wade aren’t a perfect fit together. There’s give and take with two players used to dominating the ball, and a surprisingly low number of Heat plays this far into their current incarnation use both in key spots simultaneously.
That said, they’re better off together than they would be separately with lesser, better-fitting teammates. Their talent outweighs fit concerns.
LeBron once again played passively early and averaged a touch just once every 44 seconds – narrowly topping a season high set yesterday. His defense was also lacking, even though Paul George shot poorly.
Wade took the ball and also guarded George late, freeing the burden from LeBron. In Game 3, nobody would be shocked to see LeBron help Wade.
LeBron and Wade pick each other up, and despite some unavoidable fit issues, they’re trying to jell even more.
“Obviously, I always know where No. 6 is on the floor,” Wade said. “And he knows where I am on the floor.”
That includes Wade’s putback slam. Wade admitted “99.9 percent of the time,” he’d hang back as LeBron surged in the open court. But Wade was perceptive to a LeBron flaw.
“I actually noticed he didn’t really get the acceleration that he needed,” Wade said. “He took a step, and he didn’t get up. So, that allowed me to just keep following. Normally, he just explodes, and there aren’t many people that can beat him at the top.”
There aren’t many teams that can beat the Heat when LeBron and Wade are at their top levels, but neither is there right now. As long as they keep boosting each other, though, they can get close – and give Miami a chance to win.