Celtics-Heat Game 7 Preview: The disturbing mystery of Dwyane Wade

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Dwyane Wade has not been good. No superstar has struggled more in the Conference Finals than Wade, which is bizarre considering his matchups. Wade’s facing Ray Allen, who is better, but not completely back from bone spurs. He should be eating him alive. But the Celtics’ help defense has been brutal in cutting off Wade’s angles. Wade’s still shooting 44 percent vs. the C’s, and 70 percent at the rim, but he’s had a difficult time getting his game in gear.

For Wade, Game 7 Saturday night is a referendum on his legacy. Last year’s playoff run was ultimately about LeBron James and LeBron James only. And while James will suffer a heaping dose of scrutiny should the Heat go down the tubes in Game 7, there’s been a rising trend of questions about how Dwyane Wade isn’t helping matters. He’s been off, and worse, his effort has been questioned, as he spends his time complaining about no-calls instead of getting back on defense.

Should the Heat go down in flames (GET IT, BECAUSE THEY’RE THE HEAT?), Wade’s facing a drastic re-evaluation of his career. You’re already seeing it. “Well, Shaq was really why they won the title!” (despite the fact that O’Neal was in full-on gentle-slide-to-retirement mode already and Wade accounted for about a billion percent of their offense. “The league had a down year that season!” (despite Wade having gone through the Mavericks in their second best team assembled). Wade’s facing a pretty explosive dose of revisionist history if the Heat don’t win the title, especially by losing in this Game 7.

Wade’s always been fearless. That’s who he is. But he’s let the officiating’s interpretation of the Celtics’ physicality get the best of him. LeBron James didn’t complain to the officials in Game 6. He took over. That’s what Wade has to do. He may not be able to at this point thanks to his knee not being in good enough shape. He may not be able to due to age, injury, or the Celtics’ defense. But Paul Pierce is proof you don’t have to play well consistently in this series to have a huge impact. He’s got to play smart, and he’s got to play hard. The Heat can’t spare a man. It’s all hands on deck.

Wade can get past Allen. The problem has been his inability to draw contact on the drive or to hit the pull-up jumper. He’s rushing shots and many of them, he’s just missing. He’s tried angling for some threes, and that’s a bad plan, Wade’s never been a good perimeter shooter. Wade needs to work his way to the middle of the floor. That’s where the Celtics are driving him away from, but it’s his best chance to attack. The Celtics don’t want him there because he’s great there, and the Celtics are weak there. But Allen and Rondo are overplaying to that side, and help defense is coming from the wing to attack the dribble.

But forget X’s and O’s. This is about legacy. This is Dwyane Wade’s moment to validate his career and answer the questions about whether he’s already past his prime. This is Game 7, and it’s time to find out who Dwyane Wade is.