After the Heat lost Game 6 to the Pacers in Indiana, Dwyane Wade came out and said that both he and Chris Bosh would need more touches offensively if the team was going to be successful.
That was Miami’s formula for the majority of the season, of course, but the two members of the Heat’s Big Three not named LeBron James hadn’t really earned it through six games of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Wade has been bothered by a lingering knee injury that’s been clearly limiting, and he hasn’t looked to be anywhere near himself physically. He’s been slow to react, while playing without the speed and lift we’re used to seeing. Yet his team heeded his advice in Game 7, and Wade delivered in a big way with 21 points and nine rebounds to help his team get back to the Finals.
Obviously, Wade felt better physically in order to turn in this type of performance. There was a play during the first quarter, when he grabbed a steal and went the length of the floor before dropping a Euro-step move on Lance Stephenson and finishing with the slam that he wouldn’t have been able to make earlier in the series.
But besides the amount of athleticism Wade was able to summon in this one, an adjustment the team made defensively seemed to be just as important in Wade’s offensive success.
LeBron James took the assignment of guarding Paul George, which was Wade’s through the first six games of the series. Not only did James shut down the Pacers’ All-Star, but it freed up Wade and allowed him to use his energy on the offensive end of the floor instead.
“Well, I mean, any little pressure I could take off D‑Wade I wanted to do that, especially in tonight’s game,” James said. “I told him we kind of talked about it this morning, about the match‑ups coming out. I told him I would take Paul George. I want to allow him to focus on his offense, not have to worry about stopping Paul George every possession and allow him to get out in transition, allow him to get out in transition, allow him to make a couple of cuts and get to the line. I think that was huge for him.”
It certainly seemed to be. But it also didn’t hurt that the Heat were looking to get Wade involved in the offense from the very start, just as he had requested.
“The first play of the game I called a play for D‑Wade,” James said. “Even though he didn’t shoot the ball, he got a good touch in the paint. Just to make him feel like he was a part of the offense, make him feel in a good rhythm. I called a couple of sets for him early in the game, just to get a feel for it. And it showed throughout the whole game that he was in the rhythm. He started to make lay‑ups, he started to attack, he started to make his free throws. So it was big time.”
The change in defensive assignments and looking to Wade to produce early were important in his getting involved and being able to contribute from the jump. But as for him stepping up and somehow being able to get right physically when he’s struggled to do so the entire series, that’s something uniquely special to Wade as an individual, according to Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.
“Dwyane just ‑‑ you know, he just found a way to dig deep,” Spoelstra said. “We all know what he’s dealing with right now. He knew this was a moment that we had to have, and somehow he was able just to will that game, despite what he’s going through.”
Wade talked about his struggles battling injury afterward, and said he’ll continue to do whatever it takes in order to be on the floor to help his team win another title.
“I’m going to play through pain because this is my job,” Wade said. “My team depends on me. Like I said a couple of series ago, I would love to be one of the players who never has to deal with these conversations, never have to deal with these injuries. But that’s not my path. I’ve been through so much away from the game and in the game that I’ll find a way. I’ll figure it out. Some way, somehow, you give me enough time, I’ll figure it out. That’s what I was able to do tonight.
“There will be some moments next series where I won’t be looking so great,” he added. “I’m sure there will be some great headlines out there about myself. I’ll continue pushing. I’ll continue to try to do what I can to help the Miami Heat win another championship.”