Dwyane Wade has had seven dunks in the past two games of the NBA Finals. Some of them are malicious, in traffic, over defending Dallas Mavericks. Others are breakaway forays of grace and power, ahead of the pack.
Still the most dynamic player on this team of supreme talent, Wade scored 65 points in Games 2 and 3 of an NBA Finals duel between him and Dirk Nowitzki, whose last-second fallaway caromed off the back rim Sunday night in Dallas.
LeBron James may indeed emerge as the most recognizable athlete in North America if he wins his first championship with the Miami Heat. But the Finals MVP at the moment would go to Wade, who is the reason why the Heat are two victories from their first championship since 2006.
Back then, Miami’s offense worked like this: Wade or bust. Shaquille O’Neal was a very good battery mate at 34, and an aging Alonzo Mourning had a tremendous series against Dallas in the Finals to finally win the championship he had longed for his entire career.
But Wade’s emergence as the best closeout player in the game, pushing Kobe Bryant aside at the time, was complete by the time Miami had rebounded from losing the first two games five years ago.
This Wade reminds me of that Wade.
And in some ways, it’s even more impressive because he has had to defer to LeBron and Chris Bosh at times. Remember, they came to his team; he didn’t come to theirs.
“Everybody looks at what he did in 2006 as the signature moment of his career, but what he did the past two years with a really limited group is just as amazing to me,” said Jeff Van Gundy, the former coach and now an ESPN analyst. “He and [Coach] Erik Spoelstra carried the Heat, getting 43 and 47 wins out of that group. They didn’t let things slide, so in that way, it’s easy for LeBron James and Chris Bosh to come to a team that’s not at the bottom of the barrel.
“Sure, that four-game run he single-handedly led the Heat to a title. But his greatest accomplishment in my mind was keeping the franchise afloat the past couple of years.”
The criticism of LeBron’s lackluster fourth quarters in the finals is misplaced, isn’t it? The reason he left Cleveland was because he yearned for a player or two to help him down the stretch of a tight playoff game, and Wade has suddenly become that guy again.
“I teased LeBron a little bit about getting his first Finals win, but really my job is to get him his first” NBA championship, Wade said.
In three games, only Nowitzki’s phenomenal clutch play at the end of Games 2 and 3 compares. Wade is averaging 29 points, almost nine rebounds and five assists per game, looking much like the player who averaged nearly 35 points and eight rebounds a game in 2006.
Whether blocking a shot or shaking Jason Kidd off the dribble and rising for a crucial jumpshot late in the fourth quarter Sunday night, Wade has brought all his assets to bear.
In hindsight, James and Bosh should have just deferred to Wade when they got there. If there wasn’t this over-thinking when it came to sharing the ball at the end of the game, the Heat’s prior 1-for-19 struggles late in close games never would have happened.
LeBron and Bosh and everyone on the roster would have given the ball to the player most likely to make that shot or get to the line. Wade would have been bailout option No. 1, just as he was in 2006 and just as he was in 2008 in Beijing. In fact, if he doesn’t make some of the shots at the end of the gold-medal game against Spain, shots that neither Kobe nor LeBron were making or taking, the United States doesn’t come home with the gold.
“You know what I like about him? He’s just an old-fashioned player,” Bruce Bowen, the former Spurs guard, said. “What I mean by that is, Dwyane Wade doesn’t have a specialty like so many guys today. Players are chosen and traded for now for their ability to make three-point shots or just grab rebounds or eat up fouls or to guard someone — even if they don’t have another viable skill.
“But he’s just a great basketball player who can do everything. Shoot. Defend. Rebound. Run the court. Make a big shot. Hit his free throws. How many guys like that are left in the game today? Back in the day, players could do a little bit of everything. Wade and maybe 10 other players are like that now. That’s what I love about his game.”
He needed James and Bosh to win another championship. But here’s the truth: They needed him more than he needed them.