Finding a way with star’s strong will
MIAMI — There is no secret strategy. Either you double-team Dwyane Wade or you just pray he misses.
The 6-foot-4-inch guard must be played for the drive; there is no other alternative. He goes to the hoop as well as anyone in the game.
He had a chance to win Friday night’s Game 3 and missed a makeable shot. But yesterday afternoon, with the season on the line and his team trailing by 6 points as it entered the fourth quarter, he made four big shots in the first 2:47, changing the game and creating the momentum for a 101-92 Miami victory that sends this series back to Boston for Game 5 tomorrow night.
The word “superstar’’ is so often misused, abused, and misconstrued. Well, hear this: Dwyane Wade is a superstar. In seven games against the Celtics this season, he has had 27, 44, 30, 26, 29, 34, and now 46 points.
The only viable “strategy’’ they have against him is to get the ball out of his hands, and this is something they could not accomplish when it most mattered yesterday.
It was all going Boston’s way as the fourth quarter began. Long forgotten was an 18-point (42-24) second-quarter deficit. Far fresher in the Celtics’ minds was a 34-point third quarter full of pyrotechnics that gave them a 77-71 advantage. One could taste the first Celtics four-game sweep since Larry Bird blew away the Bucks with that memorable fourth-quarter, 3-point demonstration in Game 4 on an afternoon in Milwaukee 24 years ago.
But Wade was having none of that. “I was just thinking I was going to be aggressive, very aggressive,’’ he said. “I was shooting all those shots, no matter what was going to happen. I just wanted to will my team to the victory.’’
It was Miami’s ball to start the fourth, and he immediately drilled an 18-footer. “I came off a curl and hit a jumper, and I said I was gonna shoot some more,’’ he explained.
He wasn’t kidding. Before three minutes had gone off the clock, he would hit three consecutive 3-pointers, all straightaway, to key a 14-3 blitzkrieg. Mario Chalmers also stuck a three to augment the bombardment.
Wade added a fourth 3-pointer midway through the period, finishing with 19 fourth-quarter points, and although the Celtics still had opportunities — Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett missed an inexplicable five of six free throws in the final 2:36 — the turning point had been Wade’s virtuoso performance, which had not only put needed points on the board but which, as you can well imagine, also got the AmericanAirlines Arena crowd of 19,520 back into the game.
He finished 16 for 24 from the floor, including 5 for 7 on threes. In a playoff game, that was certifiable superstar stuff.
“I finally had a good shooting day, the way I wanted to,’’ Wade said.
“Night in, night out, he’s known for driving,’’ said Paul Pierce. “But when he’s hitting that 3-point shot, he’s tough to guard.’’
“There’s not a lot you can do when he’s playing that way,’’ agreed Garnett.
Wade’s very presence was the reason Doc Rivers wasn’t getting cocky about that 77-71 lead entering the final period.
“I wasn’t comfortable unless they were going to take Wade out,’’ Rivers said. “I was hoping [Miami coach] Erik [Spoelstra] would sub him.’’
(Now, if the foe had been the Lakers, Doc’s wish would probably have been granted. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Phil Jackson has Kobe Bryant resting on the bench at the start of the fourth quarter.)
These are anxious days in Miami. Wade’s contract is about to be up, and the nervous fans came to this game wondering if this might be the final time they would see him in a Miami uniform. I think we can safely say that if he were to leave, that would make Spoelstra very sad.
“We do not take Dwyane for granted, that greatness,’’ confirmed the youthful-looking mentor. “He has another gear and depth to go into his soul to be able to really dig it out and really carry the team on his back. When he plays like that, we believe.
“We saw that in Games 3, 4, and 5 in ’06 [when Miami won the championship]. When his back’s against the wall, he has utter defiance.’’
When last seen on Friday evening, Wade was being helped off the court in the final 12 seconds because of an ailing calf. He made a nice recovery.
“Lots of massage and ice,’’ he explained. “And lots of rest. Just resting. I got my mind off basketball.’’
His mind was back on basketball yesterday, all right. He wasn’t looking at the series as if it were 3-0, or 0-3. He was only thinking there was a game to play yesterday afternoon.
“I know a lot of people expected us to roll over and just give them the series because they were up, 3-0,’’ Wade said. “That weighed heavily on my mind. We’re just not ready for the summer yet. We’ve got a fight ahead of us in Game 5, but they have a fight ahead of them as well.’’
If he’s planning on flying to Boston with the rest of them, then, yes, it will be a fight.