In a flash, Wade turned up Heat
MIAMI — Nearly as important as the Heat defeating the Celtics yesterday at AmericanAirlines Arena was Dwyane Wade’s quest to regain his confidence against a team that controlled him during the regular season.
Wade produced just 16 field goals in four games against the Celtics, including three losses. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Wade regained his touch with 14 field goals and 38 points in Miami’s 99-90 win.
The Celtics attacked Wade during the regular season, forcing him to make twists, turns, and spins to get baskets. While Wade is an acrobatic scorer, he appeared bothered and erratic with two and three defenders chasing him.
So he tried a simplistic approach to get back on track yesterday. He drained a 20-footer for Miami’s first points and then sank a 16-foot step-back jumper 29 seconds later. Wade picked up offensive momentum by refusing to exhaust himself in his effort to score.
And when he began feeling comfortable, he then turned into “Flash’’ and ripped apart Boston’s tentative defense for 23 first-half points and a 15-point lead at intermission. Miami never trailed again.
Wade is unquestionably a brilliant offensive player, so he was staggered by the 12.8 points per game he produced in the regular season against Boston. That’s 13 points below his average. He shot 28 percent in those games.
In comparison, Wade’s offensive numbers were stellar against Washington, New York, and Cleveland. In other words, he tore through bad defenses, but the Celtics had discovered a formula to contain him and that served as Wade’s motivation for this series.
Wade sought to return to vintage form and he could not have picked a more perfect time because the Celtics were determined to prevent the Heat from dominating the paint.
Miami won by making perimeter jumpers. James Jones canned 5 of 7 3-pointers. Wade added two and even LeBron James drained a rushed 3-ball to beat the shot clock. With the middle plugged, the Heat desperately needed Wade to hit his shots — and he obliged, canning 14 of 21 field goals.
“I studied the film and I understood how Boston would defend me,’’ he said. “I’m the kind of player, I’m always going to find a way. I just gotta make the shots and [yesterday], I made the shots. The other games I didn’t make those shots I made [yesterday]. I stayed aggressive.’’
And that aggression allowed the Heat to seize the momentum at key junctures.
After Wade blocked a Delonte West dunk with 15.9 seconds left in the first half, he took a lead pass from Mike Miller, waved off coach Erik Spoelstra’s attempt to call a 20-second timeout, drove hard left, and made a difficult bank shot with three defenders draped over him with .5 seconds left.
It was a sparkling afternoon for Wade, who scored despite having the Celtics’ full attention.
“It’s tough, honestly you are not going to do a lot about [Wade making jumpers],’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought a lot of them were contested and tough shots. When he makes them, he makes them. That’s why he is the second-greatest player to ever come out of Marquette.’’
And when Rivers was asked what the Celtics will do differently for Game 2 against Wade, the Marquette alum said, “Not a thing.’’
Celtics guard Ray Allen, who spent most of the game chasing Wade, disagreed with his coach. He said Wade was allowed to get into a rhythm because he hit shots against a defense that wasn’t precise.
“He scored within the confines of what they were doing,’’ Allen said. “They got him into transition, he rolled to the basket, he got easy layups early and he was getting stuff in the flow. I think early in the game he got those easy buckets that we talk about not allowing him to have. There were some defensive breakdowns, but you have to give him credit.’’
The Celtics are hoping their inconsistent defense didn’t awake a sleeping All-Star for the series. They couldn’t possibly rely on Wade struggling the entire series, but a 38-point game on 21 shots is a disturbing sign. The Celtics have to account for Wade at the beginning and end of games because he’s a better starter and finisher than James.
“I think I just read the defense. After that I was able to see things a little differently,’’ Wade said. “I think I played the game that I’ve been normally playing. I think I just hit more shots . . . As LeBron said, that’s the reason why we are playing together. Because you have other guys who are attack guys and they can carry a load for a while.’’
Wade completed his stellar effort by diving into the stands for a Mario Chalmers pass that eluded him with 1:41 left in the game and the Heat leading, 96-86. It was insignificant in terms of the outcome, but Wade’s effort was an example of Miami’s desire to finish its mission.
“Dwyane Wade is a special player, he really is,’’ Spoelstra said. “I’ve said this so many times, he just figures it out. He is very diligent. He has proven so many times during the playoffs that when the defense is at its base, he figures it out and finds a way to crack the code.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.