It took all of one playoff game for the big question about the Miami Heat to be answered. Dwyane Wade, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the team’s go-to player in the clutch. Period, exclamation mark. The end.
When the game heats up and the ball needs to go to the one player who can handle the pressure, who thrives with the weight of the team on his shoulders, Wade will be the one with the rock in his hands – most likely heading towards the basket at full speed.
The statement could not have been delivered more soundly than it was in the Heat’s Game 1, 97-89 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite being shackled by personal fouls all day long, an inconsistent offensive performance, and watching LeBron James accumulate meaningless rebounding totals with spectator-like interest, when it mattered most, Wade stepped up. He scored the necessary buckets, made the needed plays and took the crown right off James’ head en route to soaking up the postgame glory.
Prince James isn’t in Cleveland anymore, and in South Beach, Wade is King.
After the game, everyone acknowledged what had just happened.
"Wade was going to have the ball," said Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins. "We had planned on that. When Miami took off this year is when they put the ball in Wade's hands. So we were going to have our best on-ball defender on him."
The proverbial switch that all the players -- and teams -- who underperformed in the regular season were supposed to flip on come the first round of the playoffs didn’t appear to work for some. The Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs can testify to that. But Wade, he didn’t have that problem. With confidence that you will only see in the truly premiere NBA talents, Wade’s mentality remained unchanged in spite of his 5-for-12 day.
The Heat had a one point lead with two minutes on the clock, and the Sixers were charging back. The road team smelled blood, and knew that their only shot at stealing a game in this series would be in the first game. They also recognized that despite his NBA Live-like rebounding totals, James didn’t have the killer instinct to put a dagger in their hearts.
Unfortunately, Wade did. Coming off a less-than-perfect pick, Miami’s leader floated to the lane and hit a running bank shot that turned into a three point play. That’s when Philly realized this wasn’t going to be their day. With three more free throws before the game’s conclusion, Wade put the cherry atop a brilliant finish that erased the memory of anything but a stellar close on his part.
And most importantly, he erased the memory of James’ unimpressive day. Sure, 4-for-14 with 21 points and 14 rebounds doesn’t make for much of a story anyway, but because it was produced by James, it would have been. At least it would have been in the pre-Heatles era. But now, what with James becoming an official role player and Robin-like figure, it’s not even breaking news on ESPN -- the channel that has all but legally adopted Miami over the course of the year.
LeBron flounders in a big game. He isn’t particularly clutch. Ho-hum.
Every time he was pressed about who the ball would go to with the game on the line, Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra would provide some sort of politically correct response about it depending on the situation. The truth is, though, nearly half a dozen pathetic clutch showings by James during the regular season answered the question well enough. On Saturday, the team simply re-affirmed it with their actions.
No, the prince wasn’t getting the ball. The NBA Playoffs are grown man festivities. In Miami, that’s recognized as D.Wade time. And anybody who isn’t sold on that fact, well, they can go ask the Dallas Mavericks circa 2006 about just how true it really is.