- Heat vs. Pacers: Series hub
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — One game doesn’t make a legacy.
One play, one moment, in one game, in one season does not make or break a career.
So why does it feel like there is so much riding on Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals for Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade? The growing mob of skeptics is writing him off as too old and battered to rebound from the struggles that have plagued him throughout this postseason and this series in particular. They’re ready to stick a fork in him and declare what had been the “Big 3″ the “Big 1 and 3/4.”
Sure, there is much riding on this game for the other stars involved — LeBron James and Chris Bosh from the Heat and the Indiana Pacers’ trio of Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West. The coaches, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Indiana’s Frank Vogel — and their respective franchises — have much on the line as well.
It goes deeper than that, however, for Wade. This game is about his legacy and whether or not he can bandage that busted right knee of his up tight enough to dial-up a throwback performance and help carry the Heat to victory on Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena (8:30 ET, TNT).
Does he have the energy and intestinal fortitude to play through whatever pain he’s in and give the Heat more than the pedestrian (at least by Wade’s own lofty standards) 14.5 points on 44 percent shooting, 4.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds he’s delivering through the first six games? Can the Heat still “Call Tyrone” (Wade’s middle name) or do they need to look elsewhere for salvation, not to mention help for LeBron, in one of the biggest games of the Heat Big 3’s run together?
Wade says he and Bosh need bigger roles to help the Heat advance. They need more touches. And they need someone, presumably LeBron (even though he didn’t mention him by name in his locker room comments after Game 6), to facilitate this process since neither one of them has been able to do it on his own.
“We’ve got to do a good job of making sure me and Chris have our opportunities to succeed throughout the game,” Wade said. “That’s something we’re going to have to look at as a team.”
We’ve got guys individually who want to play better,” Wade said. “But we’ve got to try to help each other out in this locker room and not leave it up to the individual to self-will it.”
It’s hard to tell if that’s a plea for help or just a proud man stating the obvious. The Pacers have clamped down on anyone in a Heat jersey not named James. That’s why we have a Game 7, which is the ultimate proving ground for Wade and Bosh.
For the folks fortunate enough to make it through a conference finals Game 7, it changes lives in some instances. For superstar and future Hall of Famers like Wade, one championship secures your place in history. Two makes you a living legend. Three puts you in that rarefied air that only a select few occupy.
This stage is that great. Wade knows because he’s been here before. The reward carries a world of opportunities with it, a bevy of exposure that would not otherwise be available. Wade knows this better than most, having thrived in the Game 7 spotlight as early as his rookie season with the Heat back during the 2004 playoffs.
It was his star turn during the first round against New Orleans, back when Wade operated as the Heat’s point guard and wasn’t wearing all of the aches and pains that a decade’s worth of superstar work in this league that he does now.
Wade’s career record in Game 7s is 2-2, with each of those four games serving as defining moments throughout his career.
- The Heat fought off the Baron Davis-led New Orleans Hornets in a Game 7 win in the first round of the 2004 playoffs, thanks to Wade’s 12 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals in that 85-77 win. Wade was in the midst of a coming-out party, of sorts, showing up on the big stage while the other members of his star-studded Draft class — James, Carmelo Anthony and Bosh among them — watched from home.
- He experienced the flip side of that joy in a Game 7 loss to the Detroit Pistons in the 2005 conference finals. Wade finished with 20 points and four assists, but went 0-for-6 in the fourth quarter with two turnovers as the Heat couldn’t hold on to a six-point lead late in the Pistons’ 88-82 win.
- Wade’s 31 points in a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2009 playoffs is deceiving in hindsight. He was just 10-for-25 in that 91-78 beat down, a game that no doubt helped the Heat reach the obvious conclusion if they were going to get back in the championship business, Wade needed better help. James and Bosh joined the party after that next summer.
- Wade’s most recent Game 7 effort (23 points, six rebounds and six assists) in last June’s 101-88 win over the Boston Celtics was overshadowed by LeBron’s 31-point, 12-rebound effort and vanquishing of his longtime playoff nemesis en route to winning the first title of his career.
It probably seems a bit harsh for a player who is clearly struggling with an injury, but Monday night’s Game 7 could be one of the last of Wade’s career with him in a (super)starring role. The beating his body has taken over the years makes that a very real possibility. He’s younger than guys like Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, but in a similar predicament at this stage of his career. Like those elder stars, he carried a big load before finding playoff success (first with Shaquille O’Neal) and after that mini-run ended, carried the burden again before James and Bosh arrived.
That said, Wade has a way of surprising us when we doubt him, when things appear to be at their worst. So you’d be a fool to assume that he’ll do anything other than summon whatever raw energy it takes to be effective, to play like the man we used to call “Flash.”
Surely, he won’t go out with another 3-for-11 shooting performance and that measly 10 points he produced in Game 6 … that’s just not his profile or the Game 7 legacy you expect one of the league’s all-time great players to leave with us over what will be an extremely long summer for the Heat if they can’t hold off the Pacers.
One game doesn’t make a legacy.
But for every play and every moment in this one Game 7, Wade needs to act as if it does.
His career doesn’t depend on it. The Heat’s season, however, and perhaps this entire Big 3 experience, probably does.
And that’s a pressure far greater than anything the Pacers will bring Monday night.