By Dylan Barmmer
They're here. Again.
And he has helped lead them back here.
The HEAT are about to tipoff their fourth consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals, and franchise face and all-time scoring leader Dwyane Wade remains as valuable and vital as ever to the team's deep and productive playoff runs.
In fact, you could even argue that Wade has never been better than he is now, in his 10th postseason journey. Or at least, he has never been more efficient than he is now, at age 32.
As the stakes have risen for the HEAT during their historic run to a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Wade has steadily improved his production.
And he's done so from top to bottom, all across the board.
Wade averaged 17.5 points, 3.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 33.3 minutes per game in the HEAT's first-round sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats. He shot 49.1 percent from the field and 70.8 percent from the free throw line, scoring 15 or more points in each of the four games.
In the HEAT's five-game series win over the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Wade averaged 18.2 points, 4.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 35.0 minutes per game. He shot 50.7 percent from the field and 85.0 percent from the line, scoring 14 or more points in each of the five games and netting 20 or more twice – including a playoff-high 28 in the closeout game.
In the HEAT's six-game Eastern Conference Finals triumph over the Indiana Pacers, Wade averaged 19.8 points, 4.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 35.5 minutes per game. He shot 54.5 percent from the field and 85.0 percent from the line, scoring 13 or more points in each of the six games and netting 23 or more in each of the series' first three games. Wade was also at his best from behind the three-point arc in that series, connecting on 6-of-13 shots from long-range for a sizzling 46.2-percent clip.
Wade's long-revered defensive prowess was also on full display in the Eastern Conference Finals, as he snared two or more steals in each of the final four games. He also helped hold the Pacers to 93 or fewer points in each of those games, and pulled down 20 rebounds to go with his nine steals during that four-game stretch.
The HEAT have posted an exceptional 12-3 record during their 2014 NBA Playoffs run, and Wade has played a pivotal role in that success. The seasoned and savvy shooting guard has started each of those 15 games, staying on the floor for an average of 34.7 minutes – second only to reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James on the HEAT roster. He's averaged 18.7 points, 4.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.3 blocks, and shot 51.9 percent from the field – including 38.9 percent from behind the three-point arc – and 80.0 percent from the line.
Wade ranks second to only James in scoring, assists and steals this postseason, and is fourth on the HEAT in both rebounds and blocks. Wade's sparkling 51.9-percent field goal percentage is third-best behind only Chris Andersen and James, his 80.0 percent mark from the line ranks fifth, and his 38.9-percent clip from behind the three-point arc is sixth-best on a deep three-point shooting team.
Wade also ranks second to only James in both field goals and free throws attempted and made this postseason, showcasing his seemingly ever-expanding array of offensive moves and shots. From slashing layups and putbacks to lethal midrange bank shots to stepback jumpers to alley-oop dunks, Wade consistently finds ways to create and finish shots, frustrate and deflate defenses and create easy, open opportunities for his teammates. He's even honed and refined the timely three-pointer, using the long-range shot with particularly stunning success in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In short, Wade is doing a bit of everything for the HEAT this postseason. And he's doing it as effectively and efficiently as anybody else on the roster.
Just like always.
Wade opened his 10th playoff run with a bang, scoring 23 points, dishing five assists, grabbing one rebound and snaring one steal in a 99-88 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Easter Sunday. Wade drilled 10-of-16 shots – including 1-of-2 from long-range – and hit 2-of-3 free throws in 34 high-octane minutes to help the HEAT launch their drive for a third consecutive NBA Championship in dominant fashion.
Wade was even more dominant in the HEAT's closeout victory over the Brooklyn Nets in the next round, scoring 28 points – on 10-of-18 shooting from the field and a flawless 8-of-8 from the line – dishing three assists and grabbing two rebounds in 37 minutes as the HEAT posted a 96-94 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Wade then continued to score at a high clip as the HEAT began their Eastern Conference Finals with a rematch against the rival Indiana Pacers. He scored 27, 23 and 23 points as the HEAT took a 2-1 lead over the Pacers, and handed out at least four assists in each of those three games. Wade was especially impressive in the HEAT's pivotal 87-83 road win in Game 2, scoring 23 points, dishing five assists, grabbing five rebounds and snaring one steal as the HEAT roared back from a late deficit to knot the series at 1-1. Wade nailed 10-of-16 shots from the field and 3-of-4 free throws in that game, and scored 10 of his 23 points (on flawless 5-of-5 shooting) in the game-turning fourth quarter.
As the HEAT gear up for a NBA Finals rematch with the veteran, versatile, deep San Antonio Spurs, Wade continues to author new chapters in a compelling, champion-caliber career.
Already a legend in the eyes of HEAT fans, and almost certainly a future NBA Hall of Famer, Wade has now suited up in a HEAT uniform for an incredible 147 playoff games. Wade has started each and every one of those games, averaging 23.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks in 39.0 minutes per game – and shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 77.7 percent from the line over those 147 games.
To put that 147-playoff game total in perspective, consider that it's nearly the equivalent of two full NBA regular seasons. That total is so high in large part due to Wade's ability to carry his team when the games matter most, and his HEAT teams have played at least 13 games or more in seven of his 10 postseason appearances, including 21 or more games four times.
Of course, three of those four extended postseason runs ended in NBA Championships, and for Wade and the HEAT, a fourth title – and third in three years – is now just four playoff wins away.
Wade came up big-time in the 2013 NBA Finals against the Spurs, averaging 19.6 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.3 blocks in 36.6 minutes per game. Wade hit 47.6 percent of his field goals and 77.3 percent of his free throws in that sensational seven-game series, and scored 23 or more points in three of the final four games.
Wade averaged 23.5 points and drilled 41-of-83 (49.4 percent) field goals and 12-of-14 (85.7 percent) free throws over that crucial, final four-game stretch, which saw the HEAT race back from a 3-2 series deficit to hoist the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy once again. He also posted a 25-point, 10-assist game and a 23-point, 10-rebound outing during that run, with the latter helping the HEAT post a 95-88 closeout win in Game 7.
In a pivotal Game 4 HEAT victory, Wade scored 32 points, grabbed six rebounds, snared six steals and dished four assists in a game- and series-turning performance that helped the HEAT post a 109-93 road win and knot the series at 2-2. Had the HEAT lost that game, they would have faced a 3-1 series deficit and extremely long odds of defending their title. Wade simply refused to let that happen, hitting 14-of-25 field goals and single-handedly compiling more steals than the entire Spurs team.
Just what happens in the 2014 Finals remains to be seen, but HEAT fans, teammates and coaches alike all expect equally efficient, versatile and clutch performances from Wade.
After all, it's what he's always done for the HEAT. Especially when the games matter most.