Dwyane Wade’s right knee – battered, bruised and carefully bandaged – has been the most talked-about body part on local sports talk radio since Heat fan Filomena Tobias flipped her middle finger at Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah a few weeks ago.
Though Wade had a full week to rest his banged-up knee, Heat fans wondered how the joint would hold up against the Indiana Pacers’ smash-mouth style heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night.
Answer: Well enough that Wade was right in the thick of things in many of the most critical moments of the Heat’s thrilling 103-102 overtime win.
Last year, Wade scored 29 points against the Pacers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And he only got hotter as the series wore on, averaging 33 points on 61.5 percent shooting with seven rebounds per game in the final three games of the series.
That explosiveness was missing Wednesday night, as it has been throughout this post-season. Heading into the game, Wade was averaging 13 points and shooting 45.3 percent from the field in the post-season, compared with a career-high 52 percent shooting for 21.2 points per game during the regular season.
He is having his lowest offensive output in the playoffs in a decade, but he is still proving hugely effective on both ends of the floor.
At halftime Wednesday, he had played nearly 19 minutes, more than anyone on the Miami roster. He scored just six first-half points, but grabbed a team-high four rebounds (three on the offensive end), dished out three assists and had a block all before intermission.
By the end of the night, Wade had played 40-plus minutes and scored 19 points with six rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block. Wade made four clutch baskets in the final eight minutes of regulation.
With 2:30 remaining, Wade made a layup to give the Heat an 87-84 lead. Then, with the score tied 89-89, Wade did an impersonation of his old self, weaving through traffic like a sport motorbike on I-95, for a layup that put Miami up 91-89 with 42 seconds to go.
Trailing 96-94 in overtime, Wade found the ball in his hands again, and once again, came up big. LeBron James heaved him a long pass, and Wade went straight to the rim to tie it up 96-96 with 2:24 to go.
Wade’s most “unfortunate’’ play of the game was fouling Paul George on a 3-point shot with 2.2 seconds left in overtime. Wade fouled out on the play.
George hit all three free throws to put the Pacers ahead 102-101 before James saved the night for the Heat with the buzzer-beating layup. . “That was unfortunate, but you’re sitting there and you can’t really do much,’’ Wade said. “The only think I could do was walk up to LB at the timeout and say, `Hey, go win it.’ I was very excited afterwards. I almost jumped in his arms.’’
Wade proved, once again, that healthy knee or not, he is going to be a huge factor in this series.
“He’s a battler, he’s a warrior, he’ll fight through it, and he never makes excuses for anything and he’s giving us everything he’s got and he’s giving us minutes that help us win — that’s the bottom line,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade during the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Bulls.
The words still rang true on Wednesday.
“I know everyone’s looking at how many shots he’s getting up and how many points he can score. He’s at a point where he knows every series is different, every game is different and the whole point is help us win and he’s doing that. Is he coming in there and creating 30 a night? No, but he’s creating a lot of good things for us.’’