The Miami Heat has been called LeBron James’ team and Pat Riley’s grand creation. The Heat has been called a coalition of mercenaries, a “Hollywood as hell” superstar trio in a city not renowned for its subtlety.
But from the beginning, the Heat was Dwyane Wade’s brainchild. He conceived the Big 3, coaxed it into existence and steered it through doubt and derision. When James shrunk and Chris Bosh fainted, Wade was steadfast.
In the first NBA Finals Game 7 of his career, Wade saved the best for the last game of an endless season. Wade survived a rocky playoffs performance to emerge with proof that he is not flotsam after all.
His vision of a dynasty in Miami became clearer with another conquering triumph Thursday, as the Heat outlasted the San Antonio Spurs 95-88. That’s two championships in a row in three straight Finals appearances for the Big 3 of Wade, James and Bosh.
But it was also affirmation of Wade’s enduring greatness. He was here for the Heat’s first title in 2006 when he led a different cast and he was a different player.
On a sticky summer night of raw nerves and high drama, the new old Wade made sure his team would not be humbled on its home court. He was not gaudily magnificent in this rare spectacle of a Game 7. He left that to James, who scored 37 points, and Shane Battier, who rediscovered his three-point stroke and nailed six of them.
Wade was, instead, intensely opportunistic. He was the glue. Instead of soaring, he darted. Instead of overpowering, he nudged. He finished with 23 points on 11-for-21 shooting, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
When Manu Ginobili missed a three-pointer with 19 seconds left, Wade snagged the rebound and denied the Spurs their last chance to overcome a six-point deficit. He was fouled by Green. Heat players knew that the golden trophy was theirs, and they paused for quick hugs before Wade went to the free throw line and scored the final point of the Heat’s eight-month, 106-game marathon.
Relief, then delirium.
“This is the sweetest one by far because of everything we’ve been through, everything I’ve been through,” Wade said, joking that he’d like to be addressed as Three, not Dwyane. He sat outside the locker room for a few quiet moments before entering into champagne bedlam. “We go through life so fast and we never really get to enjoy moments. The championships that I’ve won seemed like they went past me so fast. I just wanted to soak it in, being a kid from Robbins, Ill., and now having three championships.”
It was a cathartic victory for the Heat, the team most of the nation loves to hate. It was a poignant loss for the Spurs, whose aging Big 3 was attempting to win its fourth title, and a fifth for Tim Duncan and Coach Gregg Popovich, who had not previously lost in the Finals.
The Heat slammed the Spurs’ window shut while sustaining a dream of making their own version of NBA history. Wade, 31, played like he intends to see it fulfilled.
As the fourth quarter opened with the Heat clinging to a 72-71 lead, Wade yanked down a rebound, then blocked Green’s shot from behind.
He skidded on the floor to save a loose ball and came up limping on his creaky knees, but was able to give the Heat six points of breathing room with a clever 18-foot hesitation jumper.