Dwyane Wade couldn’t help himself. He had to laugh.
Asked Wednesday how he felt athletically now compared to when he won the NBA championship in 2006, the Heat’s shooting guard let out a chuckle.
“I was 24,” Wade said. “Totally different. Six years ago, man. I’m not that athletic, I’ll tell you that, as I was in ’06.”
Hard to believe, but Dwyane Wade is the oldest superstar in the NBA Finals. On Tuesday, it showed. At times, he struggled to get around perimeter defenders he used to blow past in his glory days. He settled for jump shots. He deferred to LeBron James.
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Nagged by a troublesome left knee, Wade labored through the first three quarters of the Heat’s Game 1 loss here in Oklahoma City. Just like in the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics, Wade turned up his game in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to match the younger and more athletic Thunder.
Wade scored seven points in the fourth quarter and so did James, but those totals didn’t even match the production of Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who had 17 in the game’s final period.
Entering the Finals, the series’ big story line was how James would respond after collapsing against the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. James seems just fine. He scored 30 points in Game 1. Meanwhile, Wade finished with 19 points. And while he contributed in other ways— Wade had eight assists and four rebounds — he was thoroughly outplayed by his counterpart, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
Wade has already passed the symbolic baton of team leader and go-to scorer to James. In the East finals, simply getting out of the way and allowing James to dominate was enough. But the Thunder is a far a more superior offensive team than the Celtics. For all the talk of defensive adjustments, figuring out the Thunder might boil down to one simple truth: Wade needs to score more points. He will get his chance Thursday in Game 2 at Oklahoma City.
“I mean, I want to score more points,” Wade said. “I don’t deal with the pressure of that. That’s when you start thinking too much, too many questions start coming up in your mind, you start overanalyzing things.
“I want to score more points, I want to get my team more to give us an opportunity to win the series.”
So, what’s the plan?
“I’ll be more aggressive,” Wade said.
The Thunder’s young duo of Durant and Westbrook outscored the Heat’s entire team 41-40 in the second half. Want to talk about aggression? Oklahoma City had 24 points in transition. The Heat had four. Oklahoma City had 56 points in the paint. The Heat had 40.
“[Game 1] was not decided by schematics,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It was decided by force. It was decided by will. It was decided by energy.
“Both these teams have that ability. They imposed that on us [Tuesday], and that’s the reality.”
After Game 1, Spoelstra immediately turned his focus to Game 2, saying his team would make the proper adjustments needed to even the series. Finding a way to get Wade involved more offensively is No. 1 on Spoelstra’s list of things to do differently.
“We’ll get him opportunities to attack, and I think he had a couple good opportunities to get into the paint there in the fourth quarter — a couple of them he wasn’t able to convert,” Spoelstra said. “But he was aggressive during the quarter, and so we’ll try to get him in places where he can continue to be aggressive.”
Spoelstra brushed off the idea that Wade might be too fatigued to be the difference maker he once was.
“He’s fine at this point,” Spoelstra said. “And I’ve said this time and time again, no one feels 100 percent. There’s 10 days left. Our guys are ready for this challenge.”
Wade might not be the same player who averaged 34 points in the 2006 Finals. The athleticism is fading, but the desire still burns.
“I still have something in me,” Wade said. “I still have something left in me. I wish it was possible to stay at the same athleticism as I was at 24, but that’s not possible.”