Hold the fort. Right the ship. Those are the phrases Dwyane Wade used at Sunday’s practice. He could have chosen others. Stop the bleeding. Turn the tide.
Whatever cliché Wade chose, everyone knew who needed to lead the effort. This is how it has worked for so many of his 13 seasons for the kid from suburban Chicago, even if it was slightly less required for the four seasons that he shared the stage with LeBron James. He hasn’t always been accurate in crunch time, in what he calls “the moment,” but he has always been assertive.
He was both on Tuesday, assertive and accurate, in Miami’s critical 89-84 victory against the Bulls, a win that stopped a four-game losing streak and the Heat’s slide down the Eastern Conference standings. He was timely too, not just in terms of the game, but in terms of the season.
“We needed it,” Wade said.
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They needed all of his 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists. They needed the slick passes he made to Justise Winslow for a layup, and to Chris Bosh for a jumper. They needed the fallaway jumper he made from the left wing, over the outstretched hand of the switching Pau Gasol, to essentially seal the deal with 22 seconds left.
“We had talked about it, actually, in the timeout,” Wade said. “They were calling switch the majority of the game on that play. I knew they were. I said if they switched, then whoever is in the stronger corner [has] got to get out, and I’ve got to go one-on-one with the big. I kind of already knew, wasn’t surprised. And got to a shot that I was comfortable with. And got it to fall.”
They halted the fall. Erik Spoelstra spoke afterward, after his team held the Bulls to 39.8 percent shooting and kept its poise down the stretch, about how a grizzled quartet had to guide the group out of its funk, especially as injured players healed.
“Our leaders have to lead,” Spoelstra said. “Especially at times like that, right now. It’s myself, Dwyane, CB and UD, we have to lead. And when it’s tough, you’ve got lead more. And when it’s tougher, you’ve got to lead even more. And that started yesterday, in practice, and in shootaround today.”
That leadership took different forms. For the last player he mentioned, Udonis Haslem, it came from the sideline, as he instructed Wade during Wade’s last brief break how he should attack on the pick-and-roll, working behind solid Amar’e Stoudemire screens. For Bosh, it came not only with that aforementioned jumper, but with stout defense down the stretch against Gasol, staying with the Spanish star from the perimeter to the paint, even stripping the ball away on a late possession.
For Wade, it came through his will.
“The biggest thing is, when you’re going through injuries and losing, the way we have of late, everyone is frustrated,” Wade said. “Everyone’s head goes down, everyone’s body language is bad. We’ve got a lot of young guys on this team. We’ve got a lot guys who haven’t been in this situation. So that doesn’t help them at all. So [Spoelstra] really talked to us about our leadership, about doing a better job of leading this group.”
It seemed to work early, with Miami leading by two at the half. Then came another dreadful third quarter, with the Bulls outscoring the Heat 21-12, and extending the Heat’s deficit in that quarter to minus-32 over the past five games.
It appeared that the Heat was headed to 11-16 in the conference, better than only the Bucks, Nets and 76ers, teams with which they don’t figure to get into tiebreaker tussles. And headed to 5-11 against the other teams currently in the East’s top eight seeds.
But that turned in the fourth.
From down seven to tied with 7:18 left on Gerald Green’s jumper. And back and forth from there, with Winslow locking down a player he admires and to whose level he aspires, Jimmy Butler, who was just 5 for 15 for the game, and with Bosh and Wade handling the scoring. It helped that Derrick Rose was sidelined after halftime with back and hamstring trouble.
It helped more that Wade turned back the clock again, with 10 points in the final frame.
That he turned the tide.