There was this one particular little burst here Tuesday night for Dwyane Wade.
It was like the old days.
It was like the young days.
Wade, bending, slashing for consecutive driving layups, then pulling up for a jumper soft off the glass. Three baskets in less than a minute and a half, Heat crowd reenergized inside the downtown bayside gym.
There was this one particular little snapshot a bit later in this second first-round NBA playoff game: Wade, taking a pass near the free-throw line, one big stride and a leap finished by a one-handed dunk. Vintage stuff. If you froze the picture, his flight would have reminded you of the famous Michael Jordan silhouette.
Later, Wade followed a miss with a dunk and then did that thing he does when he’s alone in a zone, lowering himself and spreading his arms as if about to take flight, fans roaring.
Miami beat the Milwaukee Bucks 98-86 to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. No surprise there. The defending champions not dispatching an eighth-seeded foe would only rank among the biggest shocks in sports history.
“We held court,” as coach Erik Spoelstra put it. “We did what we were supposed to do.”
No, the expected result was not the story Tuesday. For me, the story of the night was a gentle reminder that should nourish Heat fans:
D-Wade can still bring it.
Even still battling a sore right knee, he can still bring it.
All things considered, he’s still pretty good for an old guy, isn’t he?
Wade can smile at a comment like that. Well, at least if it is posed good-naturedly, and timed properly. It helps if you say it on a night like this one, after a big Heat victory, and after a game in which Miami’s beloved No. 3 reminded us that, even when hurting, he can still reach down and summon his vintage self.
It is still there, what he is reaching for.
It does not show itself as often, and it needn’t.
But it is still there, in his ninth season, at age 31. And every time it comes back and shows itself, it feels good, like when you see an old friend again.
Wade, after a quiet first game in this postseason, scored 21 points with seven rebounds Tuesday in a far more active, involved Game 2. Oddly enough, that led the team as LeBron James was held to a mortal 19.
“In the playoffs, you’ve got to find different ways to win,” Wade said afterward. “I just tried to be aggressive. I’m not 100 percent, but I’m trying to get there.”
Wade returning to full health amid the rigors of the playoffs might be a lot to ask. But the closer he is to that — the more he can be what he was Tuesday, show those bursts — the better for a Heat repeat. The first round against Milwaukee won’t demand Miami’s best performance or the healthiest Wade.
But subsequent series might.
Wade sat out several late-season games on account of that sore right knee and it still is not in the health he would like it to be, “but it’s getting better,” he said. “It was better [Tuesday] than the last game.”
James described Wade as operating on “just his will,” adding “Hopefully that knee continues to get better each and every game and if that is the case, there is no telling what he can do at that point.”
Now Wade, who starred at Marquette, returns to his college town of Milwaukee for the next two games — a full-circle feel that invites one to take stock of Wade as he eases toward his late career.
“I went to Milwaukee without a lot of expectations and came out as the fifth pick in the draft,” he said. “So, Milwaukee is special to me.”
His retired uniform number hangs from the rafters up there.
“I’m glad they didn’t take it down,” he said, smiling.
It is interesting how his Heat role has evolved, and what it is now as the 2013 postseason moves on.
Wade had one of his most efficient seasons ever — topping 50 percent shooting for the first time — and yet LeBron clearly is the star now of this title team. LeBron hears the “M-V-P!” chants while at the free-throw line. He is the King, undisputed.
Miami’s newest star, and surely its quirkiest? That would be Chris “Birdman” Andersen, of the peacock’s spread of colorful tattoos under the Mohawk. Him off the bench and into a game energizes both the Heat and the crowd. He has become a huge fan favorite, fast. But he isn’t a novelty. He scored 10 big points with six rebounds Tuesday.
With LeBron in full reign and Birdman leading a strong bench flexing its muscle, Wade’s profile on the team has seldom been more diminished. But nights like Tuesday assure us he remains capable of a featured role when it is required of him.
On Tuesday, after a 21-point night despite not being fully healthy, Wade held court before dozens of cameras and media members. For a night, he was the star again.
Just like the old days.
Just like the young days.