The roars from the crowd started the instant Erik Spoelstra pointed to the bench.
The loudest sellout crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena this season knew what was coming. Dwyane Wade stood up, jogged over to the scorer’s table, hugged Goran Dragic and began his second stint with the Miami Heat to a standing ovation with five minutes and 19 seconds left in the opening quarter.
The loving reunion Heat fans had been hoping for – since the day the 12-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion decided to leave this franchise behind amidst a battle of egos with team president Pat Riley – finally came Friday night. The game itself had a happy ending for Miami, too.
Behind 19 points from Tyler Johnson, who had been in a slump, 12 points and 16 rebounds from Hassan Whiteside, and 15 points,10 rebounds, three assists and two blocks from rookie big man Bam Adebayo, the Heat put an end to its five-game losing skid with a 91-85 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Miami (30-26) maintained its one game lead on the 76ers (27-25) for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and picked up a game on Detroit, which lost to the Clippers at home and fell to 27-27.
It was an impressive win for the Heat, which trailed 46-42 at the half, but outscored Milwaukee 30-10 in the third quarter to seize control. The Bucks (30-24) had gone 7-1 since Jason Kidd was fired heading into Friday’s game and were playing the best defense in the league over that stretch.
The Heat, which came in losers in eight of its previous 12 games and had climbed to within a half game of Cleveland for the third seed in the Eastern Conference before its losing streak began last week, close out the first half of the season with back-to-back games at Toronto and Philadelphia before heading into the All-Star break.
Friday night, though, was all about the return of No. 3, who was serenaded with “We Want Wade!” chants throughout the game.
Wade and longtime teammate and friend Udonis Haslem were the last players to take the court for pregame warmups. A sellout crowd watched it all unfold – the moment the team huddled in the hallway and then started its jog to the court – on the big screens inside the arena. By the time Wade made it out and began handing out high-fives to the crowd, everyone in the arena was on their feet with cell phones out to record the moment.
After the Heat missed its first seven shots and fell behind 9-0, chants of “We Want Wade!” erupted before Spoelstra finally called timeout with 8:45 to play in the opening quarter. Once he was in the game, it didn’t take Wade long to grab his first defensive rebound and then dish what would have been his first assist to Whiteside had the Heat’s center not missed the dunk on Wade’s lob. Whiteside grabbed the rebound and slammed home his next dunk attempt.
Later in the quarter, Wade hit his first shot of the night – a three-pointer no less – and the crowd went nuts. Everytime Wade touched the ball, Heat fans roared. The three-pointer turned out to be his only basket on a 1 for 6 shooting night. Wade finished with three points, a rebound, two assists, two steals, two blocks (a key one as Milwaukee rallied down the stretch) and four turnovers in 22 minutes of work.
The Heat reacquired Wade, 36, on Thursday from Cleveland when the front office of the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions decided to tear up what had been a troublesome locker room by shipping six players out in a trio of trades.
After being told he would have a reduced role if he stayed, Cleveland did Wade a favor by shipping him back home to South Florida for a heavily protected 2024 second round pick.
Wade, who averaged 11.2 points and 3.5 assists and shot 45 percent from the field for the Cavs, left Thursday night with his wife, actress Gabrielle Union, who happily danced off the plane when the two arrived in Miami.
Earlier in the day, Wade, the Heat’s all-time leading scorer and franchise leader in many categories, was asked about what he hopes his role will be on the team moving forward.
“I just want to win,” he responded. “At this point, I want to come here and be a part of these guys. Just from afar to see the development of Josh Richardson, to see Goran is an All-Star at this level, to see what [Hassan] Whiteside is capable of, I just want to be a part of that and bring what I can to this team. I’m not a coach to say where I should be.”
Spoelstra said he had no immediate role in mind for Wade, but he knows he can use him to help close games down the stretch, mentor the Heat’s young players and orchestrate offense. Friday night, Wade spent a lot of time with the ball in his hands, running the Heat’s second unit.
“We’re not asking him to come in here and bail us out in all these situations,” Spoelstra said when asked if Wade could be the team’s closer again like he once was during his glory years.
“Other guys have developed. What he absolutely does is help everybody. You add somebody of his caliber and put him on the floor in those situations – [he’s] seen every coverage, seen every situation, does not get sick at sea during those moments. That just adds a little more confidence for everybody else.”
Said Wade: “I’m definitely excited to be back. The jersey and the colors fit.”