Joaquin Oliver was with Dwyane Wade every step of the way in his flashback performance Tuesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Certainly, Oliver’s name and memory were.
A day after dedicating the rest of his season to Oliver, a 17-year-old high school senior who was among the 17 murdered in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Valentine’s Day rampage in Parkland — and who was laid to rest wearing a Wade jersey — the 36-year-old, 12-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion had the teenager’s name written on his sneakers as he scored a season-high 27 points and swished the game-winning basket in a thrilling come-from-behind win at AmericanAirlines Arena.
On Wednesday morning, students will resume class at Douglas for the first time since the shooting.
“For me, it is just giving whatever I can to the people who believe in me,” Wade said. “Especially the people who were happy about me coming back here and the people who embrace me the way that I could only dream of. I am just paying some due respect to him and his family.”
The Heat (32-29) was trailing 87-82 when Wade entered with 5 minutes and 55 seconds to play in the fourth quarter Tuesday. Wade scored 15 of Miami’s final 17 points and assisted center Hassan Whiteside on the team’s other basket. It was a performance that evoked memories of Wade’s glory days — only three weeks after Pat Riley acquired him from Cleveland for a 2024 second rond pick.
“He’s really been working at it, trying to get in shape, get in rhythm,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade. “He knew he’d have a little bit of a different role with us than he did in Cleveland but [Monday] in practice was the first day I recognized him. I thought that was the guy I remembered, and he did six or seven things in practice where everybody stopped and looked around and said ‘OK that’s a little bit different than what we’ve seen all year long.’ But he’s really been working at it.
“He loves those moments in front of this crowd, when you get there in the fourth quarter and the crowd is rocking like it was [Tuesday night], he feels an incredible sense of calm and peace in those pressure moments.”
Said Sixers coach Brett Brown: “That’s what he does. That’s who he is. That’s who he’s always been. He sort of just grabbed the team and put them on his back. I thought that he just responded in a way that champions respond.”
Wade said he’d been wanting to deliver in the clutch for his teammates after missing what would have been game-winning shots at the buzzer in losses at Philadelphia and New Orleans in the past couple of weeks. Since being acquired on Feb. 8, Wade has gone 9 of 16 in the clutch and scored 25 points in 18 clutch minutes over five clutch games (Saturday’s blowout of the Grizzlies wans’t a clutch game).
In all, Wade has attempted nine more shots in the clutch than his next closest teammate (Goran Dragic 4 of 7, 11 points) and scored 14 more points than anyone else. Although Riley said bringing Wade back to Miami wasn’t necessarily about “asking him to come in here and bail us out in all these [late-game] situations” it’s clear early on his teammates are looking to get the ball in his hands.
“Everybody has confidence, but he’s got something more,” Dragic said. “Who doesn’t want to put the ball in D-Wade’s hands on the last possession. Historically, he’s one in the best closers in the game.
“I’m not surprised [he took over late] because I’ve already seen it. When you get in that zone, it doesn't matter if you’re 45 years old or 19. When you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone. The only guy we were missing [Tuesday night] was the [fan] in the purple shirt [from the playoff series against Charlotte two years ago when Wade exploded in Game 6].”
Before his 22-point, second-half explosion Tuesday night, though, Wade had struggled in his first five games with the Heat. He was shooting only 34.7 percent from the field despite averaging the second-most shots on the team (11 per game) behind Dragic over that stretch. He also had as many turnovers (15) as he had assists. But Tuesday’s performance felt like a breakthrough, Spoelstra said.
“It definitely felt good to be in the environment I remember being in and seeing the court the way I remember seeing it,” Wade said.
“It’s always good when your coaching staff and your teammates got all the confidence in you. It definitely started [Monday] in practice. Coach gave me the ball most of the day and kept me on offense the whole day, which that never happened before. He told me to by myself. He wanted me to get back into a rhythm. So it was good to see the confidence from him and definitely from the other guys. Those guys, any given night, those guys can help this team. But I’m definitely at my best at the end of games. I’m not going to make every shot, but it was good Tuesday to be back in that position.”
Wade said making a few pullup jump shots early in Tuesday’s game helped get back into a flow.
“I haven’t been making that shot consistently enough,” Wade said. “Me and UD talked about it. My floater and my pullup are shots I get and I’ve been making my whole life. But that wasn’t a part of my offensive package before here. When I got here, it was a little foreign. But [Tuesday], I definitely got a few to fall in, and when I saw a few fall, now I’m back home.”