Dwyane Wade wrote it in silver marker on his black sneakers before Game 1.
That’s what these playoffs are about for the 12-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion. At 36, he can’t go out and play 40 minutes anymore or put the entire weight of a playoff series on his back.
But on a night like Monday, with his team down 1-0 in a first-round playoff series in a hostile environment, Wade can still deliver moments. And he did.
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“It’s just in my DNA. I love the stage,” Wade said after he returned from the bench with 4 minutes and 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Heat clinging to a 98-96 lead, and delivered a series of huge plays down the stretch to push the Heat past the Philadelphia 76ers 113-103 in Game 2.
“As I’ve said multiple times, I play this game for this moment,” Wade continued. “[Sunday] night sitting in your room trying to think what you can do, what you can bring to this group, those are times that players who aren’t playing this game anymore, those are moments they miss. … You’re not always going to be able to do it, but for the most part to be able to come through for your team when they need you to, that feels good.
“The reason I was brought here was for a game like this. When they cut it to two, to come in here and settle things. I’m glad I could do that.”
The Heat, which hosts Game 3 Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, know it's not going to be able to count on Wade every night for these kind of heroics. But coach Erik Spoelstra doesn’t care.
“I’m enjoying just every minute of this,” he said. “We’ve been through every stage of our pro careers together. I don’t know how long this will last. That’s why I want to enjoy it now. I want to make the most of these moments. It’s fun having him back part of the family. It just feels normal. Then again, it’s not the same role, it’s not 2009 Dwyane. It felt like he played 40 minutes tonight, he only played 25. It probably would have been less if we didn’t give up that lead.”
Wade's 28 points were the most ever scored by a Heat player off the bench in a playoff game. It's the second game in a row the Heat has set a new franchise-high for points off the bench after Kelly Olynyk had 26 points in Game 1.
Along the way Monday, Wade passed Larry Bird (3,897 points) for 10th on the all-time scoring list in the playoffs and now has 3,910 career points in the postseason heading into Game 3. Tony Parker is next on the list with 4,016 points.
Wade said his approach to Game 2 was simple — take the shots he knew he could make and then move the ball and make the right passes when he knew the Sixers would adjust their defense to key on him. He made his first seven shots and had 21 points by halftime.
“I was able to get them to go in early and the rhythm got going and now you're out there in your comfort zone and the crowd ain't even there,” said Wade, who took great joy in shutting up Philly fanatic and comedian Kevin Hart, who gave him an earful throughout the game.
“When you got the crowd saying all the things they were saying. I heard a lot of things tonight and it was all just used as motivation. And to be able to hush a whole crowd, that’s a great feeling. That’s a feeling that I hope my son feels one day. It’s an amazing feeling.”
In the fourth quarter, it wasn’t as much about scoring as it was making plays. As soon as he came off the bench he ripped the ball out of the hands from Dario Saric and scored on a dunk on the end.
“I watched that play go down early in the game when I was on the bench,” Wade said. “I told myself if they do that play later, I’m going to steal it because I could see the pressure we were putting on the elbow guy and where that pass needed to go. It gave me a little time to sneak behind. I definitely took a chance. But I thought it was a good gamble.”
Moments later, Wade fed James Johnson for a dunk on a great pass and grabbed a big offensive rebound that led to a Goran Dragic jumper. Then he iced the game with a 23-foot jumper.
“He played superb in the first half, making shots, making all the reads,” Olynyk said. “In the second half, they tried to get the ball out of his hands. He made the right play, the right read, and we had to play and make plays from there. Guys stepped up and made some shots and made some big plays and cuts, that’s what it takes.”
Before the game, Wade gave his teammates a pep talk.
“I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was just to send them a message,” Wade said. “I wanted those guys that were in that locker room last year at the end of the season that didn't make the playoffs to remember how they felt. Now that we've got that opportunity, go out there and use that passion and go out and use that hurt that you had last year to attack this game. My message was about their families. Understanding that everybody in that huddle would do anything for their families, protect their families because we're brothers. So we have to go out there for each other and protect each other. And that's what we did.”
How the Sixers defend Wade in Game 3 and beyond will be interesting to watch.
Philadelphia had four players primarily on Wade in Game 2.
Ben Simmons covered Wade for 17 possessions and he was 2 of 4 shooting against him. The Heat scored 22 points as a team during those possessions. Marco Belinelli and Robert Covington, meanwhile, had Wade for 10 possessions each. Wade was 2 of 3 against Belinelli and 2 of 4 against Covington.
Wade made the only shot he took during the seven possessions JJ Redick was guarding him. He also made the three shots he took when T.J. McConnell and rookie Markelle Fultz were guarding him for a combined five possessions.
Whatever the Sixers decide to do in Game 3 to try and slow Wade, he can rest easy knowing he’s at least shown his teammates the kind of intensity and precision needed to survive in these playoffs.
"Coach Spo always mentioned the vision of being a champion before you're a champion,” James Johnson said. “With Dwyane Wade on our team now, I don't have to envision it, I get to see it. It was amazing to watch him work tonight, watch him in an environment like this just kind of calm down. The bucket looked like an ocean to that man.”