Dwyane Wade has faced the prospect of needing a road playoff victory to keep the Miami Heat’s season alive before.
In 2012, he watched LeBron James score 45 points and pick up 15 rebounds in a Game 6 win at Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Two seasons ago, Wade put the Heat on his back in Game 6 of a first-round series at Charlotte, scoring 23 points to hush up Purple Shirt Guy and lift the Heat to victory.
So how is Wade, 36, preparing himself mentally for Miami’s must-win Game 5 at Philadelphia on Tuesday night with the Heat trailing in the series 3 games to 1? By focusing on getting one victory at a time.
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“Any guy that’s down 3-0, 3-1, human nature is for you to doubt,” Wade said. “Anybody that says they don’t doubt, they’re lying. It’s going to be a moment of doubt, a second of doubt. But you get over it. You understand that you still have life, you still have another opportunity. You want to do what you can to win each possession, to win each quarter. And at the end of the game, you want to be able to win the game and that’s all you got to focus on.
“It was tough after the last one [Saturday], going home and sitting around down 3-1. But today we came back here, we learned from our mistakes and now we’re prepared to play another game. That doubt that you felt after the game was over, it has to be gone. With this group of guys, I definitely feel comfortable and confident that we’re going to go out there and play hard. They’re too stubborn to even know they’re down 3-1.
“From that standpoint, I’m confident in the energy and effort we’re going to bring. But this series is more than just that. This series has been a lot about what we bring up here [in our minds], too, and we got to be better up there.”
The Heat has pulled off a comeback from down 3-1 before. Back in 1997, Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway rallied Miami past the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semis.
Wade, meanwhile, has been down 3-1 twice before in his career. He’s never played a sixth game after that.
The Heat at least has the confidence of knowing it won on Philadelphia’s home floor in Game 2. And that counts for something.
“It's not necessarily us against the world. It's us against the Philadelphia 76ers,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have to find a way to finish games. They've really nailed us in the fourth quarters in all four games — except the one we were able to pull away. We just have to do better. Through three quarters we've been up. It's going to require a full 48 minute game of absolute our best effort. But just as important are focus, discipline and detail and that's on both ends of the court.”
Better free throw shooting and better rebounding are at the top of the list in terms of areas the Heat would like to improve in Game 5. Getting leading scorer Goran Dragic unchained in the fourth quarter is another priority.
Although Dragic leads the team in scoring (19.5 points per game), the Sixers have done a good job shutting him down in the fourth quarter. Dragic has scored only eight points on 3 of 11 shooting in the final period in this series.
“They’re not allowing us to play, me and D-Wade,” Dragic said of Philly’s fourth quarter adjustments. “Last game they put [Ben] Simmons me. So our strategy was to try to get whoever was ballhandling to get JJ Redick or [Marco] Belinelli into the paint. We just read the situation. If Simmons is on me I'm going to back off and be in the corner.”
“[For me] forcing it is not the right thing to do. You need to do some other things, try to steal the ball, try to play good defense, try to be effective. At the end of the day if they blitz me I did my job. If I got two guys on me I've got to get rid of the ball and I'm doing that. What else can I do?”
With Josh Richardson (sprained left shoulder) questionable for Game 5, Spoelstra said he’s open to playing others who have had reduced roles – like Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington — more. Ellington’s presence alone could help spread the floor more for Dragic and others in the fourth quarter.
“We struggled to score in those fourth quarters against their defenses when they ratcheted it up,” Spoelstra said. “Defensively, in some of the games where we've had brilliant efforts through three there's been breakdowns as the game goes down the stretch. That's what this team is capable of doing to you because they are very talented, well coached and have a high skill level and they'll make you pay for mistakes. But we have great habits, great character and a developed, hard-earned resiliency.
“That's what the playoffs are all about — dealing with things that don't necessarily go your way and finding a way to respond. We have enough to be able to win on anybody's court against any team. That's the kind of confidence our guys have. That's all our focus has to be right now. We don't have to think about the rest of the series. We just have to go out there and play our best game and bring the series back home.”