After one of the game’s greatest competitors cried uncle to Father Time, Dwyane Wade spoke wistfully about how Kobe Bryant had always been “the bar” for him, someone who pushed him, someone against whom he wanted to compete “eye-to-eye.”
“So, for me,” Wade said, “it’s like reality sets in, that, man, it does end, even for the greatest.”
Yes, it does, and rarely well, with Bryant, at age 37, shooting 30.5 percent. Wade, a month from 34, has been much, much better than Bryant so far this season, even as his own percentage (42.1) slumps at a career low. And he showed again Monday, even in defeat, he is still capable of the sort of furious flurry Bryant once was, scoring 20 of his 30 points in the second half, with all eight field goals inside the paint.
It is a testament to Wade’s work and will that he can still be that in his 13th season, that he can still catalyze a surge from 11 to three down during a four-minute stretch, before he and the Heat fizzled. It is also one of the trickiest things about this particular season, something that Wade, his coach and his teammates will need to sort out for the Heat to significantly improve offensively. Simply, they need to keep searching for the best possible blend so that both Wade and the team can function at the highest possible level. So that, although the team can go to him, he isn’t required to take too much of the burden, especially in crunch time.
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Start here: It’s hardly crazy to consider whether it would be in Wade’s ultimate interest to reduce his usage rate, from a level that is slightly lower than last season but higher than in any of the four seasons of the Big 3 Era. Cutting that rate might preserve his body while also increasing his efficiency. While the sample size is extremely small, Wade has struggled (0 of 9) in his 15 minutes of NBA-defined “clutch” time. This comes after he 43.1 percent in those circumstances during the Big 3 Era and 36.6 percent last season, when his shot total spiked, more than the next three Heat players combined.
That would also seem to strengthen the case of those who think the team could become more with Wade doing less, but that should come with a caveat.
It’s not as if many others have proved worthy of extra trust.
OK, well, Chris Bosh has. Contrary to national media narratives, he was by far the most “clutch” performer during the Big 3 Era, making an extraordinary 99 of 172 shots (57.6 percent) in those situations. (LeBron James, who shot the most, was at 45.6 percent and Wade at 43.1 percent.) He’s 4 of 8 this season. But he won’t be bringing the ball up the floor, and Wade (16 assists to Goran Dragic’s seven) has been the better backcourt collaborator with him.
Tyler Johnson? He has impressed enough for his opportunities to increase. But it’s a leap to lay too much on him so early.
Hassan Whiteside? He revealed Tuesday that the Heat runs no specific plays for him, but that shouldn’t surprise, considering his repertoire remains somewhat limited. Both Wade and Whiteside acknowledged Tuesday that opponents are now taking away their primary improvisation, with Whiteside claiming he’s being “tackled” when trying to leap for lobs. Even so, of anyone in the Heat’s backcourt, Wade has the best chemistry with him.
Which brings us back to Dragic, who looks better at the rim of late but still isn’t sticking many open jumpers or losing his defender without a solid screen. There are those who believe Dragic would find his own game faster, while pushing the Heat to play a faster game, if the ball was in his hands more. That’s the chicken-and-egg conundrum: whether Wade is controlling more of the action because Dragic hasn’t shown himself consistently capable, or whether Dragic is scuffling because Wade is controlling so much of the action.
But there’s no disputing this: Wade has made more happen than Dragic. Yes, the ball sticks at times since his creation sometimes calls for deliberation. And, yes, he had two of his six turnovers late Monday, and took a three-pointer too soon. But at least his attacking made Boston sweat. He might have done more if not for a no-call when hacked on a layup try.
“Me and Chris tried to do our best to individually will it,” Wade said. “And sometimes, when you get into individually willing it, you’re going to make some mistakes, that’s a part of it. You probably will it too much. But that’s the game.”
The game didn’t end as he wanted Monday. His season continues, the success of which could depend on finding the best possible blend.