All was completely quiet in the Heat locker room late Wednesday, but not on social media, not in the slightest, certainly not if you were one of the more than three million followers of Gabrielle Union. As the Heat players were dressing in solemn silence, the actress — a real-life wife of Dwyane Wade — was tweeting the sort of storm that usually calls for flashlights and shutters.
Her spree included a screenshot of her husband’s mid-air attempt at a game-tying layup with 4.5 seconds left, with Courtney Lee’s right triceps pressed against Wade’s forearm and Cody Zeller’s torso leaning into Wade’s left shoulder. It was accompanied with the #FineEm, her prescription for the poor officiating she believes is ailing the NBA.
Remarkably, she may have been the happiest person in their household following Miami’s 90-88 loss to the Hornets.
“I mean, my wife got to deal with me tonight,” Wade said at the podium, his shirt unbuttoned up top, as if making a statement about the figurative undressing by the Hornets on that pivotal play. “No one else. I’m gonna be pissed off all night until I go to sleep. But when I wake up tomorrow, as a leader, I’m gonna come in here with a different mind-set.”
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Unfortunately, the Heat’s situation won’t be any different than it was when he left the premises Wednesday. Miami, once up 2-0 in this first-round series against the Hornets, is now down 3-2, and clearly down emotionally as well. This defeat was especially deflating, not only because it came at home — where Miami had been 14-2 since the All-Star break — but because the Heat had a three-point lead with 2:27 left on Wade’s pullup jumper and, even after two broken possessions, still had a shot so long as Wade could get one off.
“From my vantage point, it certainly looked like Dwyane got fouled,” Erik Spoelstra said, uncharacteristically.
“I haven’t looked at it,” Wade said. “It’s pointless now. There’s no reason for me to look at it. It’s not going to change anything. I thought I did. But it wasn’t called.”
It wasn’t, and if the NBA’s last-two-minute review confirms his belief, that won’t call for a celebration. Just more frustration. So he needs to move on, for his team to move forward. That’s why he spoke of how “everyone in the locker room should be pissed off, but tomorrow is a different day. Tomorrow is a day we come in, we learn from our mistakes, and we get ready for Game 6.”
That’s why he tried to find a positive precursor, recalling how, while this particular team hasn’t been in this situation, “I have. We’ve been here, when we were down 3-2 going to Boston [in 2012]. LeBron James had an amazing game to propel us to that win, but it was just a great focus as a team. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tougher for this team, because we have never been here as a unit together in tough games. But you don’t run away from the competition. We’ll see what we are made of individually, to go up there and fight for this win.”
Sure, it’s going to be tougher.
Well, ’Bron’s gone.
There’s no one by Wade’s side now who can score 45, as a possessed James did that fabled night. There’s no one in the rotation with whom Wade’s ever even played an elimination game. His most trusted teammates are a culture symbol (Udonis Haslem) who didn’t get minutes ahead of the implausibly passive Josh McRoberts on Wednesday; an afterthought import from China (Dorell Wright) who has barely been back a fortnight; and a franchise cornerstone (Chris Bosh) who clearly won’t be allowed into competitive activity anytime soon, regardless of how much public pressure his family applies, how many shots he swishes on Snapchat.
Instead, Wade’s current crew includes only one teammate — Luol Deng — who has seemed consistently up to Charlotte’s challenge in this series.
And while Wade himself hasn’t been above reproach himself — he was too casual about defensive closeouts in the first quarter Wednesday — he suddenly seems like the Heat’s only hope, especially after he sprung to life on both ends in the final three quarters of Game 5. Recognizing that the Hornets were packing the paint in halfcourt sets, he started pushing the pace, “just being aggressive, trying to get there before they got their defense totally set and have those attack opportunities. Just be aggressive all night, put pressure on them.”
He was 5 for 6 in the second quarter, 2 for 4 in the third and — after returning with 7:27 left in the fourth — 2 for 3 prior to the final minute.
“I thought we did some great things by getting in the paint, getting the shots that we wanted,” Wade said.
So what happened at the end?
After Courtney Lee missed a layup and Joe Johnson rebounded, the Heat called a timeout with one minute left, up one.
Josh Richardson inbounded to Wade, who dribbled up top, got doubled and dribbled toward the left corner. Trapped, he passed back out to Richardson, who heaved one from 27 feet with 3.6 seconds left on the shot clock. There were the only two players involved in the play; Johnson, Deng and Hassan Whiteside all stood like statues near the right corner, seemingly trying to give the other two some space.
“It was a late closeout, so I shot it,” Richardson said. “Just like any other time.”
Spoelstra acknowledged that he should have burned a timeout “once it became a broken play. What we wanted, they defended.”
Then, after Lee hit a three-pointer to put Charlotte ahead by two, Johnson inbounded to Wade, who tried to drive on Lee but briefly lost the ball. He gathered, backpedaled, advanced and fired a pass over his head to Johnson, who also lost control trying to make a move. Back to Wade, who drove into the lane and found Goran Dragic in the left corner. Kemba Walker blocked Dragic’s shot.
Wade caught the carom.
And then seemed to catch a forearm.
At the least.
But it wasn’t called.
So he was asked about the last two play calls.
What was intended?
“The ball was in my hand,” Wade said. “I tried to trust my teammates in that instance. They had two on me. Instead of playing hero ball and throwing up a shot, I threw it back to the guys who were open. We didn’t get great shots out of it. But we did what we normally do. I felt that, instead of forcing a shot, I felt that my teammates had better opportunities. They did a good job of closing out. We probably should have got to the drive, instead of just shooting the ball. We had enough time left. But we didn’t. We’ve been in that situation a lot of times, we’ve succeeded a lot of times, in late games. It just didn’t happen for us.”
So he knows what happens next.
He has won 21 series.
He has lost seven.
Friday, it could be eight.
“Well, it’s very challenging,” Wade said. “To go on the road, with a team that hasn’t won much on the road and figure out a way to get a win. So it gets no tougher than that, in the playoffs. To go on the road with a team that hasn’t won too much on the road and figure out a way to get a win.”
A team that is 7-10 on the road since the All-Star break.
“It gets no tougher than that in the playoffs, to have to go on the road with a team that can close you out on their home floor,” Wade said. “You got to get a win. I don’t know where this team is at. I wish I could tell you. This is the first time we’ve gone through this situation together. But that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go through it together. We win together. We lose together. We’re going to have to figure it out, as a unit.”
Even as, on the court if not in his household, it would be understandable to suddenly feel alone.