They’re not men prone to all that much mistiness, though the years can do something to you, and so can the fears of another ending. And so, after Friday’s shootaround, hours before what could have been the final game of the 13th season they’ve shared together, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem paused to reflect.
“About how much this meant to us,” Haslem said. “About how much this has meant to us. This opportunity, this organization, being able to lead these guys, and be able to pass the torch at some point...”
“Just being here together,” Wade said. “For 13 years. We’ve been a part of making this organization a championship organization. We’ve been to five (NBA) Finals in 10 years, and we know how hard it was to do that. We just talked about trying to get the guys who have never been here to understand how hard it is to be successful.”
And, when the conversation concluded, Haslem understood clearly:
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No, not tonight. Not tonight even after a 13-point lead in the second quarter frittered down to three near the start of the fourth. Not tonight even with Goran Dragic scuffling again for most of the contest, and Hassan Whiteside saddled by fouls. Not tonight even with Charlotte’s Kemba Walker scoring 37 points and earning the label of “tough” from Haslem, who is stingier with praise than J.K. Simmons was in Whiplash. Not tonight, even as, near the end, the Heat looked as jittery and uncomfortable as a kid just trying to hold it in, until Dad finally pulls into the driveway.
Not tonight, because, to secure a 97-90 victory and a 3-3 tie in this first-round series — with Game 7 coming Sunday afternoon — Wade truly did need to use whatever means necessary.
Even the least likely of all.
“I’m Kyle Korver now,” Wade joked later.
Well, not really. Not when, before Friday, he hadn’t made a three-pointer in the calendar year 2016, missing all 21 attempts since Dec. 16. But he’s warning reporters that he can still stroke it — he did make 88 during the 2008-09 season, and reminded Joe Johnson that he “bombed” Johnson’s Hawks out of Game 2, with six makes, in the 2009 first round. He’s spoken of some sort of mental block, that stops him just as he readies to release.
Late Friday, however, he found the nerve. He credited it, somewhat kiddingly, to taking some extra shots with Dorell Wright following Thurday’s practice.
“That’s why I did it,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for my opportunity. Even on my pullups, I’ve been wanting to shoot them. You know, I used to shoot that pullup...”
He didn’t get quite that daring.
But, after scoring 13 points in the first half and just two through the first 21 minutes of the second half (”my stroke left me”), Wade did rise up after receiving a pass from a doubled Luol Deng.
And he did rattle it in, off the rear of the rim.
Then, after Walker’s dazzling reverse layup in transition cut the Heat lead to two — and both the Heat and Hornets had empty possessions — Wade did take the ball from Haslem after a rebound, dribble to the top of the circle, then bounce away from traffic in the middle, and step back to the left into another steady 26-footer.
Then he did gesture toward a purple-shirted harassing Hornets fan, who had been angrily advising him the entire game to retire.
“Yeah, I was tired of his mouth,” Wade said. “I mean, I hadn’t said nothing to him.”
Nothing was required, as it turned out.
He’d made his point.
With three points. Twice.
“They gave it to me,” Wade said. “This is a good defensive team. Courtney Lee is a good defensive player. You’re not always gonna get what you want.”
But what you get can still be what your team needs.
“He was shooting them yesterday, and I told him, ‘Man, we’re gonna need you to make some of them [bleep],’ ” Joe Johnson said. “He was like, ‘I’m gonna shoot ’em. I’m gonna shoot ’em.’ So we come down the stretch and I was not surprised, because Courtney Lee kept backing off of him, playing him for the drive. I mean, nobody expected D-Wade to shoot the three. And if he does, you’re like, OK, I’ll live with that. And he made two huge threes.”
After not making one since mid-December.
“Man, are you serious?!” Johnson said, before shouting across the room. “Damn, D-Wade!”
Haslem, naturally, had no issue with the shot selection.
“He was working on it,” Haslem said. “I didn’t know he was going to shoot it, but he was working on it. Clutch situation, that’s my guy, man. I trust every decision that he makes, and every shot that he takes.”
After Al Jefferson made a layup, Wade made a tough 18-foot turnaround.
“Coach put the ball in my hands, we ran certain sets,” Wade said. “There just came a point where I had to make shots. ... Tonight, in Game 6, I trust my teammates, I love them, but if we were going to lose, I was going to go out shooting it tonight.”
Then he blocked Walker, with his longest-tenured teammate grabbing the rebound, to end any doubt. So, sure, there was a little added significance that Haslem — sparingly used over the past two seasons — played more than eight minutes of the fourth quarter. And while Haslem didn’t have a basket, he did hit two free throws, collect five rebounds and draw a charge.
“If we were going to lose this game, you were gonna have to take us all out on stretchers,” Haslem said.
Instead, they have taken this series to the limit.
And this will be the fifth time that they, together, have had a Game 7 at home.
They have won three of the previous four.
So perhaps there will be another conversation.
“Just looking at U.D., man, sitting there talking about, hey, we don’t have too many more of these opportunities,” Wade said. “It’s not every year. We’re not 23, 22 no more, where we can say we got next year. We have to seize these moments. And I love that he got an opportunity to get in there tonight. If I’m ever going to go out, I always want to go out with him. Because I know he’s gonna fight, do the right things. It’s what we’ve been doing for 13 years.”
Haslem stated his situation simply: “It was next man up.”
Time for one more stand on Sunday.