Dwyane Wade addresses the media at a press conference after Game 4 Monday night
It’s a word that Hassan Whiteside uses a lot now, but Dwyane Wade has used even longer.
Who is the “they” of which Wade so often speaks?
“They is the haters,” Wade said, just prior to the 2016 postseason, a postseason that he won’t seem to let end. “They is the haters. They is the ones who don’t believe — moreso than anything. Who is they? Who knows who they is? That’s why it’s like ‘Who is they?’ No one knows who they is. But you know it’s the ones out there who don’t believe, who are going to hate on you either way, good or bad. They are out there. And they don’t matter.”
And now, they must wait.
They must wait until at least the end of the week, as this best-of-seven series is now tied at 2, with Game 5 on Wednesday.
They must wait, perhaps, until he’s run out of steam.
He didn’t Monday, not while scoring 30 points in a 94-87 victory, in his 85th game since the start of the regular season.
They must wait until he’s ready to walk off the stage.
He isn’t, not willingly, not as he’s scored 68 in the past two games, continuing to will his team through its weakest stretches.
Is the best he’s played all season?
“Yeah, no doubt,” Wade said. “No doubt. I’m as confident as I’ve been all season right now. I’m like you guys, I don’t know. I haven’t been in this situation a lot. I haven’t played a seven-game first round since my rookie year.”
Well, he did, but the Heat lost in seven games to Atlanta, so there was no second round.
“I haven’t played three overtimes in the second round in a long time,” Wade said.
Actually, the Heat never has. Only three series in NBA history have had this many. Miami’s maximum was two, against Boston in 2012.
“All of this is new,” Wade said. “Every other day we’re playing, and it’s very taxing. And I love that every time I come out on the court, I feel just as good as I did the last game. It allows me to go out there and play the game that I love the way that I can. I’m enjoying it. I’m having fun. At this time of the year, I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”
At times, Monday, he appeared to be doing it alone. Prior to leaving late in the third quarter — for a rest that proved a minute too long — Wade had scored 48 of the Heat’s previous 103 points in the series, output exceeding even what he produced during his transcendent 2006 NBA Finals appearance and even his attempts as a one-man band in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs.
When he returned, a two-point deficit (54-52) had become five (72-67), and then it was nine. Then it was seven. Then five. Finally, on his defiant, explosive drive to the rim, and finish with 12.6 seconds left, it was none.
“(Chris Bosh) kept coming up to me, and he kept saying, ‘If we’re going to go out, I want to go out with you having the ball,” Wade said. “He kept telling me to be aggressive. I was trying to read how the defense was playing me. They mixed it up pretty good, so it’s not as easy as you think.”
He didn’t score in the first four-plus minutes of the overtime — his closest attempt, a finger-roll to go ahead six, got wedged between the backboard and rim — as he tried to “trust my teammates,” throwing back to Joe Johnson on pick-and-rolls when he got double-teamed. Or triple-teamed.
“This wasn’t a do-all will game for me where I was going to shoot every shot,” Wade said. “But I tried to do what I could do down the stretch. And when I couldn’t do it, I tried to get off the ball, and let my teammates continue their success.”
Or, in some cases, start their success. The veteran of the U.S. Redeem Team gave the other members of his current Heat team a chance to redeem themselves one by one.
Wade was the guy who gave Justise Winslow a chance to show, with a few stifling defensive possessions, why he should have been on the floor on Saturday, rather than benched in one of Erik Spoelstra’s odder decisions.
Wade was the guy who gave Joe Johnson a chance to prove he could still come through, after a series of clanking from deep — with Johnson making a tough turnaround and even blocking a couple of shots in the overtime.
Wade was the guy who kept the margin in reach long enough for Goran Dragic, who had struggled in this series’ two games in Miami, to slink through for the clinching layup... and even draw a foul, the ultimate unicorn play in these playoffs.
Then Wade was the guy who slammed the fans out of their seats, for his 29th and 30th points, giving him the most 30-point playoff games in franchise history, one ahead of LeBron James.
“He’s getting stronger,” Spoelstra said.
And he’s giving his teammates strength. He’s giving the Heat extra days of hope, misplaced as that hope may be, with James’ perfect playoff Cavaliers waiting in the Eastern Conference finals.
And you’re sure to hear plenty of that now.
So, no, “they” won’t go away. Even at Monday’s halftime, long-time naysayer Charles Barkley couldn’t cut a break after Inside the NBA colleague Kenny Smith declared that Wade had aged better in the past five years than any other player.
“He’s not that old,” Barkley scoffed, after years of claiming age was causing Wade to fade away.
And sure, “they” will come out in spades — and maybe with spears — on Wednesday in Toronto, with an entire country apparently aghast at Wade continuing to warm up during Saturday’s Canadian national anthem.
“They” will do so even after Wade — altering his routine to accommodate an anthem schedule meant to accommodate the NBA’s television partners — stood and mouthed all the words to the song on Monday, and apologized after the game, emphasizing that he intended no disrespect.
No, “they” will never go away.
But neither will he.
You’d think they’d all know that by now.