Greg Cote

Heat falls in hurtful loss, but playoff chase drama one more reason to love Wade’s final season | Opinion

Wade says these last games are like playoff games

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade says the game with the Boston Celtics was a close game but they couldn't stay on top to win , April 3, 2019.
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Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade says the game with the Boston Celtics was a close game but they couldn't stay on top to win , April 3, 2019.

There have been three great bonuses that have intertwined to make Dwyane Wade’s “One Last Dance” farewell season all the more special.

There was no guarantee of any of them coming into this NBA season, but we have seen all three in abundance -- and saw two of them Wednesday night.

One bonus we have seen in road games all around the country has been the appreciation bordering on worship that Wade has enjoyed. The embrace of Miami and of Heat fans felt again Wednesday you expected, of course. But the ovations on the road and the gifts and video tributes from opposing teams have added an emotional layer emphatically underlining both his stature as a national superstar with fans everywhere and also how respected and beloved he is.

Another bonus is that Wade is going out at such a high level, not limping to the finish line. He has led the team in scoring off the bench 12 times (almost making it 13 Wednesday), and looking some nights like he still is the best player on the team. He is playing so well even at 37 that opponents around the league including the Warriors’ Steph Curry have marveled at how much he has left.

The third bonus? Along with Wade’s continuing vitality we saw that one Wednesday, too: Meaningful games down the stretch. The continuing chase for the postseason. High-stakes games in April. No. 3’s legacy is secure, but he still is chasing something, right to the finish.

Alas, the grip loosened on what Wade and the Heat are chasing with Boston visiting the downtown bayside arena in Wade’s penultimate regular-season home game.

With Miami’s 112-102 loss the Heat fell to No. 9 behind Orlando (which beat the Knicks Wednesday) in the jockeying for eight Eastern Conference playoff spots with four games remaining. Miami would have climbed to No. 6 on a tiebreaker had they won -- that’s how close this playoff chase is.

“Kind of like a playoff kind of game,” Wade called Wednesday’s game after the loss. He wore a ‘Father Prime’ ballcap and a black WADE T-shirt. “We’ve got a tough schedule [remaining]. We’ve got to find a way to win games down the stretch.”

The hurtful loss came despite Wade being Wade. Again. He scored 17 points off the bench including a pair of 3’s, seven rebounds and six assists. His first-half spark helped Miami overcome a fast 9-0 deficit.

With playoff hopes teetering, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Rodney McGruder all returned from injuries, though Richardson left limping with a left leg injury early in the second half.

“It’s all-in right now,” said coach Erik Spoelstra. “We need to shut our doors and not listen to everything going on. It’s going to come down to the last game..”

“It’s going to be down to the end,” said Winslow.

You don’t think Wade covets going out with a playoff run? He got a technical foul on him Wednesday for arguing a call, a rarity. In the fourth quarter, down six with four minutes left, he dove for a loose ball.

“We’re fighting for the playoffs,” Wade said. “This late in the season, as a fan you love to have these kind of games.”

Wade answered, “No, I’m not there” when asked about his emotions.

That’s coming. Soon.

Uncertainty remains whether Wade’s ebbing, epic career will see its final home game ever this coming Tuesday night, or whether the basketball gods will send him out more fittingly on a playoff stage and gift Heat fans with a Wade encore of at least two additional home games.

Taking no chance, the Heat plan a half-hour pregame ceremony for Wade on Tuesday to include a career-retrospective video, special guest tributes and Wade addressing fans. (Although the Lakers play at home Tuesday night, I’d not be surprised if LeBron James, who was shut down for the remainder of the season, makes the trip to honor his friend and former teammate).

The mystery of whether Wade has only one home game left or at least three more could feasibly come down to the final game of the regular season on April 10 in Brooklyn, with winner-take-all playoff stakes.

And of course the Heat would surely win and advance on a dramatic Wade buzzer-beater -- but that’s only if this Last Dance last chapter is as storybook as Wade’s whole career has been.

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Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports columnist who in 2018 was named top 10 in column writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg also appears regularly on the Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio and ESPNews.