It’s still on Dwyane Wade, after all this time. It’s almost unfair. He is 34 now. He cannot rest. His burden is still too great.
We saw it again here Saturday night.
He did just about everything for the Miami Heat.
It was not enough.
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It sounded like the same phrase was on a continuous loop in that magical third quarter, or maybe a recording that kept skipping back to the same thing. Over and over, rising above the thunderous cheering, the arena announcer just kept repeating himself:
This man has been Miami’s since 2003 and over these many years he has become a three-time NBA champion who – yes – has supplanted the Dolphins’ Dan Marino as simply the most accomplished, most beloved athlete in South Florida sports history.
But even by the standards of that echelon and those expectations, what Wade did here in the thrill of that third period was a wonder, the kind of memory a fan keeps in mind like a family heirloom.
He would score 18 of his game-high 38 points in an extended flurry that erased a double-digit Toronto lead, lifted the bayside arena back to life, gave Miami the lead and maybe saved a season – or so it seemed.
Alas, it would fritter away to a 95-91 Heat home loss that gives Toronto a 2-1 series lead entering Game 4 right back here Monday night. Now the pressure really shifts to Miami, which must win the next game or put itself in a position of needing to win three in a row, two of them in Toronto.
And now the burden on Wade to lift and carry a team (and a city) only grows, with the right knee injury suffered Saturday by center Hassan Whiteside, who left early in the second quarter and did not return.
Toronto also lost it 7-foot center, Jonas Valanciunas, to an ankle injury, but there were early indications Whiteside’s injury could be worse. Results of an MRI will be revealed Sunday, but the Mother’s Day news may not be good for Heat fans.
“What we have is a very competitive series right now,” understated Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.
Ya think!? This entire Heat playoff run, its first of the post-LeBron James era, has been a wonderful thing for stress junkies. Nothing calm about it.
The Heat survived Charlotte in a first round stretched to the maximum seven games, somehow advancing despite three consecutive losses.
Now the Heat is down 2-1 in a series already with two overtimes and suddenly complicated by two big injuries to two big men.
And all the while the prospect of meeting LeBron in an Eastern Conference finals still looms as a giant carrot before Miami, albeit one that distanced itself from the Heat Saturday night.
The Heat have the perfect excuses lined up now – no Bosh, no Whiteside – if excuses are what they are looking for.
Nobody wants to hear excuses in sports, though, whether it is the awfully timed injury or your conspiracy theory about lopsided officiating. Nobody feels sorry for your team’s losses, literal or figurative.
The Golden State Warriors are playing (and still winning) without the best player in the NBA as Stephen Curry nurses his sprained knee.
So nobody outside of Miami will have much sympathy now for the Heat, whose franchise well on outside sympathy probably ran dry for good when the club brought in LeBron and started counting all those championships to come.
It is likelier that the rest of the country is laughing, not feeling sorry, for a Heat team already missing its best player, Chris Bosh, to his blood clots issue and now missing its dominant big man in Whiteside.
“Toronto don’t care. No one cares,” as Wade put it. “It’s part of the game. We still have a series to play. No matter what happens, guys got to step up.”
With Bosh already out and Whiteside suddenly gone, the Heat rotated in three other players trying to neutralize Toronto’s Valanciunas – who’d been killing the Heat even with Whiteside facing him prior to him going out, too.
Gritty but way-undersized Udonis Haslem was deployed first. Then they tried natural forward Josh McRoberts. Finally they turned to aging Amar’e Stoudemire.
I kept looking to see if Alonzo Mourning might start warming up in his front-office suit and wingtips.
I wondered if anybody might have a working number for Rony Seikaly.
Some cobbled-together combination of Haslem, Stoudemire and McRoberts will need to rise up moving forward if Whiteside is done for the series as feared.
And Wade, of course.
“We all have to do a little more,” said Miami’s No. 3.
The Heat trailed by nine at the half before Wade went off like fireworks.
“Can Dwyane Wade bail them out!?” called the TV announcer.
Wade followed his own miss with a rising tomahawk dunk.
He drained four more 3-point shots, remarkably hitting eight of those in a row in this series before finally missing (after he’d not made a 3 since December heading into this postseason).
“It was fun to watch,” teammate Joe Johnson said of Wade’s vintage tear. “Fun to be a part of.”
The 38 points were his most in the playoffs since 2012. His 33rd 30-point game tied LeBron’s franchise playoff record.
Saturday he scored more than triple the points of anyone else, and also led the Heat in rebounds and assists. The lack of support amounted to senior abuse!
Now, if Whiteside is out, what may be needed of Wade only magnifies. Somehow, some way, after just scoring 38, he must do more.
On this team, the weight is still greatest on one man, after all this time.
He is still the closer, the one who must show the way. The team remains his, and the burden, too.
It’s still on Dwyane Wade.