MIAMI – The Miami Heat were in a one possession game three times in the last four games, each time needing a basket for the victory.
And each time, the ball was in 36-year-old Dwyane Wade’s hands.
Twice – at Philadelphia on Feb. 14 and at New Orleans on Friday – the ball rimmed out.
But on Tuesday, something was different.
Wade, already having scored 25 points, looked confident as he weaved through the Sixers defense searching for an opening, any opening. And although this may have been the toughest shot of the three – a step back 21-footer over the long Ben Simmons – everything about it appeared to be right.
“He loves those moments in front of this crowd,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “(And) when you get there in the fourth quarter and the crowd is rocking like it was (Tuesday), he feels an incredible sense of calm.”
Meet the Heat’s newest go-to guy. He’s much like the old go-to guy Heat followers knew for 13 seasons.
Wade’s game-winner gave Miami a 102-101 victory over the Sixers and capped a 27 point night, 15 of those coming in the final five minutes. Wade had a hand in Miami’s final 17 points, scoring 15 and assisting on Hassan Whiteside’s hook shot with just less than a minute to play.
“That’s why it’s called Wade County,” Josh Richardson said.
The final play started with 23.8 seconds remaining and Richardson in-bounding the ball to Wade after Simmons made 1 of 2 free throws to give Philadelphia the lead and Wade never giving it up.
Wade crossed mid-court on the right side guarded by Simmons. Whiteside set one pick as Wade then came across the court to the left side. A second Whiteside screen forced the Sixers to switch before Whiteside set a third pick and Simmons switched back onto the probing Wade. Wade then went around his back to get to the top of free throw circle and knew it was time.
“That’s what he does,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown. “That’s who he is. That’s who he’s always been. He sort of just grabbed the team and put them on his back.”
First came the jab step then the 6-foot-4 Wade stepped back and launched it over the 6-10 Simmons.
“This was the toughest shot I had to make since I’ve been back,” Wade said.
Said Kelly Olynyk: “It’s basically witnessing history right there.”
AmericanAirlines Arena exploded but 5.9 seconds remained. The Heat, though, were forced to dodge one more Sixers 3-point attempt when a breakdown left JJ Redick wide open. But Redick was short, sealing the Heat victory and pushing their record to 32-29, one game behind seventh-seed Philadelphia.
“That’s the difference between a head coach enjoying his glass of wine or staying up all night second guessing every single decision,” said Spoelstra, whose team continues its five-game homestand Thursday with a 7:30 tip against the Lakers.
And if there is any doubt that Wade is the new go-to guy, since returning he leads Miami with 5.2 points and 4.3 shots per game in the fourth quarter. Wade, though, was thinking of those last shots in Philadelphia and New Orleans and referenced that Pelicans game when the Heat trailed by one-point in the final seconds and Wade tossed the ball to Richardson on the inbounds but got it right back. He said Richardson could have taken the ball but instead he trusted Wade.
“And I missed the shot,” Wade said. “So, this time it was just getting an opportunity. I wanted to be better.”
And it could not have been any better.
When the shot went in, Wade bounced around the arena floor pointing to his uniform jersey with a phrase he coined during his 13 seasons as a member of the Heat before he left for Chicago in 2016: “This is my house.”
“It definitely felt good to be in the environment I remember being (in) and seeing the court the way I remember seeing it,” Wade said.
Spoelstra and Wade both referenced Monday’s practice, saying something clicked. Spoelstra said the Heat saw something that day they had not seen since Wade was acquired from Cleveland on Feb. 8.
“I mentioned this to the staff and some of my friends,” Spoelstra said. “He’s really been working at it, trying to get in shape, get in rhythm. He knew he’d have a little bit of a different role with us than he did at Cleveland but (Monday) in practice was the first day I recognized him, I thought was the guy I remembered and he did six or seven things in practice where everybody stopped and looked around and said ‘OK, that’s a little bit different than what we’ve seen all year long.’”
Wade explained that ‘different’ this way.
“Coach gave me the ball most of the day and kept me on offense the whole day, which that never happened before, and told me to be myself,” Wade said. “He wanted me to get back into a rhythm.”
Wade entered the game averaging 8.6 points and shooting 34.5 percent in six games since his return. He was 10 of 16 from the floor against the Sixers.
“The last few games he was struggling a little bit with his shot,” Dragic said. “But those shots were key shots. He was just missing them.
“We need to understand that D-Wade, he just got back. It’s a little bit different system that he’s used to. He still needs to figure out how to play with certain guys on the floor. But (Tuesday) he was back, man. We were rolling with him. He was unbelievable.”
Back to being the old Dwyane Wade.