PHILADELPHIA — If this is it for Dwyane Wade, it’s a quiet exit for the biggest star in Heat history.
He doesn’t seem like he’d have a problem with that.
Wade came back to the Heat unassumingly two months ago and maintained that approach through the end, which came in a 104-91 loss to the 76ers to close out their first-round playoff series in five games. Philadelphia goes on with hopes of challenging for the Eastern Conference title, and Wade heads back to South Florida to contemplate his future.
“Y’all know I’ve given it thought,” he said when asked if he’s retiring.
Then he looked around the media room at Wells Fargo Center and smiled.
“This is Philly and I love Philly, but there ain’t gonna be no breaking news here,” he said. “I appreciate y’all’s concern, but we’ll worry about that later. I ain’t gonna break nothing here.”
That’ll probably wait at least a couple of months. Wade hasn’t dwelled on it much lately. His mind has been engrossed in trying to will the Heat out of a 3-1 hole.
He was out there when Miami made its fiercest effort to get back into the game after falling behind 76-59 with a little under three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Heat pushed back with a strong start to the fourth quarter and pulled within eight on a classic drive by Wade off a give-and-go with Tyler Johnson. He didn’t look 36 when he lifted off and powered through heavy contact at the rim for a reverse layup.
“I wanted to have those moments throughout this playoff series,” he said. “I wanted to have a moment tonight. My body wasn’t — my wrist and my elbow wasn’t aligning with me. But I had a couple of them that made me feel good about the work put in this summer. I worked my tail off. That’s what it’s all about.”
Wade played 31 minutes, his third-most extended action this year, and finished with off the bench and finished 11 points on 4-for-15 shooting, five assists and five rebounds. The Heat outscored Philadelphia by seven points when he was on the floor.
This is how Wade seemed to want it from the time he returned to Miami in a February trade that offered him and the franchise a chance to patch up the messy split that took place two years ago.
He enjoyed the reunion, but he underplayed it.
He didn’t come back to be a star, and he made that clear in a team meeting shortly after his arrival. He told his teammates he was grateful for how they welcomed him and talked about doing his best to fit in. They stared back bewilderedly at the franchise’s all-time icon. Wasn’t this his team all along?
“He has that kind of awareness and humility,” said Erik Spoelstra, who feared that he’d get too emotional if he started thinking about this being Wade’s final game. “He didn’t want to step in and step on somebody else’s role. He just wanted to fit in and be one of the guys.
“I’ve coached him as a leading scorer in the league (and) as a champion in this league where he had to take a secondary role to the best player in the league. I’ve coached him now in this role. None of us would have ever imagined Dwyane Wade would be coming off the bench. But he’s handled all of these roles with incredible class and dignity.”
Spoelstra joked that Wade could play off his bench forever if he wants. Or maybe he wasn’t joking.
Wade gave Miami 12 points per game on 40.9 percent shooting in some well-rounded minutes during the regular season and upped it to 16.6 on 44.3 percent in the playoffs. The Heat offense needed a spark, and picking up Wade wasn’t merely a sentimental move.
“He knew what the deal was,” Spoelstra said. “We were already kind of set with our rotation.
“It was one of the first things he said: ‘I don’t want to disrupt anything. I’ll come off the bench. I’ll play with the second unit and we’ll make this work. Don’t worry about me.’ That’s awesome. There’s probably not a lot of Hall of Fame players who still have his ability that would still be willing to do that.”
Wade seems to have effectively compartmentalized the retirement speculation — internal and external — over the past week or so. He’s always said he doesn’t want a sendoff like the one Kobe Bryant enjoyed two years ago and he’s treated the last few days like any others.
Maybe it’s because he’s coming back. Maybe that’s just his personality.
“When I say I’ve gotta make a decision, that’s in the summer,” Wade said. “When you’re in the fight, when you’re in the battle, you focus on that. You focus on what you need to do. When you let your mind go, it’s over with already.”
He went through Tuesday morning’s shootaround at the Temple University practice facility like usual, and gave a light chuckle when it was pointed out afterward that no one asked him if he was retiring this time.
A crowd of students waited for him as the team walked through the lobby out to its buses parked on Broad Street. He stopped a few times on his way out for some selfies before being ushered him to the door, knowing there was no way he could fill every request.
This has been the norm for Wade after every road shootaround for years, even after the Big Three era. There’s little doubt that if he wanted a victory lap next season, the fans would gladly give it to him. The elite class of players who merit that level of celebration is small, and he’s clearly a member.
It’s telling that his fellow players don’t seem to treat him much differently from the fans.
Wade and the Heat were sent home at the hands of a team whose two brightest stars are just beginning their career. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are 24 and 21 years old, respectively, and both were in grade school when Wade burst into the NBA in 2003.
They’re at the center of a team that will contend in the East now and for years to come. It’s logical for anyone, including their players, to think that based on what they’ve done this season.
Wade’s advice, as someone who’s won three titles and been on a lottery team, was not to assume anything. There was a stoppage with 1.8 seconds left, and he grabbed Simmons for a quick word, then Embiid wrapped him up in a hug after the buzzer.
“He just told me to keep working and that I had a bright future,” Embiid said. “I had to pay my respect because I wasn’t sure if this was his last year. I wanted to thank him for what he’s done for the game. He’s done an amazing job. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer.”
Embiid knows. They all know.
Wade won’t need a farewell tour for validation. He can walk away just like this, and they won’t forget.
PHILADELPHIA — Perhaps the highest compliment 76ers coach Brett Brown can give Dwyane Wade is that he eagerly awaits his retirement.
A few months past his 36th birthday, Wade’s been a big factor for the Heat in this first-round playoff series with 18 points on 49.1 percent shooting off the bench in the first four games. He was especially good in Game 2, when he propelled Miami to its only victory so far by pouring in 28 points in 25 minutes.
“I’m always blown away by Dwyane Wade,” said Brown, a longtime assistant for San Antonio who coached against him in The Finals in 2013. “I look at Manu (Ginobili) the other night and all the ridiculous stuff, and you look at what Dwyane is doing here and you think, ‘When are they done? When are they done?’ They just seem never to go away.
“There’s a pace and poise that he plays with and his presence and his class. He just is somebody that I incredibly respect.”
Wade, who is finishing up his 15th season, has not said whether he plans to return for 2018-19.
PHILADELPHIA — There is zero chance of Heat guard Tyler Johnson missing tonight’s Game 5 against the 76ers.
“He’s ready to go,” coach Erik Spoelstra said at shootaround. “He would probably punch me in the face if I said anything otherwise.”
Johnson has been gutting out an injured thumb on his shooting hand since Philadelphia center Joel Embiid knocked him to the floor on a screen in Game 3. He’s been practicing and playing with tape holding it in place, and it’s definitely hampered him.
He feels it every time he handles the ball, even in something as mundane as dribbling, and it’s made an already tough series even more frustrating for him. Johnson, who spends every bit of energy he has trying to defend 76ers guard J.J. Redick as he runs around screens all night, has averaged six points and shot 7 of 15.
In Game 4, a loss that put the Heat down 3-1 and has them facing elimination tonight at Wells Fargo Center, he went 0 for 1 and had two fouls in just 13 minutes of action.
Those aren’t viable numbers for a starting shooting guard, and they’re a big dropoff from what Johnson did in the regular season while averaging 11.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Spoelstra spoke with him over the last few days about how get rolling again, but that’s going to be a challenge.
“I want to be as involved as I can, but it’s because I know I can help,” he said. “It’s not because I feel like I need X amount of shots. It’s coming from a place of I feel like I can contribute to the team. We were talking about it and trying to figure out ways in which I can be effective, not just for myself but for the team.”
Johnson has been a factor defensively, but not enough to get him on the floor when the game’s on the line. Spoelstra has not played him in the fourth quarter the last three games.
CAMDEN, N.J. — 76ers center Joel Embiid has had plenty working against him as he tries to settle into this first-round playoff series against the Heat, and he’s only halfway toward playing like his usual all-star self.
As if his first foray into the postseason isn’t enough of an awakening, he’s been simultaneously trying to regain his rhythm after being out almost three weeks and adjusting to a cumbersome protective mask that covers pretty much everything but his mouth.
The thought that Embiid could snap back into his normal self at any moment is concerning for a Miami team that trails 3-1 heading into Tuesday’s Game 5 at Wells Fargo Center.
He’s played two games, and while his defense was impressive, the Heat know they haven’t seen the best of him offensively yet. He’s averaged 18.5 points, 2.5 assists and 5.5 turnovers while shooting 31.8 percent.
“The difference of Joel Embiid offensively versus Joel Embiid defensively is night and day,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said today. “He is unbelievable at the rim (defensively). That’s energy and activity, just a committed physical, aggressive player. Those qualities don’t equal a poised offensive player. It’s not his fault.”
“Playing basketball, regaining his core balance and all those things, that will happen over time.”
He was still a factor in his first two games with totals of 19 rebounds and eight blocked shots. The Heat were repeatedly frustrated by his defense in Game 4 and have shot 3 for 15 against him within 6′ of the basket since he entered the series.
Embiid and the 76ers haven’t been harping on the mask as an excuse, but it’s undeniably hampering his peripheral vision. Brown believes it was a big factor in him committing eight turnovers Saturday. Teammates Markelle Fultz and Amir Johnson tried out the mask after today’s practice and quickly saw how restrictive it is.
Embiid, who has to wear it because he broke an orbital bone during a game in late March, is doing his best to acclimate and not allow it to become a mental issue in which he blames every shortfall on it.
“That can’t be an excuse,” he said. “I have to get used to it. That’s the only way I can be on the court, so I’ve just gotta do it. I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it. Some days it’s gonna work out well, some other days not.”
The 30 minutes he logged in Game 3 was his most extensive playing time since March 19, and he didn’t respond physically the way he’d hoped. That likely affected him Saturday, and it helps that the teams have an extra day off before the series resumes in Philadelphia.
“My body was hurting all over the place,” Embiid said. “Going into (Game 4), it was really bad. But it’s basketball. I’m the type of guy where it doesn’t matter how I’m feeling. If you put me on the basketball court I just forget everything. You’ve just gotta do it.”
In the regular season, his first full one since Philadelphia drafted him third overall in 2014, he showed exceptional skill for a player who stands skilled player he is for someone who’s 7-foot, 260 pounds. He’s a remarkable matchup nightmare for almost every team.
Embiid averaged 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 30.8 on 3-pointers. That’s the potential all-around impact he can have, whether it be against Miami or perhaps later in the playoffs, and the 76ers will be much more fearsome once he gets back to it.
“It’s part of the complete belief, when I look at our team versus other teams, that I think we can continue to improve,” Brown said. “I really see tremendous improvement possibilities in general with our team, and certainly by Joel playing more basketball.”
CAMDEN, N.J. — The first-round playoff series between the Heat and 76ers feels more contentious to the players than it’s actually been. Philadelphia has a 3-1 lead after sweeping two games in Miami and can win its first postseason series since in six years by taking Game 5 on Tuesday.
The 76ers’ victories in Games 1 and 3 came by a total of 47 points, though they were interrupted by Dwyane Wade leading Miami to a 113-103 win in between. Game 4 saw the Heat lead by as many as 12 in the third quarter before Philadelphia zeroed in to overtake them 106-102.
Now that they seem to know exactly what they’re getting from each other, the next game promises to be a compelling fight.
“At the start of the series you’re throwing jabs,” guard J.J. Redick said. “Why are boxing analogies just so perfect for every other sport? You’re throwing jabs and feeling each other out, then later on in the series you have to deliver a crushing blow.
“You have to finish them. A team like Miami, their culture and organization and their group of guys, they have fighters and warriors on their team. Every game in the series has been tough. There’s no expectation that Game 5 will be any different.”
The Heat have quite a bit of playoff experience up and down their roster, but Philadelphia is learning on the fly. Redick is the only starter who’s been to the postseason before this year. Its best two players, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, haven’t even logged 100 regular-season games yet.
For coach Brett Brown, who spent more than a decade with the Spurs, the leadup to the playoffs and this series have been full of lessons for his young team. He believes the 76ers are still trying to get accustomed to playoff basketball, particularly the way defenses typically play much more attentively, and still haven’t peaked.
“We have as much room for growth as anybody,” he said. “I look at that as a really exciting opportunity.
“You sort of go through college and then here we are in grad school, if you will, and we have a chance to learn a lot more. And we need to.”
Brown used the Game 4 win as an illustration for his players to see the Heat knocked them out of rhythm at both ends of floor in the first three quarters.
At that point, the Sixers had committed 24 turnovers on offense and allowed Miami to shoot 46.5 percent. They took control like a veteran team, however, with a 27-19 fourth quarter in which they turned the ball over just three times and held the Heat to 8-for-23 shooting.
Doing something like that on the road is a key breakthrough for a team that aspires to be a perennial contender. Their next graduation requirement is fighting off the desperation they’ll encounter from the Heat in an elimination game.
Redick’s rhetoric about delivering “a crushing blow” isn’t exactly how Brown wants his team thinking.
“You can make it too hard,” Brown said. “Everybody’s trying to break somebody’s spirit. It’s always the same thing.
“It happens on the other side of it. I know (Erik Spoelstra) will be in his locker room saying, ‘All we gotta do is win a game and come home.’ They’re gonna live in a really isolated, zoomed-in world of, ‘Let’s just win a game. We won a game last time we were here. Just come home and figure it out.’”
CAMDEN, N.J. — There’s a feeling among the 76ers that they were fortunate to escape Miami with a narrow victory in Game 4 of this first-round playoff series. It’s not that they were lucky, necessarily, but more so a sense that it’ll be nearly impossible to duplicate a performance in which they overcame an absurd 27 turnovers.
There’s a simple remedy for sloppy basketball, as Philadelphia coach Brett Brown explained before practice today.
“You can walk it up the floor and you can have your two best players play slow and play conservative,” Brown said, droning on so monotonously that he seemed bored by his own voice. Then he paused and added, “And we’re not doing it.”
The 76ers are looking to knock out the Heat on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, and they’ll try to do it with the same hastened pace that’s made their offense a challenge to contain throughout the series.
They were the first team since 1986 to win a postseason game despite having that many turnovers, and they’d like to clean that up, but not at the expense of changing who they are.
“It’s the slippery slope we live,” Brown said. “We want to play fast and we want to play free and we want to share the ball.”
He needs his stars to tighten up in order to get the offense clicking again.
All-star center Joel Embiid, who had been out since late March with an orbital fracture and concussion prior to his debut in Game 3, had eight of those turnovers, which Brown attributed to obstructed vision from the protective mask he wore and the difficulty of regaining his rhythm after the layoff.
Ben Simmons, the best player for either team in the series, also had seven turnovers.
The 76ers overcame those issues, which left them down 12 in the third quarter, by locking down defensively in the fourth, when they also limited their turnovers to three and turned seven offensive rebounds into seven second-chance points. They outscored Miami 33-19 over the final 13 minutes.
Philadelphia has averaged almost 117 points per game in this series, posted an offensive efficiency of 111.7 and made more 3-pointers (50) than any other team in the playoffs. They’ve shown some of the league’s best flow and ball circulation on offense, which has helped them have four players averaging at least 18 points per game against Miami.
The outlier was the Heat’s 113-103 victory in Game 2, which featured a memorable performance by Dwyane Wade with 28 points. While Wade’s heroics are the lasting image of that night for most who saw it, the more important point might be what Miami did defensively.
The Heat were highly disruptive that night with an old-school, bullying defense that kept Philadelphia from getting to its game. The 76ers shot 41.7 percent, a dip from the 46.9 they’ve hit otherwise. They actually controlled the ball decently in that game and committed a tolerable 14 turnovers.
It’s worth noting that they didn’t have Embiid then, but the overall feel is what Brown anticipates in Game 5.
“Think about their last memory — Their last memory here was winning, and they did it with a certain style,” Brown said. “We get it. You don’t have to be a wise man to know what is about to happen, what style of play they’re going to try to play, especially when they’re gonna go home if they’re not able to find a win.”
Their fear, though, is that a continuation of their careless offense from Saturday combined with what should be a tenacious effort from a Heat team facing elimination will extend the series.
“We realize that having that many turnovers in a playoff game is a recipe for disaster,” guard J.J. Redick said. “We have to be a lot better there.”