Miami Heat: Does Dwyane Wade's Game 3 Performance Have an Underlying Message?

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst IMay 18, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MAY 17: (L-R) Mike Miller #13, Dwyane Wade #3 and Undonis Haslem #40 of the Miami Heat sit on the bench near the end of the game against the Indiana Pacers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on May 17, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Pacers defeated the Heat 94-75. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I have watched Dwyane Wade play for a long time.

Since the start of his NBA career in October of 2003, I have observed Wade. In between the first day I saw Wade play and the time I'm writing this, there have been extraordinary things that he has completed that might never be replicated again.

From his game winner against the Chicago Bulls to his dunk on a 6'11" center; from his 55-point game against New York to scoring his team's final 17 points, I've seen it all.

Well, I thought I had seen it all. It wasn't until Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Indiana Pacers where a complete change was seen in Wade's overall demeanor that I finally saw something I had yet to see. He failed to score a point on five shot attempts in the first half and came back in the second half by attempting to force the issue with long mid-range jump shots. There was no heavy intent on driving; it was as if somebody had sucked the soul right out of Wade's body.

Needless to say, we should all be a little surprised to see Dwyane going off on his own coach. It's completely normal for star players to have disagreements with their coaches—see Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson—but it's abnormal to see that from a player like Wade, who hardly ever gets frustrated to the point of getting into an argument with his team's personnel.

Dwyane has always been looked at as the voice of reason for the Heat. Always cool, calm and collected. He's lost that cool demeanor at times, but so has every other player at one time or another. Arguing over foul calls has been the main reason behind Wade blowup's, usually. However, seeing him yell and pout on the sidelines was such a surprise because you've never seen him act that way over his own game.

Wade usually figures things out. He's always been heavily coveted as one of the best players in the league because of his explosiveness, aggressive mentality and the ability to break through any type of defense at all costs. Take a look at what happened in last year's NBA Finals as a prime example.

While LeBron James was stifled and couldn't penetrate, Wade was finding ways to score and finished the series averaging 27 points on 53 percent shooting. He was being guarded by the same exact defenders James was in the same exact defense.

It was always that ability to come through when he was needed most. Even when he's not always at the top of his game, you could always depend on him to make a shot because he knows how and when to score. Just like Kobe Bryant, a bad shooting day would hardly mean anything to Wade once the fourth quarter came around.

The purpose of writing this article is an attempt to provide myself, and possibly a few confused Heat fans, with some clarity as to what is currently going on in the Miami Heat organization. I've seen this team win 15 games and not once did I notice turmoil within the organization. Shaquille O'Neal stirred up a ruckus momentarily, but that sort of happens in every franchise once he's ready to move on.

With the way Wade played in Game 3, there has to be some sort of explanation, any sort of clarity or enlightenment that can tell us why Dwyane Wade, a former Finals MVP and the leading scorer in last year's NBA Finals, scored five points on 2-of-13 shooting against the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers don't have a defense good enough to do that. In fact, there isn't a defense in the NBA capable of holding Wade to those numbers.

Those numbers were because of Wade and nobody else but Wade. You could throw Dwyane Wade in 1989 to take on the Detroit Pistons and he would find a way to score more than five points on 13 shot attempts. He may have five turnovers by the end of the night, but he's scoring more than five points and hitting more than two baskets.

All of this leads up to the question we all want an answer to at the moment—what is going on in Miami?

Dwyane Wade is better than that. Word is that they're attempting to place the blame on a potential leg injury, but that doesn't explain anything. Elite players play through injuries all the time and Wade's not going to be restricted from driving for an entire 48 minutes because of an injury that mysteriously appeared. It's still not in his nature to play that badly.

I wouldn't chalk this one up to egos, either. Wade was actually quoted in an article stating how he gave the reins of the team over to LeBron James. It's business moves like those that have put Wade into such a shining light over his career. It's telling of his character how he's able to relinquish control of the team he's led for the past eight years.

Losing Chris Bosh was a devastating blow to this team. He's the best jump shooter on the team and it's really not even close at the moment. When your team is a collective 3-of-19 on wide-open jump shots, obviously you could afford to have a player like Bosh who will take advantage of those open opportunities. Even if he isn't hitting, you can still rely on him to drive, grab some boards and make life a little more difficult for Roy Hibbert.

Still, does this mean that the Heat are 19 points worse than the Pacers? The Magic without Dwight Howard actually beat the Pacers and nearly stole another two games in their first round series with Indiana. That Magic team is hardly at the level of the Heat without Chris Bosh. The Heat have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, why should they be struggling to beat a team that had trouble extinguishing Orlando?

There have been a few too many problems arising at the worst possible time. Bosh getting hurt absolutely crippled the team, the shooters providing absolutely nothing has only forced a larger workload on the shoulders of James and Wade, and now Dwyane is suffering a mental breakdown midway through a pivotal Game 3.

I've just about come to the conclusion that either the lockout is finally beginning to take its toll on the Heat, or there is something in the water at the American Airlines Arena. Because there are more and more questionable facets of this team that seemingly arise with no true answer. This goes far beyond Wade and one tough night.

What exactly is wrong with the shooters? How is it possible that Shane Battier, an 11-year veteran who had shot 39 percent from deep for his career, just happens to be having the worst shooting year of his career the second he makes a stop in Miami? He's getting more open looks than he ever got in Memphis or Houston, yet he shot 0-for-6 from deep in Game 3 with most of those misses coming from his hot spot in the corner.

Speaking of shooters, what happened to Mike Miller? He was a premier jump shooter two years ago shooting 51 percent from beyond the arc with the Washington Wizards. Since he's been with the Heat, however, he's constantly been injured and is still noticeably hobbling on the court. His jump shot is no longer consistent and he's actually hesitant to shoot.

The Heat had the option of utilizing the amnesty clause at the beginning of the season, even when they knew that Miller would be recovering from a sports hernia surgery for the first few weeks of the season. Instead of releasing him and possibly going after a shooter who can shoot, they decided to keep him around another year for another injury-plagued season.

Both of those players pale in comparison to how far Udonis Haslem has regressed, however. If there was anything more depressing than Wade's performance in Game 3, it's been Haslem's entire 2011-'12 season. He's been known as a warrior since he joined this club as an undrafted free agent in 2003 because of his physical play, blue-collar work ethic and the reliability of his jumper.

Haslem tore some ligaments in his foot last in November of 2010 and didn't return until the Conference Finals a few months later. He made his impact felt against Chicago, but didn't have the lift that could have been of great use when guarding Dirk Nowitzki a few weeks later. No matter, however, as Haslem would surely return healthy next season, right?

Well, actually the complete opposite. He averaged a career low six points and six boards, while shooting a career low 42 percent from the field. Haslem's jump shot percentage was among the worst in the league this past season. Strange to hear that from a player who has shot better than 50 percent four times and had never shot below 46 percent until this season.

Haslem's stock has dropped so low that he barely played in Game 3. You would think Haslem's presence would be a necessity without Bosh against a team like the Pacers, whose frontcourt is huge. Yet Haslem only played played seven minutes, and has played in 20 minutes or more in only three of the Heat's eight postseason games.

That's quite the coincidence, isn't it? Three players who were formerly considered some of the most consistent players in this league, yet they're all going through the worst offensive years of their careers. The lockout certainly took a toll on everyone, specifically jump shooters, but that doesn't excuse the fact these three have suddenly become nonexistent threats on offense.

Either something is rotten in Miami, or I'm looking a little too far into this. It's just absolutely stunning to me how a team with arguably the two best players in the league could play so horrifically against a team they should beat, with or without Chris Bosh. After everything that happened last year, why are the Heat suddenly playing without a purpose?

How are Mike Miller and Shane Battier playing so horribly? Why has Miller been hurt for two consecutive seasons? What happened to Udonis Haslem? Why is Dwyane Wade checking out halfway through a pivotal Game 3? How is it explainable that Wade, one of the greatest playoff performers of our generation, is scoring five points on 13 shots and committing five turnovers?

That's not supposed to be happening. I recognize that Haslem and Miller could be dealing with the effects of past injuries, but that's still no excuse for Miller to be scared to shoot and Haslem to be so bad that he can't even get more than 10 minutes. Those two were supposed to be the Heat's most coveted bench players, yet Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf and James Jones are receiving their minutes.

The shooters not hitting open jump shots is one thing, but Dwyane Wade playing so badly in Game 3 put me in a haze because I've never seen something like that before from a player of his caliber. Wade is supposed to be one of the strongest mental players on this team, yet he's taking ill-advised jumpers and playing lazy defense in quite possibly the most important game of the season up until this point.

If you came here looking for answers, you're not going to get it. There are so many questions surrounding this team and no answers, which probably explains why the Heat cancelled their practice today. It's better to leave questions up in the air, instead of allowing the media to twist and turn the words of every Heat player into what the public wants to hear.

At the moment, LeBron is playing in a worse environment than Cleveland. With Wade's head on vacation on Mars, the Heat can't get anyone to get involved outside of a stellar Mario Chalmers performance in Game 3. James had to have been disappointed after every one of those Battier misses considering that he was the reason why Shane was receiving those easy shots in the first place.

It's been like that all season, though. James or Wade kicking out to these open shooters and nobody converting half the time. The Heat were supposed to be feared at that aspect of the game. James, Wade and Bosh would be attracting so much attention that the defense would have no choice but to leave those shooters open.

The shooters are getting open, but nobody is hitting. That's not on the coach or anyone else, that's simply the fact that the Heat are paying players to stand in one spot, receive a pass and miss an open shot. You can give all the credit in the world to Battier's defense and Miller's intangibles, but it doesn't mean anything when you're restricting yourself to one side of the court.

Miami already has Joel Anthony for that. They can't afford to have a few more. They can't afford to have Haslem, Battier and Miller constantly stopping the flow of the offense because they're either constantly missing or turning down open shots. If they do that, they turn themselves into Joel Anthony because they're deemed useless on offense.

I'm not waving the white flag. The Heat have proved to be a resilient team in the past and I strongly believe that two players as smart as Wade and James can figure out a way to start beating the Indiana Pacers within the next two games. Those players are MVP candidates every year because of how valuable they are, so you should expect them to make some sort of adjustment.

Or not. The tap to this well is nearly running dry.


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