For the better part of the NBA playoffs, most have been operating under the assumption that LeBron James wouldn't have his true sidekick. He'd have Chris Bosh, and jump shot willing, he'd have Ray Allen. But he wouldn't have an effective Wade.
How could he? Wade's knee has curbed his production for the entire postseason. He's averaging a career low in points (14.1), minutes (34.5) and shot attempts (12.5). The whole Witwicky motto Wade assumed—No sacrifices, no victory—explained some of what was going on, but not all of it. This decline in production wasn't by choice. Injuries were (are) dragging him down.
"We all have to play through things," Wade conceded after Game 3. "I'm just going to continue to play through it, and hopefully it gets better.
"But it ain't about do it hurt or don't it hurt. I gotta do my job, and that's go out there and do what my team needs me to do."
And what the Heat need him to do is exactly what he did in Game 3.
The Heat don't need the future Hall of Famer to match his career playoff output of 24.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game. They no longer need him to play the part of LeBron James. They actually have LeBron James for that.
Miami needs the Wade it saw in Game 3—the one who dropped 18 points on 14 shots, dished out eight dimes and added two blocks and a steal in 35 minutes. That Wade.
Nothing about his Game 3 performance (18 points, eight assists) was out of the ordinary. Wade has had more prominent performances before—showcases that easily exceed the results he yielded in Indiana.
But this well-oiled machine we call the Heat don't need any more than what they got from Wade in Game 3 to survive.
Wade hasn't been Wade (consistently) for nearly a month and Miami finds itself in the Eastern Conference Finals. When he arrived in the capacity he did in Game 3, the Heat steamrolled a sublime defensive squad.
The Pacers were second in points allowed per game during the regular season (90.7), and they are allowing just 92.2 in the playoffs. Miami torched that defense for 114 points in four quarters.
Coincidence? Postseason minds don't believe in coincidences.
South Beach is a better team when Wade, not Bosh, is the Robin to LeBron's Batman. It's almost unfair how good they are.
When he's making plays for his teammates and incorporating bursts of explosive rim attacks into his offensive sets, the Heat are unbeatable. That's not a hyperbole, either. In games when Wade totals at least 15 points and five assists while shooting 50 percent or better from the field, the Heat are a perfect 28-0 (playoffs included).
Now, consider this: Wade averaged 21.2 points and 5.1 assists on 52.1 percent shooting during the regular season. Statistically speaking, he doesn't need to even hit any of those marks for the Heat to win. They're undefeated when he comes relatively close.
What we saw in Game 3 wasn't exactly a classic Wade performance. He didn't force the action; he let the offense come to him. He picked his spots and focused on creating easy scoring opportunities for his brethren. It was a complementary showing—a reminder that Wade was still a star, but more concerned with adjusting to the needs of his team and LeBron more than anything else.
Miami isn't going to be stopped if that's the version of Wade we see for the remainder of the postseason. Indiana won't be able to derail the Heat, and the San Antonio Spurs (or the less likely Memphis Grizzlies) will be facing their most difficult assignment of the season, embarking on a mission most wouldn't hesitate to coin impossible.
This variant of Dwyane Wade puts the Heat in that position. They become overwhelming favorites when he's healthy enough to play the way he did in Game 3 on Sunday night.
Will he be healthy enough to sustain such a level of productivity? Can his knee hold up to such demands? Or was this merely a fleeting glimpse of what the Heat need, but won't consistently get?
LeBron won't allow Wade to dignify that with an answer.
“His knee is fine,” James interjected when Wade was asked about the state of his teammate's knee following Game 3. “His knee is fine, we don’t need to talk about the knee. He in the lineup, he good.”
“There you go,” Wade added with a smirk.
If LeBron is correct, and if Wade is actually fine, there the Heat go indeed—straight on through to the NBA Finals, well within reach of a second consecutive championship.
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.