This pill is going to be difficult to swallow.
If the Heat lay claim to their second straight NBA title, it won't be because of Wade. Not that it will be in spite of him either. He could come out and have one of those vintage performances like he did in Game 4. He could help his Heat win.
One game doesn't change how unstable Wade's postseason performance has been, how tumultuous his NBA Finals showcases have been. Two or even three regular-season-esque displays wouldn't even be enough to make us forget what happened previously.
Embedded in our memories is the Wade who is averaging a career-playoff low in points (15.5) and minutes (35.4) per game. Etched in our brain is the 19 points on 46.7 percent shooting Wade has put up in this year's finals, easily his worst finals performance in his career.
What we see, whether we care to admit it or not, is a hobbled version of a perennial All-Star whose bodily limits are being pushed to where they never have before.
In Game 6, Wade collided with Manu Ginobili in the first half, was visibly shaken up and wasn't able to start the third quarter.
"That kind of trauma to it at that moment, it just swelled up," Wade said of his knee, according to Royce Young of CBS Sports. "At halftime I was trying to do as much as I can, treatment. I need a certain amount if time, so I told them to make sure they start Ray [Allen] in that quarter."
Wade eventually returned, going 3-of-8 from the field for the rest of the game en route to totaling 14 points.
"It was stiff," he said. "I couldn't do as much as I wanted to. I just tried to do whatever I could."
It wasn't enough.
The Heat nearly lost, and they would have indeed lost had it not been for a transcendent fourth quarter from LeBron and a game-tying three-pointer in the waning seconds of regulation from Ray Allen.
Through the fourth quarter and overtime, Wade attempted only two shots, missed both of them and scored a mere two points at the free-throw line. He also pitched in a rebound, assist and block.
Think about that for a second. At the most crucial point in the game, Wade wasn't able to contribute at the level the Heat expect him to.
Two shots in a season-defining fourth quarter and overtime isn't Wade. Him playing fewer than nine of those 17 minutes isn't Wade. It's not supposed to be.
Now at the mercy of his knee, it is.
Heading into Game 7, neither Wade nor the Heat can expect anything different. He told reporters the next day that his knee remains swollen and stiff (via Sam Amick of USA Today):
Something needs to change if Wade is in that much pain. And it needs to change now, for Game 7, before it's too late.
Wade's plus/minus stood at zero through the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 6. At a time when LeBron was a plus-13, Mike Miller a plus-15 and Shane Battier and Allen also a plus-13, Wade was at zero.
For the game, he was at a minus-15. On a night when the Heat won (though just barely), his knee actually hindered his performance to the point where he was a statistical liability. That can't happen, although it has. For the entire series, in fact.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, Wade is at a minus-52 for the finals, the worst of any player on either team:
I'll be the first to admit it's been a strange series. Miami has made it to Game 7 despite Wade posting a minus-52 and LeBron putting up a minus-eight. Never, in a million years, would we have expected that.
Nor would we have expected to find out that LeBron and Wade have combined to post a minus-56 when playing on the floor together through the first six games of the finals, the lowest mark of any of South Beach's two-man pairings (via ESPN Stats & Info):
Somehow, the Heat are still in a position to win. Somehow, they're still alive. Should they rely on Wade as heavily as they normally do, they won't be. They won't survive Game 7 counting on Wade in any capacity.
This isn't to say Wade should be benched or deemed a lame duck. Even at his worst he's more than that.
Conserving his use, diminishing his role—that's what the Heat need to do. To some extent they already have.
Wade was on the floor approximately nine of the 17 minutes when the Heat made their comeback. Once again, he attempted just two shots and was really a non-factor on the offensive end.
With the exception of a few instances, whenever he got the ball he deferred. He didn't even try to create plays for his teammates (for the most part); he just sent the rock on its merry way. Which is how it has to be.
Wade can still be a playmaker. Whenever he's on the floor, he's a threat to attack the basket, and the Heat can use that to their advantage. They cannot, however, count on him to be their second option.
Ask Wade to drive-and-kick, ask him to man the point. Don't ask him to score or shoot in excess.
Game 4 performances have been fewer and farther between for the embattled shooting guard. He's not going to will himself to 30-plus or even 20-plus points. Hell, he's been lucky to surpass 15 points.
Wade has notched 15 or fewer points 10 times this postseason. In his previous eight playoff campaigns, he scored 15 or fewer points nine times combined (via Basketball Reference).
This is where he's at, and there's no shame in admitting it. He can't help the Heat the way he wants to (consistently) and the way they've needed him to. So it's time to take a step back.
Piggy-back off LeBron. Feed him the ball and tell him shoulder the immense load he was never supposed to have once he left Cleveland.
Allow Wade to help you by asking him to do less and demanding his teammates (even LeBron) do more.
"There's one game left," Wade said. "Whatever you have inside of you, you muster it up, you give it. So I'll be fine."
Provided the Heat plan around whatever Wade has left inside him possibly not being enough, or even close to it, they'll be fine, too.
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