Stubbornness can be a virtue or vice, and sometimes a bit of both. Few athletes become exceptional without it, the belief in themselves to overcome every obstacle and all adversity, whether throughout the course of a game, a season or a career—and to do it in many of the ways they have always done it.
Dwyane Wade has stubbornly refused to surrender his claim to a spot among the elite, even as fans, media and some prominent peers have argued for ripping that status from him.
He has stubbornly resisted speeding his pace of recovery just to shut up the skeptics, who loudly wondered why he'd sit out the second game of the season. And while he has altered his game more than most casual observers recognize, relying much more upon off-ball cuts, he still tries to make many of the same athletic plays he did prior to the years piling up to tear his body down.
"D-Wade was exceptional tonight," LeBron James said.
That allowed James to breathe easier on an evening when he struggled to extend himself. It was apparent during the game, as he stretched out on the sideline or refrained from attacking Blake Griffin on the floor, that his back was bothering him. After the game, he revealed that he'd been dealing with some discomfort "for a couple of weeks," that he felt fine Tuesday in Toronto and to start Thursday's contest, but that his back "locked up" after a first-quarter dive.
"Once I came out, it was pretty sore from there," James said. "It's kind of sore now. I just tried to keep the heat packs on it, trying to keep it warm... I've had a history of it, but I always keep an eye on it. So I should be all right. But it ain't a great feeling, especially at night time when you're trying to sleep."
Perhaps he could sleep a bit easier Thursday in light of the his sidekick's rolling. In his first four games this season, Wade had five, five, eight and then nine field goals.
Thursday, he had six by halftime, and his most emphatic play—trying to soar over Blake Griffin in transition—wasn't even among them. He had two more in the third quarter.
He replaced James with 1:45 remaining in that quarter and the score tied at 70. Playing with the core four reserves, a role he relishes, Wade paced an 18-10 run before James returned with nine points, a rebound and an assist. He closed that James-less stretch with a slam and then a 20-foot fadeaway that had him skidding on his back into the left corner and drawing a foul.
"I was feeling it a little bit at that moment," Wade said. "I was feeling pretty good. I think I shot a three right before that, or something like that."
He did, and missed.
"So you know I was feeling good, I came down and raised," Wade said. "My shot was feeling good tonight, it's been feeling good the last couple of days."
"He's coming off his most efficient year...and everyone said he was done," his coach, Erik Spoelstra, said. "Go figure."
There were some miscues, with Wade admitting that "I'm a turnover machine these days" after committing seven of them. But on the whole, his game is showing the vitality and variety that he and Spoelstra are seeking.
"Score on back cuts, score on catch-and-shoots, score on off the dribble, score in the post," Wade said. "Just trying to open it up a little bit. A few years ago, when I had the ball in my hand, I might have scored all in pull-up jumpers or just going straight to the basket. Now I'm trying to mix it up a little bit."
Nor did it hurt, in terms of getting rhythm, that James was mostly out of the mix.
"Like I told you guys in training camp, this is the best I've seen him in a few years," James said. "But he has to continue to be smart about it. He's been doing everything possible. I don't think he's even 100 percent just yet, but this is the best he's looked."
For a night, he looked quite a bit better than the Clippers' signature star, Chris Paul, who appeared mixed up by the Heat's constant trapping, sideline to baseline to sideline, always making him see multiple defenders.
"Like trying to corral a spinning top," Spoelstra said of guarding Paul.
Paul's a stubborn sort too, and while the Heat's plan was to get the ball out of his hands and make a secondary ball-handler beat them, the strategy actually led to a preferable result.
Paul often tried to push through it.
"I thought he got a little defiant," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "He wanted to beat the traps tonight. That's just a little learned for all of us. We told him before the game that at some point they were going to blitz (him). We had to swing it to the other side and trust."
"It was me making bad decisions," Paul said. "I have to trust my teammates. I have to pass the ball and get rid of it."
Sometimes, stubborn pays, and sometimes it doesn't.
Meanwhile, James left the arena with a stubborn ache in his back.
What would it take for him not to play, with the next game Saturday against the Boston Celtics?
"Probably have to not be able to get out of the bed," James said. "If I can't get out of bed, then I can't show up here. If I show up here, I'm playing."
Well, as you probably know, he's awful stubborn too.