What happened to Dwyane Wade?
The Miami Heat shooting guard submitted another stinker during Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Finals, and it's quickly starting to look like a trend, not just an aberration. While Wade will almost certainly go on to make the Hall of Fame, he's not doing much to improve his historical standing.
Nor is he helping the three-peat chase, which is much more important at the moment.
Unfortunately for Miami, he looked like just a shell of his old self during the 107-86 rout on Thursday night, recording only 10 points, two rebounds, four assists, four steals and three turnovers. Making it even worse, he shot only 3-of-13 from the field, consistently leaving everything short during the opening minutes.
As Bill Simmons put it after the broadcast on ESPN, "Wade was terrible."
He'd go on to explain that he wasn't even hustling back on defense during the proceedings, but let's have that statement stand alone. Wade, the legendary 2-guard with plenty of accolades to his name, was terrible.
And let's not forget just how good he can be.
Erik Spoelstra intentionally held Wade out of the lineup for maintenance days throughout the 2013-14 campaign, trying to keep him both fresh and healthy throughout the playoffs.
And at first, it worked.
During the first three rounds of the postseason, he averaged an impressive 18.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and a surprising 38.9 percent from downtown. He played well enough that it seemed like a career resurgence.
There was a spring in his step, he was knocking down jumpers and he was actually making Miami better. And nearly everyone was singing his praises, as Bleacher Report's Dan Favale did in late May:
Dwyane Wade is back.
Statistically, anyway. There's nothing especially familiar or vintage about his playing style these days. He's different, having adjusted to his limited physical abilities, catering to his jerry-built knees, adhering to safer, less reckless methods of attack.
And yet, he's back—scoring, running, defending, actually playing. He's been back for a while, using most of these playoffs as a new dawn, assuming a familiar role behind LeBron James and no one else, helping the Miami Heat navigate their postseason gauntlet and reassert their status as reigning NBA champs who haven't the slightest intention of vacating their throne anytime soon.
Where did that Wade go?
"Vintage" is no longer a word that you want to use when describing the artist formerly known as Flash. And based on their performances in Games 3 and 4, the Heat sure seem intent on vacating that throne.
Just take a look at Wade's outings against the Spurs, who have systematically tortured him on both ends of the court:
|Wade's Finals Struggles|
Some of those numbers seem far more impressive than they should, as meaningless statistics were accrued during garbage time. The eye test is more important here, and Wade earns a big red "F."
Speaking of which, that's the same grade Bleacher Report's Andrew Bailey gave the 2-guard for his Game 4 outing.
Wade doesn't have any spring. He doesn't play with confidence, and when he does, it's misplaced (more misplaced confidence later). The possessions in which he dribbles down the court and shoots a contested mid-range jumper without bothering to make a single pass are killing any semblance of offense for Miami.
That lack of explosiveness—which didn't exactly go unnoticed by the world, as you can see below—is particularly troubling.
On top of that, he's been slow to recover on defense, often spending time pondering his offensive mistakes and complaining before getting back to the other side of the court.
Of course, Wade downplayed the struggles while sitting at the podium and addressing the media after his inexplicably awful performance.
"I’ll take those same opportunities next game for sure," he claimed during the ESPN broadcast. And on top of that, there's this statement: "I'm a very accurate shooter. I don't like missing. I'm not used to missing."
See? I told you there would be more misplaced confidence.
Problem is, Wade hasn't been accurate, unless he's intentionally aiming for the rim. If that's the cause, Miami has even more problems than it currently realizes.
During Game 4, the Spurs outscored Miami by nine points when he was on the court. That's coming off a minus-nine performance in Game 3, minus-eight in the Game 2 victory and minus-18 in the opening contest.
If the Heat are going to become the first team in Finals history to come back from a 3-1 series deficit, they have to get more from Wade.
This team was built around the contributions of three superstars, but it's devolved into LeBron James trying to carry the Heat from start to finish. Chris Bosh is no longer getting as many touches (which needs to change ASAP for them to turn things around), and Wade isn't, well, Wade.
"And it makes you wonder: When's the last time Dwyane Wade mattered for this Heat team?" asks Zach Harper of CBS Sports before providing us with the answer. "He certainly matters right now, and it's for all of the wrong reasons."
The concern here is no longer that Wade could get hurt and throw a wrench in Miami's plans.
It's that the shooting guard is as healthy as he could reasonably be expected to be, but he's failing to do anything positive at the most crucial part of the season. Unless that changes, the Heat are dead in the water heading back to San Antonio.
He's not wrong.
Before pinning all the fault on Miami for lackluster energy and declining play from key players, take the time to give the Spurs credit. They're playing some of the most beautiful basketball imaginable, moving the ball in ways that few teams are even capable of dreaming up, and their defense has been undeniably impressive.
But Wade has the unique ability to change things.
We know he's capable of lighting up the scoreboard, locking down on defense and dominating every facet of the game. He's made a career out of doing that, even if these Finals are making it awfully hard to remember that.
"Right now" has only led to a 3-1 deficit, not a series loss. "Right now" doesn't impact Game 5, nor does it have any bearing on the games that could come after that contest.
The odds are stacked against Miami "right now," but Wade turning back the clock could reverse that. In fact, it might be the only way for the Heat to complete their coveted three-peat.