Despite LeBron James and Chris Bosh joining him in South Beach to form Team Trinity, Dwyane Wade certainly knew before the 2010-2011 season tipped off that the road to the NBA Finals went through the Boston Celtics. Undoubtedly comforting to Wade, though, had to be his stellar play against Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and company as a one-man act last season.
In eight appearances—five of which were in the postseason—against Boston’s vaunted defensive attack in 2009-2010, Wade was other-worldly. The eighth-year pro out of Marquette averaged 33.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game and shot a remarkable 54 percent from the field. Obviously, Wade was the rare player who thrived against Boston’s heralded defense, and he did so without the help of a reliable second, or even third, banana.
With the added presence of stars like James and Bosh, one would assume Wade’s incredible success playing the Celtics would continue into 2010-2011. After all, the playmaking ability and overall dominance of The King coupled with Bosh’s undeniable scoring prowess from 18 feet in would make life even easier for the artist formerly known as “Flash” against Boston, right?
After three listless, underwhelming performances in losses from Wade against the C's this season, there is an obvious answer to that question; it’s just not the one anybody anticipated. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Wade, seventh in PPG, fifth in PER and shooting a career-best 49.4 percent from the floor, has been downright dismal facing Boston this season. He’s averaging a meager 12.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, connecting on just 26.7 percent of his shots and—perhaps worst of all—has committed a pathetic 18 turnovers in three matchups against the reigning Eastern Conference champs in 2010-2011.
After watching Wade and the Heat fall 85-82 to the Celtics yesterday at the new Boston Garden, a trend concerning possessions ending with a Wade shot, assist or turnover (Wade-centric) was realized. What was learned from his Sunday struggles? One overarching, extremely important and very surprising fact:
Wade is extremely uncomfortable and ineffective running the Miami offense as a ball-dominant alpha dog versus the Celtics.
In seven Wade-centric second quarter possessions that saw LeBron on the bench, not a single one was a result of good offense (i.e., structured ball movement through offensive sets). Rather, each involved our protagonist bringing the ball up court, dribbling aimlessly in the half-court and using or refusing ball screens.
The predictable results? Four turnovers, three shot attempts (one of which was the result of Boston forgetting to guard Wade), two contested mid-range jumpers and five points. Perhaps more predictable? Miami’s lead evaporated, and the Heat were never in control of the game again.
Obviously, not every Wade-centric play was a negative one. The majority of positive possessions used by Wade—supporting our above realization—were ones that were initiated by LeBron and used Wade as an integral cog of Miami’s half-court offense.
For instance, one successful set involved Wade and Bosh standing feet in front of ballhandler James on the right wing. Wade popped out to the middle and made the catch from LeBron, used a screen from Zydrunas Ilgauskas, attacked middle to draw the defense and hit a rolling Bosh for an easy lay-up.
In another possession, Wade re-posted on the right block for position after kicking back to James, received the pass and attacked the rim to draw an easy foul. On the Heat's first offensive play, Mario Chalmers hit a back-cutting Wade for a thunderous dunk.
The point is obvious: Miami is clearly better a team—against the Celtics, at least—when Wade is a piece of the puzzle rather than the one putting it together. After dominating Boston last season with a squad half as top-shelf talented as the 2011 Heat, it’s an unexpected and shocking revelation. Good thing for Miami, then, that it has LeBron to run the show when going up against Gang Green.
If Wade accepts playing second fiddle to James when they’re on the court together and gets Bosh more involved in the attack when they aren’t, there isn’t a reason his struggles against the Celtics need to continue. Rather, his numbers should be more closely aligned with last season’s, those that put several scares into Boston during the first round of the 2010 playoffs. In that case, the Celtics may not be just “scared” come the postseason; they could go home earlier than planned.