And Dwyane Wade got a pass for an absolutely rockhead play in Miami’s inexplicable loss to Boston on Saturday.
The Heat led by four with less than two seconds to play. On their home floor. Against the Celtics. And lost. In regulation.
And most of it was on Wade, who (a) faltered in the clutch; (b) made his own strategic decision without any input from the coaches; (c) poorly executed his strategy; and (d) opened a door to a loss that had pretty much been closed.
And Wade got a pass. Understandably, from his coach and teammates. But also from the fans and the media.
Before we get into Saturday’s idiocy on and off the court, let’s preface everything with this: Dwyane Wade has been a spectacular NBA player. With three championships, a Finals MVP and a scoring title, he is a no-brainer future Hall of Famer.
Furthermore, Wade has been eminently likeable for his entire career. He burst on the scene with a compelling playoff run as a rookie, elevated himself to superstar with a title two years later, became a successful pitchman for products, remained loyal to the Heat through lean years and injuries, and teamed with LeBron James and Chris Bosh to reach the pinnacle twice more. He has become an institution in Miami on a par with Dan Marino and Joe’s Stone Crabs.
Wade has gotten plenty of credit, all of it deserved. Some of it came as recently as Thursday, when he rallied the Heat past the Los Angeles Clippers with his best game of the season. “Wade gaining strength with each game” said one headline. “A vintage performance when Heat needed him most” said another.
On Saturday night, he should have gotten plenty of blame and hardly got any.
James had made two free throws to give Miami a 110-106 lead. Boston’s Gerald Wallace countered with a layup with 1.6 seconds left and fouled Wade a second later.
Wade is in his 10th season. He has been in countless endgame situations where score, clock and personnel have to be taken into account. Often those situations occur with the ball in play and defenders flying at him. For this one, he had several moments to consult with coach Erik Spoelstra or – at the very least – thoroughly think about what he was going to do.
Of course, if Wade had made both free throws, this space probably would have been filled by the Philadelphia 76ers failing to understand what tanking actually means or the Brooklyn Nets and their continued whistling in the dark. But Wade missed the first.
That meant the Celtics still had a candle’s chance in a hurricane of forcing overtime. But it also meant that if Wade made his second free throw, that was all they had. And the last time the Heat went to overtime, things worked out pretty well.
So Wade inexplicably decided to intentionally miss the second free throw, even though that was the only way the Heat could lose in regulation. He made the decision on his own, without asking Spoelstra if that was what he wanted, without asking James – who has a pretty strong grasp of score, clock and personnel – if it was good strategy.
It was good strategy – if the Celtics were out of timeouts. But they weren’t. As a veteran who often has the ball in his hands at the end of games, shouldn’t Wade have known that? Had he stepped off the line and asked the coaching staff, he certainly would have gotten an answer. But he didn’t.
Wade acted on his own and fired the ball at the rim to create a hard carom that would kill the remaining time. But he missed high, the ball never hit the rim and no time came off the clock.
“I was trying to hit the rim, down a little bit,” he said. “It didn’t go where it was supposed to go.”
By now, you probably know what happened. Wallace threw a crosscourt inbounds pass to the corner, where Jeff Green caught it and drilled a 3-pointer for one of the most unlikely wins in recent memory.
But when asked about Wade’s unilateral decision, Spoelstra showed his true feelings. He cut off the end of the question from long-time Heat beat writer Ira Winderman and put up both hands as if to say, “Don’t go there.”
“That’s not a matter,” Spoelstra sternly said. “But that clearly did not work.”
And that was that. Next question.
James was in the backcourt when Wade took strategic matters into his own hands. He also let Wade off the hook, although you got the sense that he may have taken a different approach.
“After I had seen him miss it, I was clear (with) what he was trying to do,” James said. “But I wasn’t down there communicating or seeing what he was trying to do or (saying) what to do in that situation.”
No, we didn’t expect Spoelstra or James to throw Wade under the bus. In clutch moments, he has won far more games than he has lost with both his physical and mental ability. But it was somewhat obvious from their reactions afterward that Spoelstra and James weren’t exactly crazy about Wade going rogue.
This isn’t the first time Wade has made terrible decisions and been let off the hook, which is how it goes when you are adored by the public and the media.
Late in Game 7 of the 2005 Eastern Conference finals, Wade took two ill-advised jump shots and committed a turnover as the Heat lost at home to the Pistons but was excused because he was playing with badly bruised ribs, which everyone knows affects your decision-making.
In Game 2 of the 2011 NBA Finals, he foolishly tried to dribble through backcourt pressure and committed a key turnover that gave Oklahoma City a chance to tie. But that game ended with a questionable non-call on James defending Kevin Durant, so everyone conveniently forgot about what Wade did.
Think about the flogging Thunder guard Russell Westbrook took in Game 4 of the same series for fouling instead of defending after a late jump ball. Think about the criticism the virtually untouchable Gregg Popovich heard for not having Tim Duncan and Tony Parker on the floor in crunch time of Games 6 and 7 of last year’s Finals.
Better yet, think about this: If it had been James instead of Wade making the impromptu endgame decisions on Saturday night, do you think this would be the only place you would be reading about it? ESPN’s perennial paralysis by analysis might have pre-empted Monday Night Football.
Wade? He gets a pass on an indefensible bonehead play.
“It went the way it was supposed to go,” he said.
The game? Or the reaction to an adored player?
TRIVIA: Who was the first player in NBA history to score 70 points in a game? Answer below.