Heat's Wade is proving to be the biggest star on South Beach
MIAMI -- The stars are out here in South Beach.
Celtics-Heat. In possibly the most-hyped conference semifinal series ever, there are seven current all-stars. We have the Celtics' Big Three, plus Rajon Rondo. We have the Super Trio of Miami, the self-styled "Heatles." We even have Shaquille O'Neal on the bench in civvies, just to dress things up a bit more.
And who was the best player in Game 1? Not Rondo. Not LeBron James. Not Paul Pierce. Not Kevin Garnett. Not Chris Bosh. Not Ray Allen.
The best player in the first game was the guy in Miami who actually has already won a championship -- Dwyane Wade.
Wade did it all in Miami's 99-90 series-opening win. He converted 14 of 21 shots, hit 8-of-9 from the line, and scored 38 points to go along with five assists. He scored 23 in the first half when the Heat burst to a 15-point lead. With his team up by 10 with a minute and a half left, he dove four rows into the stands, attempting to save a loose ball.
In this galaxy of stars, Dwyane Wade was The Man.
"It's tough,'' said Boston coach Doc Rivers. "Honestly, you are not going to do a lot about that. I thought a lot of them (Wade's jumpers) were contested and tough shots. When he makes them, he makes them. That's why he is the second-greatest player ever to come out of Marquette.''
Good joke by Rivers. Doc played at Marquette before he was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. He kidded that Marcus Washington is the No. 1 player to come out of Marquette, but we all thought he was talking about himself when he was complimenting Wade.
D-Wade had a tough year against the Celtics during the regular season. In four games against Boston -- three of them losses -- Wade shot only 28 percent and averaged a pedestrian 12.8 points per game.
Maybe this is why he felt he had something to prove with all eyes on LeBron Sunday afternoon.
In many ways Wade is better suited to attack the Celtics than LeBron.
"He's a bit faster and a lot quicker with the ball than LeBron is,'' admitted Chris Bosh. "And he's a little bit of a smaller target.''
This explains why Wade scored 33 points a game and shot 56 percent in the playoffs last spring. It's why he has scored 30 or more in his last four postseason games against the Celtics. Overall, he's had six straight postseason games of 25 or more against the Celtics and that hasn't been done since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skyhooked in an eight-game stretch that started in Milwaukee (1974) and ended in Los Angeles (1984). Kareem was shooting over Dave Cowens and Robert Parish. Wade has been guarded primarily by Ray Allen.
"I don't think he hit a lot of tough shots tonight,'' Allen said, grudgingly. "He scored within the confines of what they were doing. They got him in transition, he rolled to the basket, he got easy layups early, and then he was getting stuff in the flow. Then when LeBron drives, he cuts and gets easy layups. I think early in the game he got those easy buckets that we talk about not allowing him to have. That got his confidence going and then he makes a couple of tough ones. At the end of the day, there was some defensive breakdowns, but you have to give him credit.''
Coming into this series, it was all about LeBron. Coming into the season it was all about LeBron taking his talents to South Beach.
But now we are one game in and it could be one of the great conference semifinals of all time and it is loaded with star power ... and we are reminded about Dwyane Wade.
Wade is the only player on the Heat who has won a championship. Wade is the guy who was MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals when he was only 24 years old. He is much more than the second-greatest player ever to come to of Marquette. He is a guy who can walk on the court with messrs -- James, Pierce, Garnett, Allen, Bosh and Rondo -- and come away as the best player on the floor. One can only imagine what Shaquille was thinking as he sat there in street clothes and saw the guy who won a ring for him five years ago.
"Dwyane is a special player,'' said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "I've said this so many times, he just figures it out. He is very diligent. he has had a couple of days now to see how they were defending him. He has proved so many times during the playoffs that when the defense is at its best, he figures it out and finds a way to crack the code ... He has been in this situation before.''
Which makes Wade a more dangerous weapon than LeBron as the series moves toward Game 2.