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Never forget that Kemba Walker was out of his mind in Game 6 against the Heat. Draining threes, finishing through contact at the rim, tearing down defensive rebounds and exploding the other way—for about six minutes in the fourth quarter, he was channeling the holy spirit. It was so much fun.
His team has the same story. The Hornets were run off the court in the first two games of their first-round series with the Heat, but they came back. Steve Clifford gave that answer about staying true to what got them there, and it all got rolling. By the time they won at the buzzer in Game 5, they weren't just competing with Miami. This weird collection of players was a lot more fun to watch. Sometimes it was with Kemba takeovers, sometimes it was Jeremy Lin at the rim, or sometimes it was a game-winning Spencer Hawes inbounds pass, but it worked. The Hornets were winning fans all over basketball for the past week.
Dwyane Wade RUINED all of it.
Wade sneered and complained and took control, and destroyed this happy family in Charlotte.
It was the meanest masterpiece possible, which is to say it was the best reminder of why Wade is great.
I'm talking about Game 6, obviously. That's what gave Miami a chance to blow out the Hornets in Game 7 on Sunday. Coming into this series, the Heat had been a disaster on the road all year. They'd beaten just three above-.500 teams on the road in the previous three months. So when the Hornets won Game 5 and took things back to Charlotte with a chance to close out the series, the Heat were already in trouble. And for anyone who's watched Wade over the past 13 years, what happened next was both a surprise and a deeply familiar story.
It was the same thing Wade did to the Spurs in the middle of the 2013 NBA Finals (down 2-1, he notched 32 points and a win). He did it to the Thunder in the Finals in 2012 (down 1-0, he came back and averaged 25 points in three wins as Miami took control). Earlier in those playoffs, the Heat went down 2-1 to the Pacers, and Wade had five points on 2-of-13 shooting in the loss. The LeBron experiment was on life support. Then, Wade came back and averaged 33 points over the next three games, including 41 to close out Indiana on the road. And of course, the 2006 Finals, when Miami went down 2-0 to Dallas: Wade came back and averaged 39 (1) over four straight wins to secure his first NBA title.
Cynics will say that the refs won that first title as much as Wade did, and they're probably not wrong. But that's part of the legend. Wade wins at all costs. He's not a superhero. He's the supervillain. He will pump-fake his way into the most annoying fouls possible. He will take cheap shots at half the league. When his team's floundering, he will recruit his biggest competition to come extend his reign. He'll hold welcome rallies and then he'll mock the critics, and he'll regret nothing when it all works.
It's still working. He's older now, but he's quietly been much better this season than anyone expected. "I've managed my game," he said during ABC's broadcast Sunday. "I've changed my game to where my skill set is greater than my athleticism."
Everyone fawns over guys like Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki for aging gracefully, but Wade probably deserves the same credit. He's still producing, and at least a few times every game he'll put some cruel move on a helpless defender who's a decade younger. He's still the best answer Miami has in the halfcourt, and as things broke down in this series and Kemba looked poised to end it, Wade only got better.
Of course, there was also an uproar from Miami—including Erik Spoelstra and Wade's wife—about that foul call that was missed after Game 5. One counterpoint would be that the refs also missed what could have been a goaltending call on Wade, and at the end, he was clearly flailing around looking for a whistle. The NBA's probably better off not making that call to decide playoff games. Either way—getting lucky on the goaltending, playing the victim on the no-call—it was all vintage Wade.
So was Game 6. As the NBA prepared for Miami's funeral, there was 23 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals, and two daggers in the final minute to kill the Hornets for real. RIP Kemba, RIP purple shirt guy.
The performance reminded me of Wade's first playoff game ever:
This is what Wade does. If this weekend was surprising, it's only because Wade's too old to still be doing this. The best supervillains are always the hardest to kill.