James, Wade answer call as Miami rallies to even series with Indiana
INDIANAPOLIS -- The missed shots piled up, and Dwyane Wade was at a loss to explain the problem. For two days Wade had stewed over his abysmal five-point, 2-for-13 performance in Game 3. He sought treatment for his sore legs from the Heat trainers, sought counsel from his former college coach, Tom Crean, in nearby Bloomington. The extended break between games was a nightmare for Miami, said head coach Erik Spoelstra, perhaps for no one more so than Wade, who was on the arena floor two and a half hours early on Sunday, firing up jump shots and running through drills with a Heat assistant coach, desperately trying to work away the problem.
Yet when the game started there was Wade, shooting and missing, shooting and missing. At halftime the Heat shuffled off the floor down eight, its season on the ropes, its star studded roster pushed, shoved and muscled to the brink of an unforgiving 3-1 series deficit by the Pacers. With Chris Bosh gone Miami needed James and Wade to be great, and through the first 24 minutes only one was delivering. James chipped in 19 points, five rebounds and five assists in the first two quarters, relentlessly attacking Indiana's burly front line. Wade added just eight, connecting on just three of his 10 shots, compounding his brutal Game 3 effort with an almost equally abysmal first-half performance.
Yet inside the cramped concrete walls there were no rah-rah speeches, no impassioned pleas. Just a few settling words from the head coach and an understanding by James and Wade of what needed to be done. "I think," Shane Battier said, "everyone knew what 3-1 meant."
Yes, 3-1 meant a return trip to Miami with questions about this group's future hounding them all the way home. Herculean performances were needed from the Heat's two remaining stars; they had James but they needed Wade, and few could put their finger on Wade's problem. "Sometimes the game is funny," Wade said. "Sometimes shots you always make, even since you were a little kid, they don't go in. You just have to work on it."
Wade has never shied away from work; never shied away from shooting either. He has ranked in the top 10 in field-goal attempts in three of the last four seasons, and when the third quarter began Wade slowly shot his way out of his own wreckage. The third was vintage Wade. Step backs, fallaways, tear drops, Wade pulled everything out of his bag of tricks. He pumped in 14 points in nine third quarter minutes, few from close range, none uncontested. It was James, Wade and virtually no one else in those chilling 12 minutes, the two accounting for 25 straight Miami points and 28 of 30 in the quarter en route to a 101-93 victory.
"They are on such a high level, it's tough," said Danny Granger. "That third quarter was just too much."
Wade and James clicked to the tune of a combined 70 points, 27 rebounds and 15 assists, and suddenly Miami is back in the series. The Heat could not have picked a worse time to lose Bosh, not with Indiana's frontcourt laughing at Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf popping off screens and a gritty but undersized Battier getting muscled by David West in the paint. Losing Bosh in this series was like losing LeBron or Wade against anyone else. More than ever, Miami needed James and Wade to play like stars, more than ever did they need them to deliver.
They did, and they energized their teammates in the process. Battier's final line read just three points but the third quarter charge he took against Roy Hibbert sent Hibbert to the bench with four fouls, clearing a 7-foot-2 roadblock out of the paint. Udonis Haslem didn't play a minute in the second half of Game 3 but was there, coolly knocking down deep jump shots in the fourth quarter of Game 4, giving the Heat a Bosh-like dimension they have sorely missed.
"When [LeBron] has that look, when Dwyane has that look, it does so much for everybody else," Battier said. "It raises everyone else's level of play. You just want to run through a wall, you want to get every loose ball, every rebound. That's what makes superstars special. You can say the same thing about [Kevin] Durant, about Kobe [Bryant]. It's their ability to inspire the group not by their words, but by their look."
Miami has home-court advantage in its pocket again, but this series is far from over. This series, Spoelstra said, has become about survival and the Pacers are not prepared to back down. Juwan Howard and Lance Stephenson had to be separated before the game and during it Wade and Granger went nose to nose. Indiana will be ready on Tuesday, they will hope Hibbert can stay out of foul trouble, that its advantage up front will prove too much for the Heat to handle.
Miami needs Wade and James to be up for the challenge, again, because their immeasurable talents are among the greatest equalizers in sports. Yes, there have been countless forgettable moments in this modern Miami Heat era, from the smoke-filled sideshow and the promise of seven championships, to the whining of players asked to work and the public mocking of a flu-ridden opponent -- Dirk Nowitzki -- who would subsequently destroy them. No, this has not been the smooth, unencumbered ride many expected when LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were united on South Beach but understand this: When they want to be brilliant, brilliance is theirs' for the taking.