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Whenever the Miami Heat are in critical moments, they call on Dwyane Wade. It’s been that way for more than a decade, and Monday night was no different.
In typical Wade fashion, he rose well above the level of play around him: on his team and the opposition. Wade poured in 30 points in a game otherwise played at a slog and led the Heat to a 94–87 overtime Game 4 victory over the Raptors that evened their Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2–2.
After the Raptors managed to steal Game 3 in Miami, this contest took on more importance for the Heat, who were without Hassan Whiteside and facing the possibility of trailing 3–1, a steep deficit from which few teams have managed to fight back. It figures that all the pressure of avoiding such a fate fell on Wade’s shoulders. Even on a veteran-laden team, his playoff pedigree sticks out.
That much was clear from the onset, as Wade scored 15 first-half points to leapfrog Magic Johnson to land the 13th spot on the alltime playoff scoring list. Johnson’s name was added to a long list of icons Wade bypassed this postseason, including Wilt Chamberlain, Scottie Pippen and Elgin Baylor.
Given the class of player he is associated with, it should be no surprise that Wade owned the closing moments on Monday. He scored another 15 points in the second half and overtime and added the exclamation mark with a clean steal and dunk in the final seconds.
Despite all Wade has shown as an individual, his most important play was an unselfish one. With the Raptors keyed in on Wade and the Heat clinging to an 89–87 overtime lead, Wade passed the ball to Joe Johnson, who found Goran Dragic on the wing. Dragic caught the ball in perfect position to drive left and finish his biggest bucket of the night, an and-one, which he converted to stretch Miami’s lead to five with 22.4 seconds remaining.
In that moment, Wade, who had owned every moment of Game 4, empowered his teammates. That’s something DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have yet to figure out. With Jonas Valanciunas out due to an ankle injury, there was no traditional third scorer to pick up the pieces when the Raptors’ stars struggled yet again. DeMarre Carroll, Bismack Biyombo, Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross each had moments, but none was equipped with the gene Wade flashed at will.
It wasn’t always pretty, but that group pushed Miami to the brink in spite of DeRozan and Lowry. In fact, Toronto played its most cohesive minutes with Lowry on the bench with four fouls and DeRozan on the sidelines because of poor play. On the night, they shot a combined 6 of 28 from the field. But, worst of all, they failed to make teammates better.
Lowry did return and show some semblance of fight, but DeRozan was benched for the long haul. Only Lowry’s sixth and final foul brought DeRozan back from the end of the Raptors’ rotation. And while DeRozan did drop in one big basket to give Toronto a chance in overtime, it was too little too late. Wade was already on a roll, playing downhill and making Carroll, one of the NBA’s best defenders, look ordinary with straight-line drives, euro steps and whatever else he wanted to do.
The Raptors, who haven’t played well all series, failed to capitalize on a golden opportunity they probably didn’t deserve. Toronto rode team defense and savvy play from Carroll and Joseph to get a slight advantage late, but once it reverted to its old approach and pulled out one-on-one sets to try and close out Miami, it was dead in the water.
When the Heat faced yet another important juncture in their season, they turned to Wade and he answered.