MIAMI — There's been plenty of focus in this Eastern Conference semifinal series on LeBron James, who needs to beat the Celtics this year to salvage his legacy. Plenty, too, on Chris Bosh, the oft-ridiculed member of the Miami Heat's big three and the guy who just wants to earn our respect. Still plenty more for Erik Spoelstra, the young coach trying to prove he belongs.
And then there's Dwyane Wade.
The former NBA Finals MVP is back in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since that magical 2006 title run, and for the most part, he's simply been greatness taken for granted. He's not maligned, he's not questioned and his job security is never threatened. He's simply there, churning out season after staggeringly productive season.
And occasionally, he has games like Sunday afternoon at American Airlines Arena to remind you of just how spectacular he can be.
"We still remember 2006, when he was one of the most devastating mid-range shooters in the game," Spoelstra said after the Heat's 99-90 win in Game 1. "He brought that element back [Sunday afternoon]."
Wade was a dazzling scorer from everywhere Sunday — from mid-range, from the perimeter, from inside the paint, from the rim, from the free-throw line. He finished 14-for-21 from the field, 2-for-5 from 3, and 8-for-9 from the line, for 38 points total. It was his best playoff performance since — yes, you guessed it — he played the Celtics last year. He dropped 46 in a survival Game 4 in this same building against the 2010 C's.
"I studied the film, and I understood how Boston was going to defend me," Wade said. "I knew where my spots would be where I could get shots. My teammates did a good job of finding me and getting me the ball so I could stay aggressive.
"I'm the kind of player that I'm always going to find a way — I've just got to make the shots. Tonight, I made them."
There wasn't much the Celtics could do to defend him. They stuck with Ray Allen defending Wade for most of the afternoon, and the 35-year-old guard did everything he could to guard him one-on-one. But Wade was borderline unstoppable. Play him straight up, and he drives right past you. Double him, and he kicks to either James Jones for a 3 or LeBron for a post-up inside. Even if you manage to stick with him, he can knock down a jumper in your face.
"It's tough," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Honestly, you're not going to do a lot about that. He took a lot of contested, tough shots, and when he makes them, he makes them.
"That's why he's the second-greatest player ever to come out of Marquette," joked Rivers, himself a fellow Marquette alum.
Wade's breakout game came on the heels of an altogether disappointing regular season against the Celtics. In four meetings with the green team this year, the Heat captain totaled just 51 points, or about half his overall scoring average.
Then in the playoffs, he figured it out.
"To be fair, the first two games, Dwyane wasn't in rhythm," Spoelstra said. "He missed the entire preseason. It took him about three or four weeks not just to get in rhythm, but to understand how his role changed and where he fit in with the team. We were moving so many parts early in the year that for us, we kind of threw those games out the window.
"Dwyane's a special player. He really is. He figures it out. He's a student of the game. He's very diligent and introspective. He's had a couple days now to see how they were defending him. And he's proven so many times in the playoffs that when defenses are at their best, he figures it out and finds a way to crack their code."
For the moment, Wade appears to have the Celtics cracked. If he can sustain it throughout a seven-game series, he can send the C's home early this spring.
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