Wade’s message rings loud and clear

ATLANTA – The voice stayed with Dwyane Wade. That’s the beauty of Alonzo Mourning. The words come with such frightening ferocity that they don’t dare vaporize. Mourning flew into town for Game 2, hustled to the Heat’s hotel and let loose with a lecture. This was old-school Heat hyperbole, out of the Riles files.

“He talked to me about leadership, about ’06,” Wade said. “And it clicked.”

Yes, it clicked. Mourning had watched the humiliation of Game 1, and made a brief, playoff comeback for the Heat. His knee was shredded, but his spirit is strong. “You’re going to remember what he said,” Wade insisted. “He’s going to drive that point into you.”

Most of all, Wade had to repackage it for these young Heat. They were down and out, shell-shocked with a Game 1 beating, and Wade had been one of the worst of all. He didn’t take it well. For film study, he plopped into the front row and glared through his coach and into those flickering, failed images. It made him angrier and angrier.

As Wade walked into the visiting dressing room for Game 2, the grease board had its X’s and O’s, its reminders about these Atlanta Hawks, but these three words were the most important message of all.

Don’t.

Get.

Punked.

“Shut up,” Wade barked in the locker room, when a few of his younger teammates were using the moments prior to the coach’s final pre-game instructions to laugh and snicker. Shut up, Wade told them and “get your minds into the game.”

The time for talking had ended for the Heat – “I heard too much chatter,” Wade said – and deed was on the docket. Again, Wade was brilliant. Again, the Heat were resilient. Again, Miami defied a little logic. This time, it was a 108-93 victory over the Hawks and a much, much lighter Mourning on the flight back to Miami for a 1-1 series that suddenly turned to the Heat. Wade did it.

On the way to his 33 points, five rebounds and five assists, Wade had channeled his championship spirit. Wade had been miserable in the Game 1 loss and something had to change. There were 13 straight points to end the half, and a fabulous, fade 3-point banker to end a final run out of Atlanta. No more layup lines, no more lob dunks, no more Josh Smith chin-ups on the rim.

This loss is trouble for the Hawks, who are lousy on the road. They gave Daequan Cook (20 points) confidence, and let the too-broken down Jermaine O’Neal (19 points and four blocks) and too immature Michael Beasley (12 points and seven rebounds) into the series.

Now, the Hawks are forcing themselves to steal Game 3 or 4 in Miami to restore the home-court advantage they earned in the regular season. Even the NBA champion Boston Celtics couldn’t come into Philips Arena and win a game a year ago. The Heat didn’t just win Game 2, they planted a flag.

As Kobe and LeBron stay on a collision course for the Finals, Wade is the superstar getting the most out of his team. The Heat are maddeningly mediocre, except that Wade is a worldly talent who spent the season reminding everyone about how few transcending, franchise players truly exist in the NBA. To win 43 regular-season games with this lineup, to be within three victories of the Eastern Conference semifinals, makes Wade’s season as impressive as those constructed out of Kobe Bryant’s and LeBron James’ genius.

Wade won’t be winning a title in ’09, but he restored his standing as one of the biggest talents in the world. “It’s hard to lead our league in scoring and still be able to get everyone involved,” O’Neal said. “His personality affects this team. It makes everyone else generous and unselfish about moving the ball.”

The Hawks believed that Wade was susceptible to their double teams because of their length and athleticism. They shut him down in Game 1, limiting him to 19 points on 21 shots, and some Hawks even suggested that Wade had stopped playing on Sunday. Yes, the Heat were humiliated and their coach, Erik Spoelstra, knew it wouldn’t sit with his star.

When the team walked into film session on Monday morning, Wade marched to the front row – where he always sits – and stared daggers through his coach to the flickering images on the screen. They watched tape and practiced for five hours on Monday, and four more on Tuesday, and then treated Game 2 as they should’ve: an acid test for the post-Riley Heat. As it turns out, Wade had manufactured a 41-point turnaround on the Hawks, and thrust them into a jam for Games 3 and 4.

When it was over, ’Zo was the sharply dressed man in the hallway outside the locker room, punching digits into his cell phone and talking like a proud father about his boys. ’Zo had flown up alone, but he was catching a ride back with his old teammates late Wednesday night. ’Zo had come to Atlanta, gotten into Wade’s ear, his head, forced him into a most menacing mood.

Shut up, Wade blurted to his teammates, and get your minds on the game. No more layup lines, no more chin-ups on the rim, no more punking the pride of these Miami Heat. ’Zo made sure that Wade remembered that championship season of ’06, remembered the way that leaders deliver in the biggest moments: Deed over word.

All that talking and here was one of those nights when the three words on the locker room grease board would say it all for the freshly retired legend and the living, breathing superstar. Don’t get punked again? Don’t even think about it. ’Zo talked, and something clicked. The voice stayed with Dwyane Wade and it felt like the Hawks never had a shot.

Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Apr 23, 2009