ATLANTA (AP)—The Miami Heat was certainly caught off guard.
Dwyane Wade teammates aren’t used to seeing him clank open shots. They aren’t used to seeing him throw the ball away. They aren’t used to seeing him pull a disappearing act in the second half of a playoff game.
“He’s not going to have too many games like that,” said Daequan Cook, the Heat’s second-year guard. “Actually, I’ve never seen him have a game like he did the other night.”
Indeed, Wade had a miserable time in the opener of the best-of-seven series against the Atlanta Hawks. The home team harassed “M-V-3” with constant double teams and made him look, well, ordinary in a 90-64 blowout.
But it’s these sort of situations that make Wade especially dangerous. Remember all those who wrote him off after two injury plagued years? Last summer, he was top scorer for the American team that reclaimed the Olympic gold medal in Beijing. This season, he almost single-handedly led Miami—coming off an NBA-worst 15-67 record—back to the playoffs.
Now, Wade is eager to make amends for his Game 1 performance. He’ll get his chance Wednesday night.
“I always take it personally,” Wade said Tuesday before the Heat practiced in Atlanta. “I’m the leader of this team. We fought through a lot to get here. I fought through a lot to get to this point as well.”
He scored just 19 points on Sunday—11 off his league-leading average. He missed all but one of his six attempts outside the 3-point arc. He attempted only four free throws (and missed two of them). He equaled a season high with eight turnovers, more than double his average.
Wade seemed to throw up a white towel after the Heat fell behind by 20 at the half. He didn’t even bother putting up another shot until the final two minutes of the third quarter.
“In the first half, he was very much in the attack mode,” Atlanta star Joe Johnson said. “I did see the aggressiveness go away in the second half.”
The Hawks certainly contributed to that, hounding Wade with two—sometimes even three—defenders. Even when he got by his primary man, he’d find someone such as Josh Smith and Marvin Williams, both 5 inches taller but extremely athletic for their size, jumping out to provide help.
“We were trying to cage him and make him take a lot of tough shots,” Johnson said. “This is a tough game, especially when you’re getting double-teamed the whole game. I understand his frustration, but that’s part of it.”
Miami’s performance in Game 1 largely vindicated those who say the Heat is basically a one-man team. With Wade having an off night, no one stepped up to fill the void.
Michael Beasley, with 10 points, was the other Miami player in double figures, and he needed 15 shots just to reach that paltry figure. Rookie point guard Mario Chalmers was 3-of-10 shooting and had only two assists. Center Jermaine O’Neal played less than 22 minutes and put little resistance against an Atlanta team that did whatever it pleased on the inside. Cook, who won the 3-point contest during All-Star weekend, missed all five of his long-range shots — including an airball.
“You can’t say one thing was worse than the other,” O’Neal said. “Everything was pretty bad.”
The youthful Heat looked like the Hawks from a year ago, which is understandable.
When Atlanta made the playoffs for the first time since 1999, it had the youngest roster of any postseason team. Not surprisingly, the Hawks were blown out in the first two games in Boston. While they bounced back to extend the series to seven games, they never came close to winning on the road.
Now, it’s Atlanta that looks like the seasoned playoff team, even though Miami won a championship just three years ago. Wade is one of the few holdovers from the title team, surrounded by a bunch of first- and second-year players.
O’Neal, who was acquired from Toronto in February, said it’s time to get over any postseason nerves.
“You can’t be shell-shocked,” he said. “We know this building is going to be crazy. We know those guys play well at home. Sometimes you have first-game jitters. But when you get beat by almost 30 points, I would think those jitters are gone.”
During exhaustive film sessions over the past two days, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra went over a long list of things his team must do better. Play with more energy. Give Wade some room to operate. Don’t allow the bigger Hawks to just hunker down in the lane. Create the occasional scoring chance on the inside. Knock down some open shots so Atlanta can’t turn the game into a slam-fest at the other end.
On Sunday, Smith really got the crowd going with five spectacular dunks, which only heightened the Hawks’ home-court advantage.
Miami’s three frontcourt starters—O’Neal, Udonis Haslem and James Jones— combined for 20 points and 11 rebounds in Game 1. Contrast that with Atlanta’s trio of Smith, Williams and Al Horford, who dominated on the inside with 47 points and 21 rebounds, plus backup center Zaza Pachulia, who chipped in with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds).
“Every player has a comfort zone,” said O’Neal, who was held to five points and two rebounds. “We’re just not a post-up team. But I’ve got to try to find a way to get it going.”
The Hawks are sure that Wade will get it going. Only once this season has he been held to less than 20 points in two consecutive games.
“We’re not doubting him at all,” Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. “We know what he’s capable of doing. He did it consistently all season for his ballclub. That’s why they’re in the position they are today.”