MIAMI (AP)—Dwyane Wade’s game is built on his ability to blow past defenders and soar to the hoop.
On Wednesday, Miami’s star guard could hardly walk.
Getting the Heat back into the NBA finals came at a steep price.
Wade, who had to be driven on a cart to and from an interview session, spent the off day before Game 4 receiving treatment on a bum left knee he injured in a freakish collision with teammate Shaquille O’Neal during the second half of Miami’s 98-96 win in Game 3 over the Dallas Mavericks.
“It’s very stiff and very sore,” said Wade, who scored 42 points. “So the only thing I can continue to do is what I’m ordered to do, and that’s a lot of icing and stim (electric stimulation). I’m confident in my training staff that they’ll get me as close as I can be to 100 percent.
“So, you know, I’m hoping.”
Hope isn’t enough in these parts. Considering the stakes in Game 4, prayer may be required of the Heat faithful.
Although Wade wasn’t at full speed late in Tuesday’s game, he scored 15 points—12 during the final 6:34—in the fourth quarter to rally Miami from a 13-point hole and pull the Heat within 2-1 in the series.
According to the league, it was the second largest fourth-quarter comeback in finals history, and, it was the latest testament to Wade’s soaring status as one of the game’s best clutch players.
“He’s just fabulous,” O’Neal said. “He’s a great one. And he’s so young with a lot of room to improve. It’s going to be fun to watch him.”
Wade insists he’ll be able to play in Game 4. However, he looked to be a long way from game ready as he grabbed the handrails to steady himself for the short climb up to the interview podium.
He’ll be on the floor, no doubt. But how effective will he be?
Wade has been battling an assortment of nagging during these playoffs. He had the flu and a sinus infection in this series, a holdover from the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit when he was briefly hospitalized for dehydration.
Last season, he was slowed by bruised ribs, an injury which prevented the Heat from getting past the Pistons. Now, it’s his knee, and at the worst possible time for Miami, which is hoping to even the series.
“I can’t even explain it,” he said. “You know, it’s just happens to me, man. Wrong place, wrong time,” Wade said. “I just want them (teammates) to know that hurt or not, I’m going to give it my all, and hopefully that’s enough.”
He was more than good enough in Game 3. In the final 12 minutes, with a nonexistent margin for error and the stakes as high as possible, Wade was magnificent from start to finish. Seizing control of the game, the 24-year-old played the last 10:56 with five fouls and simply refused to allow the Heat to lose.
He made jumpers. He darted for layups. He grabbed rebounds. He even tipped away the Mavericks’ last-second inbounds play.
Like Michael Jordan used to do.
“No one should be compared to MJ, man,” he said. “There will only ever be one MJ. That’s it. I’m not him.”
Wade’s virtual one-man show—his 42 points were the most since Allen Iverson scored 48 and O’Neal 44 in Game 1 of the 2001 finals—was aided by Dallas’ inexplicable collapse down the stretch.
Minutes away from a 3-0 lead in the series, the Mavericks went 2-of-7 from the field, committed five turnovers and were outscored 22-7 during the final 6:15.
“I don’t think we let up,” guard Jason Terry said. “We just didn’t have that killer instinct. It just wasn’t there.”
The Mavericks aren’t panicking. They recognize an opportunity has slipped away, and they’re determined not to let the next one sneak by.
“We didn’t really come ready to play from the start,” said Dirk Nowitzki, who could have tied it at 97-all but missed the second of two free throws with 3.4 seconds left. “We fell behind. We were backpedaling pretty much the whole first half, and we have to make sure we correct that.”
But Wade, undoubtedly helped by playing alongside O’Neal, is the first of the trio to make it to the NBA finals.
“That’s one of the things we made a point to him about when we were playing Detroit,” Heat coach Pat Riley said. “Our objective was to win a championship this year and with all of the comparisons of that class, I said to him, `OK, be the first one to win one (title).’ That might change the opinion on everybody.”
No one doubts Wade’s toughness, and he promised to do everything he could to get ready for Miami’s latest, biggest game of the season.
“I’m confident that the therapy that I do and the massages I get, that I’ll feel a lot better,” he said. “So I don’t think we’ve reached the (pain-killer) injection stage. I hope not, anyway. I’m scared of needles.”