MIAMI – Dwyane Wade(notes) wasn't ready for his season to end. Not now. Not as long as he could help it. He lifted his Miami Heat with a scintillating 46-point performance, extending their playoff lives for at least a couple more days. This could have been his final game as a Heat in Miami, and he played like it.
One final epic performance for his loyal fans?
Not if you listen to one of Wade's former teammates. If Wade looks deep within himself this summer, his free agency could be as short-lived as the Heat's stay in the playoffs appears to be. No matter whether the Heat win Tuesday to force a return trip to the American Airlines Center, Wade figures to find several reasons to come back next season.
"Follow your heart, man," said Alonzo Mourning(notes), the Heat's longtime former center. "I know that his heart is here. Follow your heart, and everything else will take care of itself. You can just trust that [president] Pat Riley and [owner] Micky Arison because of the position we are in and the flexibility we have. I think we have the most attractive situation for a free agent. You got to trust and know that Pat is not going to sit around and wait. He's going to build a contender here. I think [Wade] knows that.
"He has a relationship with Micky and Pat. If your heart is into your organization and this town, you have to trust that the front-office basketball operation is going to do everything possible to make sure we get back to that championship recognition."
Even in victory, Wade's performance Sunday showed just how much work the Heat have ahead of him. He scored 30 points in the second half and finished with the most in the franchise's playoff history, and it was just enough to nudge the Heat into Game 5.
Wade might be growing tired of waiting for Michael Beasley(notes), the No. 2 pick in the 2008 draft, to reach his potential. Jermaine O'Neal(notes) is long past his prime and struggling against Boston. Everyone else on the Heat is a role player, at best.
Make no mistake: Unlike Wade's All-Star contemporaries, he is a one-man band in Miami. That should also change this summer. The Heat will have enough salary-cap room to lure Chris Bosh(notes), Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) or Carlos Boozer(notes) along with another key player this summer.
Wade has said he would likely see what the Heat add before he decides to re-sign. Wade's hometown Chicago Bulls haven't helped their recruiting pitch, sources close to Wade said, when they showed the level of their front-office dysfunction after team president John Paxson physically confronted coach Vinny Del Negro. Mourning remains confident Arison and Riley will quickly do what's needed to keep Wade.
"You got a professional organization, a great owner and chairperson in Micky Arison," Mourning said. "Pat Riley, he runs a very well-structured, professional organization. Everybody does a tremendous job making sure the players and the families get everything they need. The players don't have to do nothing but focus on the basketball court. It's a truly good experience. It really is.
"I can't think of a better working environment based on the other two organizations I've played for, not taking anything away from the [Charlotte] Hornets and the [New Jersey] Nets. But I'm a little bit biased because this is a championship organization that has proven that it takes care of its players. The success of the organization speaks for itself."
While the Heat are widely considered to be front-runners to keep Wade, they aren't taking anything for granted. And Game 4 carried all the emotions of a franchise star who might be playing in front of his home crowd for the final time.
Wade's mother, Jolinda Wade, and movie star girlfriend, Gabrielle Union, were in the stands, and Wade delivered them a thrilling performance. He threw down a dunk on Boston's Kevin Garnett(notes), finished a reverse double-pump dunk and even had cause to yell at his torrid shooting hand after making five 3-pointers. Nineteen of his points came in the fourth quarter.
With 24 seconds left and Miami up 99-92, Wade walked around the court waving his arms to the fans to get louder. They should've responded by giving him a standing ovation instead.
Said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra: "We don't take Wade for granted. Right now when his back is against the wall that's what I call defiance and stubbornness. It would be so easy for us to just quit and lay down."
Wade said he didn't think about it possibly being his last game with the Heat in Miami. His only motivation was keeping the Heat's season alive.
"Whenever you feel like your back is against the wall, something happens," Wade said. "I know a lot of people expected us to just roll over and give them the series because they're up 3-0. That weighed heavily on my mind. I just wasn't ready for the summer yet."
Like Wade, Pierce has played his entire career with one franchise, and he sees the value in it. Both also have won championships within the past five seasons, and that's why Pierce can't see Wade leaving Miami.
"He understands what he has here," Pierce said. "It is tough to leave a place where you won a championship, where it all started for you. I think he really values that. He's definitely made this his home. It's going to be tough for him to leave. Even though he is carrying the team night in and night out and doesn't have the supporting cast anymore to be a contender, it's really going to be tough for him to leave because of the foundation he's built here so far. I think he's going to be here for a very long time."