Dwyane Wade's silent fourth quarter
March, 26, 2012
By Tom Haberstroh
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
For the first time in Dwyane Wade's career, he returned to the bench "shotless" in the fourth quarter.
Dwyane Wade didn't want to comment about the offense after losing to Oklahoma City on Sunday.
"I'd rather not talk about it," Wade told reporters.
Why? It's hard to know precisely why Wade avoided elaborating further, but there's no question that this might have something to do with it:
For the first time in Wade's career, he didn't take a shot from the floor or a free throw in the fourth quarter (minimum five minutes of playing time).
No shots, no freebies from the charity stripe, not even a turnover. Wade didn't "use" a possession all quarter with a field goal attempt, free throw attempt or a turnover, something he hasn't done in the 496 fourth quarters that qualified. Wade normally uses 30.2 percent of the Heat's possessions -- or about one every three plays -- while on the floor in the fourth quarter this season, but his usage rate was a stunning 0.0 percent on Sunday.
How could that happen?
There were a variety of factors. For starters, Wade wasn't the primary ball-handler in the fourth quarter. LeBron James dribbled the ball up the floor as the Heat's point guard down the stretch, taking on the playmaker role when the Heat were down by double-digits. If Wade had taken over point guard duties, there's little doubt that he would have at least taken a shot or two as he surveyed the defense. Wade did dribble the ball up the floor on one occasion, but tossed it to James as soon as he crossed halfcourt and James hit a mid-range jumper.
Secondly, it's not as if the Heat deliberately stonewalled their superstar. Wade passed off plenty of opportunities to score, instead letting his teammates take the shot. On multiple occasions down the stretch, you could see Wade actively pointing toward Shane Battier on the wing, a signal for James or Chris Bosh to give Battier the ball for a 3-point attempt. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't.
That doesn't mean Wade didn't want the ball. Actually, on one particularly fastbreak opportunity, as our own Brian Windhorst noted, Wade ran past James Harden on the right wing and James failed to feed him the ball. Sure, James would have had to thread the needle to complete the pass, but that hasn't stopped James before. Wade was visibly frustrated that the play wasn't made.
Credit the Thunder defense for aggressively swarming James and Wade on the ball. On the occasions that Wade did try to initiate the offense, the Thunder used their length and activity to force a pass to a weaker scorer (this is what I call the Thunder's "Operation: Anyone But Wade Or LeBron" strategy). Also, the Thunder didn't turn the ball over very often, which is the best way to keep Wade at bay.
Furthermore, the X's-and-O's often called for Wade standing on the wing, watching James initiate pick-and-rolls on the other side of the floor. This was an issue in opening months of the Big Three era and it was striking to see the loitering and passivity come again on the national stage. Erik Spoelstra has made it a point to limit his play calls and emphasize improvisational and free-flowing basketball this season. This is the downside to that laissez-faire coaching philosophy.
To be sure, the Heat will review the game film and try to correct their late-game issues from Sunday. Getting one of the most unstoppable attackers fully invested and active in the offense shouldn't be a problem, but it was against the Thunder. One game isn't enough of a sample size to call it a trend so it's probably nothing more than a statistical anomaly.
But the good thing about a condensed season is that we don't have to wait that long to test that theory; the Heat play the Pacers in just a few hours.