MIAMI -- After a surprisingly comfortable win in the series opener against the Nets, the Heat spent a day and a half discussing how much more of a grind Thursday’s game would be.
In fact, Erik Spoelstra said after Miami went up 2-0 in the series that “maybe we talked about it too much.” It seemed they’d done such a thorough job convincing themselves this Game 2 would be ugly that the Heat found themselves easily caught in Brooklyn’s web.
Slower ball movement, more isolation play and a handful of uncharacteristic shots had Miami fulfilling that prophecy before the game could even develop its own identity.
Dwyane Wade was a major contributor to those early struggles. He missed six of his first seven shots, had a difficult time containing Shaun Livingston, who led the Nets starters with 15 points, and it appeared this would be a game where LeBron James would have to do much of the heavy lifting if Miami was going to head to Brooklyn with a 2-0 series lead.
Fortunately for Miami, all the talk predicting this style of game had Wade in grind mode from the start.
Regardless of the missed shots and initial defensive missteps, the mindset for Wade was to do the dirty work, figuring there would be plenty of it available.
You saw signs early, like when he missed an open 3-pointer then immediately stole an outlet pass from Livingston, leading to a new possession that ended in James free throws.
But it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Wade was truly rewarded for willingly performing all the menial chores.
Miami entered the fourth quarter leading 69-67 and with LeBron on the bench for his regularly scheduled rest.
That’s when Wade saw his chance to drag the Heat out of the quicksand.
He started by backing down the bigger, sturdier Mirza Teletovic for a short shot in the lane.
He picked up a steal from a Kevin Garnett pass and added a 20-foot jumper. Four free throws later, Wade was able to stretch Miami’s lead to 79-73, all without any help from LeBron.
Unless, of course, you count the encouragement LeBron offered in the opening half.
“In the first half, I went up to [Wade] and said, ‘If you have a shot, you gotta take it. Don’t turn up really great shots,’” James said. “In the fourth quarter, he got into his rhythm, got to his pull-up, got to the free throw line, and that definitely helped out a lot.”
And on the possession that defined this game for Miami -- the 1-minute, 40-second possession that included three offensive rebounds and four chances for the Heat -- Wade was vital.
He tipped out LeBron’s second miss of the possession (James took all four shot attempts in that extended possession) for one of his seven rebounds, and he finished off the possession with a no-look pass to LeBron for the layup that put the Heat ahead by 10 and gave Wade one of his seven assists.
Turns out, being in grind mode from the early moments helped make that moment possible for Wade and the Heat.
“You could tell early just how your night’s going offensively,” Wade said. “I saw I was struggling a little bit, so I wanted to do the little things. I wanted to do other things until that opportunity came where I could really help us offensively.
“Obviously, the fourth quarter became a big part of that, but throughout the game defensively, passing the ball, rebounding the ball, doing all the little things I needed to do until my offense came around.”
Perhaps the best sign for Spoelstra was Wade’s ability to play the entire fourth quarter. It’s a rarity for Wade these days, but the situation called for a little extra from the Heat’s all-time leading scorer.
“I thought that I was going to have to take him out at some point, but it was so close, and it got to the six-minute mark, five-minute, four-minute -- ‘You’re gonna have to finish this thing out,’” Spoelstra said. “He dug deep for that one, and that’s what makes Dwyane special. He figures out different ways where you can impact a win. It’s not just scoring.”
Wade said he didn’t even consider sitting in the fourth.
“We didn’t even need to have that conversation,” Wade said. “Winning time. If I needed [a break], I’d look at Coach and say, ‘Give me a quick one.’
“I felt good as far as my wind, and everything like that.”
And that has to make the rest of the Heat feel good. Through six games this postseason, Wade is averaging 16.3 points on 48.1 percent shooting. Last postseason, when a deep knee bruise limited him, Wade averaged 15.9 points on 45.7 percent shooting in 22 games.
Thursday’s performance, though, felt more like one of last postseason’s games for Wade, gutting it out however necessary.
The Nets did indeed make this contest significantly more uncomfortable for the Heat. It just so happens Wade looked rather comfortable in that setting.