There are a few truths the Miami Heat will have to come to terms with in these Finals and perhaps it was best to confront them right away.
They are playing a team that is deeper than them, both in terms of energy and bodies. They are facing an offensive force they are not accustomed to seeing in the Eastern Conference. And so far as Dwyane Wade, well, it’s not 2006.
The Heat were the underdogs in the Finals for a reason, and it was evident in the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s 105-94 win. It’s not to say the Heat can’t figure out ways to overcome these issues, but this first outing certainly displayed the Thunder’s advantages.
It is common in all Heat losses, especially in the playoffs, for observers to define a culprit and assess various amounts of criticism. Sometimes this is fair, sometimes it’s excessive and sometimes it misses the point. Finding a goat in this one is going to be challenging because the Heat are obviously facing the most complete opponent of the playoffs thus far.
The easiest target is Wade, who shot an inefficient 7-of-19 for 19 points. He did have eight assists but seemed to spend a lot of time with the ball in his hands in the second half, as the Heat’s overall offensive effectiveness ground to a halt while the Thunder zoomed past.
It’s been common this postseason when Wade doesn’t have superstar performances to question what might be wrong with him or his health. The reality, however, is that Wade is who he is now. He has flashes of brilliance, as he did for the three-game stretch against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but he’s simply not the same player he was a few years ago, even if he’s still held to that standard.
He’s 30 years old with a troublesome left knee — getting it drained in the Pacers series was a temporary solution and also not the first time he had to have it done this season — and he’s played like it for months. Wade averaged the fewest points since his rookie year during the regular season, and he missed 17 games with various ailments including time when he was getting what the Heat called “maintenance” on his knee. It’s not that it’s badly hurt, it’s just that he’s limited, something that is unlikely to change in the short term.
Even with all that, Tuesday was a subpar game from Wade. There was a period in the second half when the Thunder turned up the pressure with transition offense and Wade responded by falling into a funk where his top priority looked to be trying to bait defenders and officials into putting him on the foul line. That’s never a sign he’s playing his best.
But judging Wade by past years’ standards is probably going to leave you disappointed. This postseason he’s averaging 22 points per game — same as he did in the regular season — and shooting 47 percent, slightly below his mark in the regular season. And that does include that three-game stretch against the Pacers when he averaged 33 points and shot 55 percent.
“Sorry man. You know, it’s the Finals. I’ve been doing it all year and I’m going to continue to do it,” Wade said, describing his offensive game which hasn’t been as aggressive or as potent as in the past. “One night I’m going to have a big night scoring, some nights I’m going to have a big night doing other things. Just doing whatever it takes to win the ballgame, not necessarily sitting up here worrying about scoring 30 points.”
Wade is being honest and a tad defensive. The thing is, however, the Heat do need the scoring. The Thunder average 102 points per game in the postseason. So Game 1 was only a slightly above average performance, even if the numbers — 56 points in the paint, 52 percent shooting, a 24-4 edge in fast break points — suggested otherwise.
The Heat will focus on some defensive lapses that allowed the Thunder to score a whopping 48 points on shots from inside five feet of the rim, but thinking the Thunder won’t find ways to get near triple digits every night is probably flawed logic. The 105 points were the most the Heat have allowed in regulation during the playoffs.
“They keep on coming, they’re relentless,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They beat us at their game.”
The Heat got the requisite 30 points from LeBron James, though they could always use more and naturally more will be expected. Getting just 29 points combined from Wade andChris Bosh (10 points) probably will never be enough against the offense facing them in this series. The Heat recognize they’ll have to be more adept at slowing the Thunder’s fast break and that Bosh, who touched the ball only 26 times Tuesday, needs to be more involved.
In short, though, the Heat will likely need more points. They got a combined 29 points on 16 shots from Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers, not something you’d expect to see again. The Heat really need Wade to come alive again like he did in the Pacers series but there’s also the reality that they may have to get offense elsewhere.
“This first game, as in every series, is always just a game to see,” Wade said. “Now we make adjustments.”