OKLAHOMA CITY - While the numbers are respectable, they reflect slippage. Dwyane Wade spoiled the NBA audience with greatness during his first seven postseasons, an unstoppable one-on-one player with acrobatic moves and underrated athleticism.
That “Flash’’ has been replaced by a player who relies on stepback jumpers that clang off the rim, his knees unable to produce explosion to the basket. He arduously attempts to score early to build momentum, but it usually results in missed shots and mounting frustration.
The Heat guard is averaging 22.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.3 assists in the postseason, which would be sparkling numbers for most, but not Wade, who has earned a reputation as a stellar playoff player. In 2006, he willed the Heat to the NBA title by averaging 28.4 points and shooting nearly 50 percent from the field.
His impact on the Heat’s postseason run this year has been sporadic, and in the Finals against the Thunder, who feature three high-scoring superstars yet to reach their prime, LeBron James needs more assistance from him for the Heat to survive.
In Miami’s 105-94 loss in Game 1, James pumped in 30 points with 9 rebounds, but Wade spent most of the night trying to find a rhythm. He missed 12 of 19 shots, including five of six in the pivotal third quarter when the Thunder overcame a 7-point deficit.
While James was enough to get the Heat past the Celtics in the Eastern finals, he was exposed in Game 1 of the Finals. Now there is a sense of urgency for Wade to return to vintage form before the Oklahoma City racehorses sprint too far ahead.
“I mean, I want to score more points,’’ said Wade. “I don’t deal with the pressure of that. That’s when you start thinking too much, too many questions start coming up in your mind, you start overanalyzing things.
“I want to score more points. I want to get my team more to give us an opportunity to win the series. I’ll be more aggressive. Looking for my opportunities a lot more, probably, than I have of late. So that will be my change.’’
Wade did acknowledge that he is not the same player who fearlessly sliced through the Dallas Mavericks in 2006. He is 30 now, his body having endured countless tumbles after darts to the basket, and there are knee problems that required a draining before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Indiana Pacers.
“I was 24,’’ said Wade. “Totally different. Six years ago, man. I’m not that athletic, I’ll tell you that, as I was in ’06, but I still have something in me. I still have some left in me.
“I wish it was possible to stay at that same athleticism as I was at 24, but that’s not possible.’’
He refuses to use his knee as an excuse, but it is clearly bothering him. Instead of driving around defenders and attacking the rim, he is dribbling at the top of the key, seemingly unsure of how to maneuver with his limited ability. His indecision often results in forced jumpers, and those haven’t been falling.
James has been running roughshod through the postseason, the nightly point man for the Heat as Wade attempts to cure his scoring ills. Wade responded from a horrid 5-point Game 3 against Indiana with 30 in Game 4 and 41 in the clinching Game 6. Against the Celtics, he scored more than 23 points just once (27 in the Game 5 loss).
James took care of the rest against Boston, with 75 points in the final two games. Wade managed 40. The Heat desperately need more out of Wade, but the question is whether he is capable of greatness.
“Absolutely, I tell him a lot,’’ James said. “A lot of times, I try to let him figure it out on his own, but sometimes I go to him and tell him I need one of those games from him, I need one of those performances from him, because he still has it.
“He knows he still has it, too, but every player needs a little kick every now and then, no matter how time-tested they are.
“I try to continue to let him know how important he is to this team, which he should know, but he also needs to be D-Wade and not worry about deferring as much.’’
Wade fully understands that he will slow down, that his once-brimming athleticism will be reduced to clips on YouTube. But 30 is awfully young to contemplate physical deterioration.
“One day it’ll happen,’’ he said. “Father Time will knock on the door and tap me on the shoulder. But not right now.’’Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.