MIAMI — Heat fans remember well what happened the last time an ailing Dwyane Wade had a playoff meeting with college coach Tom Crean.
Well, a hurting Wade has had another session with Crean.
Following Monday’s Game 4 of an Eastern Conference semifinal at Chicago, the Miami guard chatted for about five minutes with Crean, once his coach at Marquette and now at Indiana. Wade, playing on a balky left knee that eventually would need surgery, spent several hours last May with Crean on the Indiana campus after a disastrous game in Indianapolis against the Pacers.
Wade credited that meeting with playing a key role in his strong play down the stretch as the Heat won the NBA title. We’ll see what happens now as Wade is battling a bone bruise on his right knee that has resulted in plenty of concern about his play.
“He doesn’t need motivation on that,’’ Crean said Tuesday in a phone interview with FOX Sports Florida about Wade fighting through his injury. “But people need reminders. And sometimes in my life, I need reminders. He knows what he needs to do, and he’s out there taking care of it …. He’s going to be there through the long haul. He’s got a lot of season left. I think that’s how he’s approaching it.’’
The message Crean offered Tuesday is Wade, 31, has a very high pain threshold and a “warrior’’ mentality. And he sees no reason why that isn’t going to spur Wade on to a strong finish to these playoffs.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wade’s current injury isn’t nearly as serious as last year’s, and Crean agreed. Still, Wade has had his play questioned during a playoff run in which he has averaged just 12.3 points, including just 11.3 in the series Miami leads 3-1 over Chicago.
Entering Wednesday’s Game 5 at AmericanAirlines Arena, Spoelstra blasted criticism of Wade, saying it’s not just about scoring and that Wade’s plus-minus rating of plus-49 is tied with forward Shane Battier for the best on the team in the Chicago series. Spoelstra declined to speculate on whether Wade will play Wednesday or be given a game off to rest. But Crean anticipates Wade will play.
“I don’t think you’re going to see anybody sitting out or anything like that,’’ Crean said. “I think he’s going to stay right with it …. Absolutely, (Wade will play in Game 5).’’
Crean agrees with Spoelstra it’s unfair to judge Wade by scoring and the only thing that matters to the nine-time All-Star is winning. While Wade might be hurting now, Crean pointed to what he did during last year’s postseason with a more severe injury.
“He’s got the warrior mentality to fight through it,’’ Crean said. “He did the same thing last year. It was a different situation and a very difficult situation. But he played through that …. But to me, looking at the entire scope, he’s doing just fine (this postseason). He’s constantly out there trying to get (the knee) better. (The Heat) had an optional (practice) day (last weekend) and he’s in the gym working out and shooting. He’s got that kind of mentality, and it’s not like he’s one of those players that is looking to get more rest. He’s looking to get used to playing with that kind of adversity that he deals with sometimes when players aren’t healthy.’’
While Spoelstra and Crean both believe Wade has been doing what is necessary this postseason, statistics still show a sharp decline. Wade, hampered in part by 43.9 percent shooting, has a postseason player-efficiency rating of 15.8, down from 24.0 during the regular season and from 22.0 in last season’s playoffs.
Wade’s low point in the 2012 postseason came when he shot 2 of 13 for five points in an Eastern semifinal Game 3 loss at Indiana and squabbled on the bench with Spoelstra. But he bounced back to shoot 13 of 23 for 30 points in a Game 4 win, and a number of other strong games followed.
Flash forward a year. In Monday’s Game 4, a resounding 88-65 Heat win, Wade shot 3 of 10 for 6 points, although he did have three rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal. Wade aggravated his right knee when he banged into Bulls forward Jimmy Butler midway through the second quarter and he had to leave the game for nearly four minutes.
Now, it will be seen how Wade looks after his latest meeting with Crean.
“He just told me to keep going,” Wade, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday, told the Chicago Tribune following Monday’s game. “Coach knows me. I’ve dealt with certain injuries, certain bad games. I come back and have a good game. His biggest thing is, he likes that I’m not pouting. I’m not putting my head down. I’m doing what I can to help my team.”
If anybody knows how Wade has bounced back from injuries, it’s Crean. He talked about the perseverance Wade showed when he was a sophomore at Marquette in 2001-02.
“He had an option to get his knee scoped and be out for awhile or be in a situation where it wouldn’t get a lot worse but it wasn’t going to get any better if he played through it the rest of the season,’’ Crean said of Wade being hurt during a late-December non-conference game. “And he chose to play through it and have surgery at the end of the year. And he was an All-league player (in Conference USA)…. He’s always had a special will about him. And what’s grown is that focus to really put his blinders on and work through (discomfort).’’
Spoelstra has seen that same mentality throughout Wade’s 10-year NBA career. Spoelstra was a Heat assistant for the first five seasons of it before being the head man the past five seasons.
“He has an incredible competitive spirit,’’ Spoelstra said of Wade, who banged his knee March 6 against Orlando and aggravated it March 18 at Boston before missing a game for the first time due to the injury on March 24. “He’s going to have an impact one way or another because he thrives in these moments when the competition is at its highest and to try to figure out how he can help the team win. And that he’s proven for over a decade.’’
Nobody denies that. But where Spoelstra is less on specifics is just how much Wade is now hurting. Wade also aggravated the injury March 29 at New Orleans and overall missed nine of Miami’s final 14 regular-season games and Game 4 of a first-round series against Milwaukee.
“We know what he’s dealing with,’’ Spoelstra said. “He’s been dealing with it for the last six or seven weeks. So it’s day-to-day …. Structurally, he is in a very good place. So it’s much different than last year.’’
Regardless of how Wade is feeling, Spoelstra believes he’s being unfairly judged this postseason. Spoelstra shrugged off talk about Wade’s scoring average, which is way below the 21.2 he put up during the regular season and the 22.8 he had during last spring’s playoff run.
“From a coaching standpoint and I understand the interest in it,’’ Spoelstra said. “But what you dislike about team sports is people lose sight of the main thing being the main thing. Dwyane has proven himself as a warrior. He’s helping us win. At the end of the day, we’re up 3-1 with a chance to close out. We knew going into the series that it wasn’t going to be about averages.
“(Wade is) No. 1 plus-minus on our team, tied with Shane. So his minutes have arguably been the most positive of all the minutes that he’s given us and he’s helping us win. That’s the bottom line and everything else just gets lost in translation and taken out of context… Everybody’s losing absolute focus on his contribution to this series… Everybody is just waiting to see that final column (points) on the box score. That’s all anybody is looking at. He’s helping us win right now.’’
Crean also believes criticism of Wade’s game has been unfair.
“Absolutely,’’ Crean said. “There’s no question because it’s so sensationalized this time of the year (in the playoffs). Greatness manifests itself in so many different areas and Dwyane has proven a long time that he does not have to score the bulk of the points and that he can do so many different things to impact winning.’’
That is true. But when Wade was doing those things before, he also was putting up more than 20 points a night.
Wade has taken a reduced role in the offense since the arrival of LeBron James in the summer of 2010. But to have taken this much of a step back during these playoffs has understandably raised concern about how much he might be hurting.
But Wade has had his chat with Crean. Now, it will be seen whether it works wonders the way it did last year.