Dwyane Wade grabbed LeBron James late in the fourth quarter of Game 3 of the NBA finals, one Miami Heat star telling the other that he could play better.
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Wade did the talking. James did the nodding.
And here’s some likely unpleasant news for the Dallas Mavericks: Wade might be right.
Here’s what constitutes what some might consider a ”down” series for James so far: 20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6 assists per game on just over 50 percent shooting from the field. James, as he’s done most of the season, is shrugging off the criticism. The Heat are two wins from an NBA championship, and to James that’s the only number that matters now.
”Anybody that knows me throughout the years, all I care about is the ‘W’ no matter if I’m scoring,” James said Monday. ”I’m not just a scoring guy. I’ve got a lot of points in my career. I have had some teammates who have given me great confidence and ability to go out there and score a lot of points. But I’ve done other things. I don’t have to score points to be effective.”
So true, as proven by this nugget. James had 17 points and nine assists in Miami’s win over Dallas in Game 3 on Sunday night. Since December, when James has posted at least that many points and that many assists in a game, the Heat are 15-1.
He averaged 38.5 points in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals, and his Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Orlando Magic anyway. Not wanting to try and carry the workload alone any more, James came to Miami last summer, and the rest may soon be championship history. The Heat have three players – Wade, James and Chris Bosh – averaging more than 16 points in these finals. Dallas just has one, Dirk Nowitzki. Want a reason why the Heat lead this series 2-1? Try that.
Game 4 is Tuesday night in Dallas.
And the Mavericks, well, the last thing they want to see is more production from the two-time MVP.
”First of all, he’s playing both ends of the floor,” Nowitzki said Monday. ”They keep sticking him on (Jason Terry) in the fourth quarters, and he’s been doing a good job. Jet hasn’t really been a crunch-time, clutch player for us the way we need him to. So he’s done a good job. Look, Wade has been great in the fourth quarter, so LeBron is being more of a facilitator. It worked so far.”
That was the formula Miami used in Game 3.
James has a total of nine points in fourth quarters so far in the finals, shooting 3 for 11. For comparison’s sake, he averaged 9.8 points in the fourth in the 2007 finals, when he led the Cavaliers there. Cleveland got swept anyway.
In Game 3 against Dallas, James had four assists in the fourth quarter, including the one that set Bosh up for the gamewinner with 39.6 seconds to play. Plus, his defense against Terry held the Mavs’ sixth-man to 0 for 4 shooting in the final 12 minutes Sunday night.
”I’m welcoming the challenge,” Terry said. ”Again, we’re going to see if he can do it for seven games. That’s going to be the challenge. Right now, it’s Game 4. Can he do it again in Game 4? He wasn’t able to do it in Game 2. He did it again in 1 and 3. So Game 4 is another opportunity. … A lot of guys wear down. So we’ll see.”
That’s part of Wade’s challenge to James and the rest of the Heat: Don’t wear down now.
He told the team at the beginning of the finals to savor the opportunity, because even though this team was put together with an eye on multiple title shots, Wade wants to assume nothing. In short, he’s passing along the wisdom he collected from the likes of Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal during the last Miami title run in 2006.
”I’ve been here before,” Wade said. ”I’ve experienced a very weird tough series before to win the championship. I don’t want none of these guys for us to walk away and say if we would have did this or would have did that. If you get beat, you get beat because you put it all out there and did everything you said you wanted to do. When those moments are happening, I feel like it’s my time to step up.”
Jason Kidd understands what Wade is doing better than most Mavs might.
Kidd and Wade have been USA Basketball teammates in the past, so the Dallas starting point guard knows what sort of impact the 2006 NBA finals MVP can have when he decides it’s time to say something.
”I think he’s learned that he’s the voice now, and that he has to talk to guys and tell them what he’s looking for them to do, and they’re doing it,” Kidd said. ”That just shows he’s the leader and he understands how important it is this time of the year to talk. And when he does talk, guys are going to listen.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that approach from Wade isn’t a new thing, either.
In Spoelstra’s mind, Wade’s methods were similar all the way back when the Heat gathered for training camp.
”He has the ultimate respect of everybody in the locker room,” Spoelstra said. ”He’s done that from the very first day of training camp as the captain and as the leader, the guy who can set the tone of what our franchise stands for as a first-class championship organization. And he’s been able to sustain that all year. He leads with his example, but more so, the last couple of years, he’s been doing it with his voice. And I think the guys really respond to that.”
James said he does.
He’s been the unquestioned best player on every team he’s played for throughout practically his entire life, and with that title comes the role of being the leader. In Miami, not only can he share the ball, he shares the responsibilities as well.
It’s got him on the cusp of what he wants most, and if Wade wants to keep pushing him, James said he’d happily accept his close friend’s words.
”I know I’m not bigger than this team or I know everything,” James said. ”I still got a lot of improvement to do.”