There were many keys to the Miami Heat's 100-96 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the 2012 NBA Finals, but the most important one was the re-emergence of Dwyane Wade. The Heat's star has had better efforts this playoffs than the 24-point one he submitted on Thursday, but the way he scored and played is the way he must play in every game for the Heat to win this series.
Indeed, Wade is the barometer for the Heat during the postseason. When he has scored more than 1.1 points per shot attempt this playoffs, the Heat are 11-2. When he has not, they're just 2-5. Efficiency really is the name of the game for Wade, who has talked extensively about deferring to LeBron James, but hasn't always done it. When he does play off James, the Heat are usually effective. When he takes too many difficult shots and sabotages possessions that should run through James, the Heat aren't.
In Game 1 of the Finals, Wade scored just 19 points on 19 shots. In Game 2, he scored 24 on 20, and he would have had 28 if he hadn't missed two layups. What changed? Three things.
1. Wade avoided contested jumpers
In retrospect, the worst thing that could have happened to Wade in Game 1 was the way he began the game. He hit his first two shots, but both were difficult offerings with a hand in his face. On the first one, Thabo Sefolosha cut Wade off, forcing him to take a 16-foot fallaway on the right baseline. On the second one, an errant post-entry pass threw Wade off balance, forcing him to take another 16-foot fallaway, this time over James Harden.
The two makes gave Wade confidence, and that's the last thing he needed. Seven contested jumpers followed from there, and this time, the shots stopped falling. Worse, the kind of contested jumpers Wade took disrupted the Heat's offensive rhythm. Seven of Wade's 19 shots came on isolations, according to MySynergySports.com, and five of those seven were contested jumpers. Wade often ignored James on many of these possessions, convinced he had the shooting touch.
Things changed dramatically in Game 2. Wade did shoot jumpers, but they were open and in rhythm. Only four of his 20 shot attempts were with a hand right in his face, though reasonable minds could disagree about one or two additional shots that may not have been wide open.
Since Wade is a superstar, coach Erik Spoelstra has to live with the occasional forced shot. But neither he nor the Heat can live with over half of Wade's shot attempts being contested. For the rest of the series, Wade must continue to exhibit the shot selection he showed in Game 2 for Miami to win.
2. Wade moved without the ball
When Wade is on, he's getting lots of "random" points from his excellent off-ball movement. This often comes and goes, depending on how Wade feels. In Game 2, he felt like moving without the ball. Five of Wade's 20 shot attempts came on basket cuts or movement off screens, and one other time, he was fouled on a cut. Those "random" plays need to be a part of Wade's arsenal going forward.
Much like in Game 1, Wade set the tone for the rest of his game early. This time, though, it was in a positive way. Wade's first foray to the basket came when he noticed defender Sefolosha turn his head and cut from the three-point line to the hoop. Mario Chalmers was trapped on the baseline, but he was able to find Wade with a bounce pass because of Wade's instinctive play. Wade ended up missing the layup, but it was a good omen for the Heat.
Two particular basket cuts were noteworthy. One came when Kevin Durant picked Wade up in transition in the left corner. Wade noticed Durant turning his head to the ball and ran to the hoop for a layup he ultimately missed. There was no play call here, just a smart read. Here's the play in several screenshots.
The second came with the Thunder making a furious rally in the fourth quarter. The Heat's play was cut off, and LeBron had the ball 27 feet from the hoop with nothing to do. Instead of letting James settle, though, Wade made a sharp cut from the right corner to the top of the key, making himself available for a pass. James bounced it to him and Wade hit a tough fadeaway. The shot itself was difficult, but the cut, which was not scripted in the play, was unbelievably important given the time and score.
In both instances, Wade was manufacturing a shot opportunity through smart, instinctive cuts that don't muck up the offensive spacing. He needs to continue to make those kinds of cuts to find easy shot opportunities.
3. The Heat spaced the floor better
As with any penetrating guard, Wade's own production gets enhanced when he has more of the court to use on his drives. This was one of the smartest things the Heat did in Game 2. By starting Shane Battier and Chris Bosh, the Heat opened up the floor for Wade and made it much harder for the Thunder's shot-blockers to defend his drives. Because the shot blockers were not near Wade to help on his drives, Wade's primary defender couldn't crowd him the same way, and Wade was able to get defenders off-balanced with his series of dribble weaves.
Take this layup Wade scored on a secondary fast break pick and roll. Notice how Serge Ibaka is afraid to leave Battier open on the left wing; so afraid that, when Wade gets to the middle, Ibaka doesn't move, worried that Battier will burn him with another three-pointer.
The strong play of Bosh was a big deal, too. Bosh's strength is his ability to move without the ball, and that allows the Heat to open up their playbook. On this play in transition, for example, the Heat make it look like Bosh is setting a pick and roll for Wade.
In reality, though, Bosh is making a far smarter play. As Nick Collison comes to trap Wade, Bosh slips the pick, taking Collison with him. This is all designed to set up a pick and roll between Wade and Udonis Haslem, currently loafing outside the three-point line. The Thunder defense isn't set, giving Wade space to get by his primary defender, deliver an in-and-out dribble on Durant (currently at the free-throw line) and drop in a floater.
Wade certainly made the play, but he was aided by Bosh and Haslem. All of the Heat's big men need to help Wade out this well in Game 3.
It's true that Wade is likely playing through a knee injury, so you can understand on some level why his production has been so inconsistent in the playoffs. However, he often makes it more difficult on himself, by exhibiting poor shot selection, remaining stationary offensively when he doesn't have the ball, and failing to use his big men. As long as he is going to play, he needs to continue to do those three things to be successful.
If he does, the Heat will become much tougher to beat.