The Chicago Bulls gave the Miami Heat everything they had on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but fell short; after barely being cleared to suit up for the contest, Dwyane Wade was the reason why.
After going into the locker room to get re-taped, the superstar displayed the kind of toughness his Bulls opponents are known for. Wade came on strong late, grabbing three rebounds and going 3-for-3 for six points, including the final, game-clinching dunk.
That signature play came with three minutes remaining, when Wade flew in to clean up Norris Cole's missed jumper in vintage fashion. It took the air out of the Bulls squad, put the Heat up by seven and capped a gritty fourth-quarter performance from the perennial All-Star.
More than the flashy plays, he showed that he's still one of the game's true closers by scoring the Heat's last three field goals. It just so happened that the highlight-reel play capped off a brilliant sequence that sealed the win. His two Euro-step moves before that were just as impressive, and even drew the attention of the league's best player.
"He doesn't have to prove himself to anyone," said LeBron James. "No one. When he's out on the floor, no matter what the stat sheets says, he's a threat."
The stat sheet did in fact say something about how good he was this time around, though. Wade finished with 18 points on an efficient 7-of-13 shooting from the field and hit 4-of-4 from the free throw line. He dished out six assists, added two steals and grabbed five rebounds.
But how did he do it? How did he go from being so hobbled that he could barely play to having the lift in his legs to throw down that ferocious putback?
"Bron said 'I need one from you,'" Wade said. "The biggest thing is to uncloud your mind and understand what you're dealing with and just go out there and play basketball."
The Heat will need to more of the same from Wade moving forward, and by helping Miami move on in five games, he earned some well-deserved and much-needed rest. If he can play like he did at the end of this series, and display that athleticism when he's not completely healthy, it stands to reason that he should improve even more after several days of rest.
"Out of all the games in the playoffs, this was the best I've felt so far today," he added. "So hopefully I'm on the right track."
(Quotes via NBA Live Streaming)