The Eastern Conference Finals has been defined by three battles: Paul George vs. LeBron James, Erik Spoelstra vs. Frank Vogel and Roy Hibbert vs. Miami shots at the rim. (Hibbert's presence has forced LeBron to work on a floater. Who's the last opponent that forced LeBron to work on a shot?)
There's a fourth battle that's gone on far longer than this series, though: Dwyane Wade vs. time. And the 31-year-old Miami star is losing.
Wade had a rough Game 2 at home as the Pacers evened up the series at 1-1. He finished with 14 points, but that was in 40 minutes and on 15 shooting possessions (14 FGAs, 3 FTAs). That's not remotely Wade-like ... unless you're focused on this postseason, in which Wade has averaged 14 points in 35 minutes. In ten postseason games, Wade has more games with fewer than ten points (two) than games with 20 or more points (one). He's supposed to be LeBron's supplemental scorer -- he averaged almost 25 per game alongside James in the 2010-11 postseason, and 23 last postseason. But it's not happening, as Wade is shooting far less and not getting to the line (3.1 FTAs per game in the playoffs vs. a 8.1 FTAs per game career postseason average).
This chart chronologically showing Wade's scoring total in each of his 120 career playoff games tells the tale.
That's a distinctive curve: Wade is producing as he did back in his rookie postseason run. In fact, Wade's 2012-13 postseason is pretty close to his 2003-04 postseason, except Wade was more efficient and scored a little more back then. He's a better rebounder, doesn't commit as many turnovers and grabs more steals now. Regardless, he's nowhere near the level we saw in 2005 and 2006 and 2009-12. And the fact that he's in his 30s and has always played a physical, bruising style predicated on driving to the rim and claiming free throws matches up with the results.
Perhaps expecting players like Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce and Tim Duncan to slow down only to see them all laugh in the face of Father Time has numbed us to the reality of age for most players and, well, humans. There's a reason we always expected Kobe, Pierce and Duncan to fall off: most players do fall off in their 30s! But those three, Steve Nash, Kevin Garnett and a few select others have avoided severe degradation, so little mind was paid to Wade's crossing into NBA old age. And frankly, he was excellent in the regular season. That allows us to hold out hope he's just injured and has five more years of awesome left once he heals up in the offseason. I'm not, however, holding my breath. It has all just come crashing together in the postseason as he has faced tough defenses.
The scary thing is that Miami is still 9-2 in this postseason with a lesser Wade, and 8-2 in games No. 3 has played. The Heat remain overwhelming favorites to win the title, even if they have lost home court advantage to Indiana. They have succeeded with Old Man Wade scoring 14 points per game, largely because of the greatness of LeBron, the excellence of Chris Bosh and Erik Spoelstra and one of the league's best roleplayer crews in years. If Wade can scrape off the scabs of age, Miami can still be as dominant as ever. If he cannot, they could still very well win the title. It's just life as a superteam.