LeBron James and Dwyane Wade looked like the championship-winning buddies they're supposed to be in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The league's MVP took some responsibilities off Wade and helped him get into the flow of the offense, then Wade followed up with his best game of the series.
As Wade dealt with a balky knee throughout the postseason, the Miami Heat seemed more and more like a team that would have to bank on LeBron James -- and lots and lots and lots of LeBron James -- in order to achieve postseason success. After averaging 21.2 points in the regular season, Wade had only cracked 20 points once in the playoffs. When he only managed 10 points on 11 shots in a dismal Game 6 loss, it seemed James' back might not be able to carry the team.
But in Game 7, each player picked the other up. First, LeBron made sure Wade would be able to be successful. Where in previous games, James had guarded Lance Stephenson or David West for most of the game and switched onto the more dangerous Paul George if crunch time happened, on Monday LeBron took George from the starting tip. It allowed Wade to have less worrisome defensive tasks and concentrate on his scoring. James talked about the decision:
"Any pressure I can take off D. Wade, I wanted to do that," James said on Monday night after the game. "I told him, I'll take Paul George. I'll allow him to focus on his offense and not have to worry about stopping Paul George every possession and allow him to get out in transition and get a few cuts and get to the line. i think that was huge for him."
James is bigger, stronger and isn't dealing with a knee injury, making him a more formidable opponent defensively. George only scored seven points on nine shots, only his second single-digit performance in a breakout postseason.
And James went out of his way to get Wade buckets:
"First play of the game, I called a play for D. Wade," James said. "Even though he didn't shoot the ball, he got a touch in the paint. Just make him feel a part of the offense. I called a couple of sets for him early in the game. Just get a feel for it. He showed early in the game he was in a good rhythm, started to attack the lane, started to make his free throws."
And Wade came through. He had 21 points, only his second time managing 20 in the postseason after averaging 21.2 points in the regular season.
And he contributed on the glass, bringing in a game-high nine rebounds, six on offense, part of a team-wide concerted effort to crash the glass after getting out-boarded 53-33 in Game 6. This time around, they won on the boards, 43-36, killing the Pacers with second-chance points. Wade's never been an elite rebounder, but he's athletic, nifty, and looked more comfortable than he had in a long time Monday night.
James summarized something kind of important: "We're a much better team when we have everybody clicking at the same time. That's obvious. We've had more games where everybody was clicking than not so."
When the Miami Heat are just LeBron James, the best player in the universe, and some other people maybe helping and maybe not, they're a pretty damn good team. When they have LeBron James and people like Dwyane Wade -- who, ummm, is a nine-time All-Star and former Finals MVP, and supposedly the second player in the Big Three -- also contributing, they're a juggernaut. And it showed in a 23-point blowout.
Frank Vogel spoke on the decision of the Heat to guard George with James instead of Wade.
"I think Dwyane would've had a good night whether it was guarding Paul or not," said Vogel after the Game 7 loss. "It was just that level of a competitor. LeBron guarding Paul maybe impacted him some. He's the best player in the world, maybe the best defensive player in the world. In crunch time, in any individual game throughout the season, he's guarding the best guy. And this whole game was crunch time for them. So you understand the move, and you've got to give credit to LeBron."
And on Wade's ability to will himself to success after a disappointing series, Vogel said: "He had the will to back up his words. He was going to try to do everything possible whether his shot was falling or not. He had the mindset to make an impact every way he could. He made an impact with deflections, and obviously got on the offensive glass."
Erik Spoelstra also talked on Wade's will to win. "That's just Dwyane being who he is. He has an uncanny way. All of us have seen him over the years. When you count him out and you need him most and the competition is at its most fiercest moment. It's going to somehow find a way to impact the game. He's 6'3, 6'4 and he just has a way in big games of getting bigger and it seems like he's 6'10.
"He just found a way to dig deep," Spoelstra continued. "We all know what he's dealing with right now, and he knew this was a moment we had to had. He was up to just will that game"
Quotes from the NBA's live press conference stream.