The Heat were off Sunday, the day before their season would be on the line in Game 7 of the conference finals against Indiana.
But rest wasn’t a priority for Dwyane Wade.
Miami’s embattled superstar spent the day at work, talking to coach Erik Spoelstra about getting on track and receiving extra treatment on his right knee, which has limited him since early March.
Wade knew what was at stake Monday, especially after listening to critics who said his body was breaking down and his skills diminishing during what was the worst playoff slump of his career.
“I did everything I could to feel as good as I can,” Wade said after Miami’s season-saving, 99-76 victory over the Pacers in which he had 21 points, his most since Game 2 of the opening-round series against Milwaukee. “And I got a lot of opportunities.”
With the help of LeBron James, Wade was aggressive from the start, taking four shots in the first three minutes and scoring Miami’s first two buckets.
Both James and Wade knew that all eyes would be on him, with fans, opponents and teammates looking closely for any wince, hobble or misstep.
“I called a couple of sets for him early in the game … just to make him feel he was part of the offense, make him feel in a good rhythm,” James said. “And it showed throughout the game that he was in the rhythm.”
Wade had six offensive rebounds among his game-high nine boards and looked more energized than he had in the three previous games, in which he shot 32.3 percent (11-of-34) and averaged 11.7 points.
Those numbers were shocking considering that Wade entered the postseason averaging 25.2 points in 110 playoff games. He was MVP of the 2006 finals in which Miami defeated Dallas.
But that was seven years ago, before Wade’s body started breaking down. Wade, 31, was limited during last year’s championship run because of a sore left knee that required off-season surgery. Now it’s a bone bruise in the other knee that prevented him from playing in nine of Miami’s final 14 regular-season games and Game 4 of the sweep of the Bucks.
“I’m going to play through pain because this is my job,” Wade said. “My team depends on me. I’ve been through so much away from the game and in the game that I’ll find a way. I’ll figure it out.”
Wade and the Heat figured out how to get James some help just in time on Monday. Wade had six points in the first quarter, equaling his field-goal total (three) in each of the previous two games.
“When you count him out and you need him most, the competition is at its fiercest moment, he’s going to be there for you,” Spoelstra said. “And he’s going to somehow find a way to impact the game.”
Wade was tested by the Pacers’ athletic wings, Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Now, in the NBA Finals against San Antonio, he will become familiar with the Spurs’ 6-foot-6 shooting guard, 25-year-old Danny Green.
Green has worked hard to improve his perimeter game and it showed: He finished seventh in the league in 3-point shooting with a .429 percentage.
But he is known for his lock-down defense, which is the main reason he is in the Spurs’ lineup.
Wade and Green have not faced off since Green became a full-time starter this season. Green was part of the contingent that coach Gregg Popovich sent home to rest when the Spurs faced the Heat in Miami on Nov. 29, costing the franchise a $250,000 fine by the league. And Wade did not play when the teams met March 31 in San Antonio.
“We’re going to have to make adjustments every game throughout the series,” Wade said. “We’re going to see something different that we haven’t seen.”
Now the question remains: Which Dwyane Wade will the Spurs see?