At 36 years old and in his 16th (and final) NBA season, Dwyane Wade will admit it.
“I don’t know if any of my moves are quick,” Wade said with a laugh.
Wade can’t just drive into the paint and get to the basket on pure athleticism anymore. For a player who used to be one of the quickest in the league, he now relies on his mind to catch defenders off balance and drive past them.
How else would Wade blow past a 22-year-old defender to get into the paint and draw a foul on the reigning Defensive Player of the Year?
That’s exactly what Wade did to help lift the Heat to a 102-100 win over the Jazz on Sunday. He finished with 15 points on an inefficient 4-of-15 shooting to go with eight assists in 30 minutes, but it was a performance that will be remembered for a play late in the game.
With the score tied at 100 and the clock winding down in regulation, Wade found the ball in his hands and made one step toward the left before switching directions to drive right and catch Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell leaning the wrong way.
It wasn’t Wade’s quickness that got him past Mitchell. It was quick thinking.
“I made a quick thought,” said Wade, who is averaging 15.3 points on 44.7 percent shooting from the field and 38.7 percent shooting from three-point range in 15 games this season. “I definitely wanted that ball and I knew what I was going to do already. I kind of had it predetermined just because in the fourth quarter me having the ball at the top of the key and how they were guarding me. So I knew they would think I was going to the left. So I kind of set that up.”
Once Wade got past Mitchell, the next challenge was one of the league’s top rim protectors. But the 12-time All-Star got into the paint and went right at 7-1 Jazz center Rudy Gobert to draw a foul with 3.2 seconds to play.
The result was two game-winning free throws for Wade, with the Heat now riding a two-game winning streak heading into Tuesday’s matchup against the Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“That’s D-Wade, man,” Heat center Hassan Whiteside said. “I’ve been watching that since high school. D-Wade just doing his thing in key moments. He comes in, he attacks Gobert. Gobert is a really good shot blocker and D-Wade don’t care.”
While Wade’s penetration attempt to draw a foul and earn the opportunity to hit game-deciding free throws Sunday was already impressive enough at this stage of his career, the fact the Heat has turned to him more often than not when the game has been on the line this season is the bigger accomplishment.
Wade owns a team-high fourth-quarter usage rate (an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while on the court) of 25.3 percent, which is just ahead of Josh Richardson’s fourth-quarter usage rate of 23.3 percent.
“It’s like putting on an old glove,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked about Wade’s late-game heroics Sunday. “We’ve been in that situation so many times before. It was very natural for him to read everything. First we had to get the stop, but then the recognition that if it ends up in his hands — I basically said if you need a rest, if you feel like you can go, depending how much time on the clock, go for it. We can always call timeout on the other side of half-court.
“But Dwyane probably understands that as much as anybody and he never looked over. He was not going to call a timeout, he was not going to shift anything, he was just going to call whatever action he wanted at that time. He had a retro burst of speed to get to the rack. Really, those last two drives were just like 2009 Dwyane.”
The 2009 Dwyane finished as the league’s leading scorer in 2008-09 with 30.2 points per game on 49.1 percent shooting. Then in his mid-20s, Wade made 66 percent of his 589 (!) shots from the restricted area.
Wade can’t play that style anymore, as he’s on pace to take just 152 shots from the restricted area this season. But he can still pick his spots.
Sunday was one of them.
“It’s fun. I don’t want it to end,” Spoelstra said of Wade’s final season. “We’ve been through a ton and when he left, I’ve said it before, it didn’t feel right. You don’t know if you’ll ever get an opportunity to coach him again. When it happened, I wanted to enjoy every one of these moments and it’s in a different way than I did before because I didn’t have this kind of perspective, when you know that these are the last days, last games.
“Hopefully we can get some guys back so I can still keep it in a place where he can sustain this. I think if we can have this at the right minutes, he can sustain this kind of play all season long.”