|Dwyane Wade leaves Game 3 not only as a failure on the court, but also as a jerk for his antics. (AP)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- No matter what else happens in this series, Dwyane Wade damaged himself Thursday night. Damaged his brand. Hurt his reputation. He played badly and acted worse -- and he played really, really badly. As badly as he's ever played in his career, perhaps.
Wade was so bad, he almost singlehandedly lost this game for the Heat. I say almost, because there were two players at the heart of the Pacers' 94-75 victory in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal. This was a 19-point blowout because the Pacers had Roy Hibbert -- and because the Heat had Dwyane Wade.
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Hibbert dominated the Chris Bosh-less Heat, totaling 19 points, 18 rebounds and five blocked shots. He scored from 20 feet, he scored from point-blank range, and on one occasion he did both -- driving 20 feet, this 7-foot-2, 260-pound monster of a man attacking the rim like a guard and finishing off the glass.
And Wade? He was 2 for 13 from the floor. He had five points, five turnovers and one assist. Wade was the worst player on the court, and that's not hyperbole or opinion. That's a fact. Wade's plus-minus rating was the worst of anyone who played, and not by a little bit. He finished the game at minus-25 -- 10 points behind anyone else. Think about that: The Heat lost by 19, and nobody but Wade was below minus-15. He was terrible.
But he acted worse. Wade went for the toddler's trifecta, using pantomime to blame his poor play on injury, then whining to referees for help and finally getting in the face of his own coach, Erik Spoelstra, who tried to defuse their third-quarter incident afterward by saying it was no big deal, it was the kind of thing that happens all the time, here a cliché, there a cliché, everywhere a cliché-cliché.
Truth? Wade was a total jerk. If that happens all the time, fine. Wade is a jerk all the time. But only in the past week has Wade been such a ridiculously bad guy that it's been impossible to ignore.
It started in Game 2, when Wade pouted after a non-call by ignoring the ball going the other way to stay on the offensive end and gestured angrily, like he's Dwight Howard or something. Then when he went back to the other side of the court, still a few seconds behind the action, he was in the right place to defend a run out by Darren Collison. But the heck with that. Defend? Not Wade. He drilled Collison to the floor, drawing a flagrant foul.
After that game, an enormous win for the Pacers in Miami in Game 2, they celebrated on the court. And Wade whined about it.
"I saw their little celebration at the end," Wade told reporters after the game. "I don't know if they didn't expect to win, but every night we go out on the court, we expect to win."
That was Game 2. A blip for Wade? Maybe so. The media made very little of his misbehavior. But Game 3? We'll make a lot more of it, or we should, for two reasons. One, it happened on the heels of his Game 2 spitefulness -- but also, frankly, because it was that bad all by itself.
In addition to throwing angry looks and gestures at referees when he wasn't tending to his "injury" -- Wade made a point of clenching or shaking one of his hands after missed shots, as if it was bothering him -- Wade was ominously subordinate when Spoelstra said something he didn't like during a timeout. Wade loomed over his smaller coach, saying something quietly as he leaned down to stick his nose in Spoelstra's face. A teammate tried to calm him down by putting a hand on Wade's arm, but Wade jerked it away before spinning back to say more to Spoelstra, this time from a distance. The whole world saw it.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Wade said when asked about it after the game.
Spoelstra acknowledged the incident, but said it was "irrelevant," that he and Wade have a fine relationship going back several years. Which may even be true, not that it matters. Perception is everything to an athlete of Wade's stature, and he damaged our perception of him Thursday night.
Just like he damaged his team's hopes of winning that game. Wade was so bad, he took the heat off LeBron James -- who wasn't all that good himself. James had a subpar, for him, final line of 22 points (on 22 shots), seven rebounds, three assists and four turnovers.
This was James' worst game of eight in the 2012 playoffs, punctuated by failure at a time he was most determined to succeed. The sequence I'm talking about came late in the third quarter, after Danny Granger clung to James' jersey to prevent a breakaway dunk. James stuck out his left elbow as a warning, and Granger responded by getting in James' face for a technical.
Then came this sequence:
James missed the technical free throw, causing euphoria from the crowd and this taunting gesture from Pacers reserve Lance Stephenson. Next time the Heat had the ball, James forced a 3-pointer and missed. Next possession, still determined to score, he forced a 10-footer off the glass and missed. About 50 seconds later he missed a 3-pointer as the quarter ended.
As famous as James is -- as polarizing as he is -- people won't be talking much today about his poor game or that awful sequence. We'll be talking about Dwyane Wade, and we'll wonder what's wrong with him. Isn't he supposed to be a great player? Didn't he used to be a good guy?
He wasn't in Game 2. Not in Game 3, either. Let's see what happens in Game 4.
Let's see if it even matters.