The Heat’s season-saving victory in Charlotte was everything they say is invigorating about the playoffs. It was grueling from tipoff to the final seconds, a game that Erik Spoelstra said necessitated Udonis Haslem because it “got medieval.”
That’s as comfortable as a chaise lounge for Haslem, who showed up to the arena willing to risk body parts if Miami’s survival depended on it.
“Whatever it takes,” Haslem said. “I told the guys, if we lose, we’re not walking out. We’re going out on stretchers and in wheelchairs. That’s how the game is gonna have to be won. Loose balls? Head first. Charge? Take it. Whatever needs to be done.”
It was a rousing effort. Haslem, gutting out a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, took the beating he expected. Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng were irrepressible at both ends of the floor. Wade stormed out of the arena bowl screaming “Say what you want,” then joined his teammates in a locker room that was upbeat, but physically and emotionally drained.
Now they must do it all again, and the amount of recovery time between the team plane landing in South Florida and the players’ arrival for Game 7 on Sunday (1 p.m., ABC) can be counted in hours.
The last three games of this series were hard-fought as Charlotte surged to a 3-2 lead, then Miami answered with a pride-propelled stand in Game 6. Two teams that finished with the exact same record and split their regular-season series are down to one winner-take-all afternoon.
Wade, approaching his 88th game since the start of the preseason, will probably roll into AmericanAirlines Arena around 9 a.m., making it roughly a 31-hour turnaround. But he’ll take it.
“You have to love what Game 7 is,” he said after lasting 37 minutes Friday. “At this point in my career, I play for these moments. Game 7 is the best feeling to be a part of, and it’s gonna be a tough one. I’m glad that we have it on our home floor, and I hope our crowd is ready to give us the extra boost and extra energy.”
Wade got the Heat firing with some of the most frenetic defensive activity he’s displayed all year and pumped in 13 points in the first half, then closed with 10 in the fourth quarter. He hit two 3-pointers in the final minutes after not making one since mid-December, and everything he and the Heat put forth was barely enough to withstand Kemba Walker’s equally forceful 37-point performance.
“Dwyane talked in the locker room about how difficult it was to get that win,” Spoelstra said, “and it’s gonna take even more of that to get the next one.”
There were other encouraging signs for Miami beyond Wade’s heroics.
Hassan Whiteside established himself as a deterrent in the paint, had four of the team’s 10 blocked shots and maintained his composure even while fouling out late in the game. The shooters snapped back by going 8 of 16 on 3-pointers, led by Deng’s 3 for 4. Goran Dragic, who had been a big disappointment in the series, turned his night around late in the third quarter and had 10 points in his final 12 minutes of court time.
“If I’m aggressive, the other guys are gonna have more space,” he said. “In the third quarter, it finally opened up a little bit for me and I knocked down some shots. … I can build on that confidence.”
Both teams come in slightly hobbled. Heat rookie Josh Richardson, a superb perimeter defender and 3-point shooter, suffered a strained left shoulder on a collision with Cody Zeller in the final seconds and is questionable. Charlotte is unsure whether it will have multi-talented wing man Nic Batum, who aggravated his strained right foot.
Richardson’s injury isn’t as bad as initially feared, and he was unsure late Friday if it was something as serious as a separated shoulder, which would have ended his season. If he can’t play Sunday, the Heat’s contingency plan is a heavy workload for Dragic and the reinsertion of back-up combo guard Tyler Johnson, who has been out since January.