MIAMI - Long after his Miami Heat had finished wiping the AmericanAirlines Arena floor with the Hawks Saturday night, Dwyane Wade said something that crystalized the difference between these two playoff combatants.
Asked about the leadership he provides for his team, the Heat superstar described his evolution as a team leader so perfectly, it almost sounded as if a Hollywood script writer had penned the response for him.
“One thing about being a leader is that it’s 24/7, 365 days a year,” Wade said. “It never stops. I was very disappointed with myself in Game 1. I was quiet, and that is not what my team needs. In Game 2 and Game 3 I took it upon myself to make sure that my voice is heard. To drive the points the coaches made and make sure they hear it again before they get on the court.”
You won’t hear anything resembling that from the Hawks. They don’t have a vocal leader in the mold of Wade (they don’t have a player with game like Wade’s either, but we all knew that going into this series). So their won’t be anyone rescuing the Hawks from themselves between now and the start of Monday night’s epically important Game 4 (a third straight loss by the Hawks spells almost certain doom in this series).
All those cliches about leaders being born and not bred don’t register in this case. Leaders emerge in times like this. Leaders rise to the occasion and impose their will in times like this. Leaders of men and leading men are two distinctly different beings in the NBA landscape and beyond.
Wade’s both a leader of men and a leading man. He’s John Shaft (talk about a leader of men and a leading man) in a pair of funky looking shoes and without the sideburns. There are a handful of Shafts in the NBA these days (Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, DWade, Chauncey Billups and Paul Pierce come to mind with others floating in and out of the Shaftosphere). The mettle required of your team leader in the playoffs isn’t hard to spot. And Hawks’ captain and All-Star Joe Johnson has yet to show if he has it in him in this series.
The contrast between his demeanor Sunday and that of Wade over the past few days was striking. Wade vowed to revive his crew after that humiliating, 26-point loss in Game 1 and has done exactly that with two backbreaking efforts since then. Johnson didn’t sound a similar alarm Sunday when asked if he was ready to do it himself, speaking in terms of “we” and “us” when it’s clear that he has to pick up the mantle and carry his team back to even in this series.
“We’ve just got to grow up, man,” Johnson said, his voice trailing off with every word. “We hit a little adversity and now it’s as if we’re out of it. But we have to think positive the rest of the way. You’ve just got to believe. And we have to put it in the guys who have never been in this situation and we have to make them believe we can do this. We have to keep talking to them and keep putting confidence into them.”
The words are fine, but in the playoffs a man can only be judged by his actions.
AND NOW, A MOMENT OF SILENCE for the Detroit Pistons.
James and his Cavaliers tossed the last shovel of dirt on a deceased Eastern Conference behemoth Sunday afternoon at the Palace of Auburn Hills, sweeping the Pistons out of the playoffs in four games.
It’s only fitting that the Cavaliers did the honors, seeing as how they were the first team expose the flaws of the once-mighty Pistons (in the Eastern Conference finals a couple years ago). The interesting thing going forward is what direction the Pistons go with their rebuilding project.
They’ll have plenty of cap space now that the Allen Iverson deal/fiasco is finally over. I suspect Pistons boss Joe Dumars has a plan mapped out already, and there’s no doubt it includes some big names (wish I knew which ones).
It’s certainly going to make this summer a bit more intriguing come July 1, when free agency begins. It’s supposed to be a sleepy summer with everyone waiting on the 2010 free agent crop. But why wait when you can make a splash now?
THE MORNING AFTER GOING DOWN 2-1 IN A PLAYOFF SERIES might seem like an odd time to have a players’ only team meeting, but Hawks coach Mike Woodson gave the session his blessing after the Hawks’ Sunday practice.
”They’ll meet today and try to figure out some things amongst them,” Woodson said. “For me, from a coaching standpoint, this is not the time for me to scream and yell and curse guys out. We’re right where we need to be. We just have to figure out [Monday] night’s game.”
Johnson didn’t give up the particulars of the time or place and barely acknowledged that any meeting would be taking place. Sorting out whatever internal issues they need to before Game 4 is an excellent idea. Because if it’s going to take a secret meeting to get the Hawks back to playing like they did in Game 1, so be it (no one wants to see one-sided blowouts in the playoffs, well I don’t).
”We beat them pretty bad in Game 1, and they beat us pretty bad in Game 3,” Josh Smith said Sunday. So we’re even. We just have to look at ourselves as individuals and as teammates and come together with a solution. There has to be a philosophy where we have each other’s back. In Game 2 it was a hostile environment in Atlanta, it was just them and the crowd. They played together and everything clicked. They had fun. We have to do the same thing.
”Our backs are against the wall. What are we made of? Are we going to fold and let them win, or do we step up and show them this is going to be a series and turn it around?
WOODSON WAS IN FULL SPIN MODE Sunday, casting the Heat as the veteran crew with all the playoff seasoning and his bunch (everyone knows the Hawks are youngest team in the Eastern Conference postseason field) as the “underdogs” according to my man Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel.
When asked about the Heat’s supporting cast Woodson said, “When you have O’Neal, who has been a six or seven-time All-Star, and [Udonis] Haslem who has played championship basketball, they have veteran guys who have been through the battles. My guys haven’t been battle tested. This is something new for our team. When I came into the series I thought we could make it to the next round. I want them to think that too. This series is a long way from being over if we take care of business tomorrow.”
If this was some master media stroke to ease the pressure on his team, consider that mission accomplished. But it didn’t look that way to me. I honestly didn’t hear it that way. Woodson’s comments on how his team would bounce back against the Heat seemed far more interesting to anyway.
”Our team has been committed all year long, so I’m not ready to put them out to pasture so fast,” he said.” They have been committed. We’ve had some tough times and some tough games, stretches where we didn’t play well. And we bounced back. We haven’t played well the past few games. We have to find what we’re made of. Until we’re eliminated I’m going to keep fighting and I’m going to push them to keep fighting.
”Again, when we won the first game, I’m sure they were down after that. They had to be thinking we had to win three more to get to the next round. I’m thinking the same thing. I have to get these guys thinking the right way. The last two games, we’ve been kind of punched out a little bit. We have to rebound.”