SAN ANTONIO – Dwyane Wade was celebrating along with the rest of them last June 25, strolling down Biscayne Bay Blvd. in those double-decker red buses with the rest of the Miami Heat crew that had won its second consecutive title.
He had limped his way to the finish line, playing some of his best basketball at the end but barely able to take his body – and those ailing knees – to that brink. Meanwhile, his longtime trainer, Tim Grover, was back in Wade's hometown of Chicago, concocting a plan that they already knew would be needed if this party was going to happen again.
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"While (Wade) was enjoying the parade, I was back at work behind a computer and trying to figure out a formula to get him back to where he is currently right now," Grover, the renowned trainer and author of new book, JUMP ATTACK, told USA TODAY Sports recently. "We just spend a lot more time during the offseason. His commitment and lightening his schedule up to pay attention and focus on his body and his injuries again, was probably the main difference…Obviously when you have success as an athlete, especially at his level, there is no offseason."
As Game 5 approaches Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC) and the Heat face elimination in the rematch against the San Antonio Spurs, it would be wise to remember everything Wade has gone through to get to this point. There were serious sacrifices made for the sole purpose of planning for the playoffs, 28 games missed during the regular season so that his 32-year-old knees could withstand the grind of a possible three-peat push.
It's hard to imagine Wade going down like this, without more of the fight for which the three-time champion has so long been known and with the kinds of performances like he had in Game 4. The player who shot a career-high 54.5% during the regular season swears his 3-of-13 shooting effort was just an anomaly, a combination of missed opportunities on his part and well-executed defense on San Antonio's. He feels just fine physically, which means D-Wade may be D-Wade again before this thing is done.
"I was 3 for 13; that doesn't happen to me often," said Wade, who is averaging 16.3 points (46.2% shooting), four rebounds, three assists, two steals and 3.8 turnovers per game in the Finals. "I'm a very high‑percentage shooter. Whenever something is that way, there is always something that's pointed out. There is nothing wrong (physically). I got quality shots, I missed them. For whatever reason. They played good defense on some, some I missed. But that's the nature of the game."
"I'm fine. Way better than I've been in a long time. There is nothing (physically) I point out at all. Last year I had one leg and did all right. So I'm totally fine, man. I didn't play well in Game 4. Has nothing to do with my health at all."
The Spurs, it's safe to assume, would have been just fine tipping off Game 5 Friday morning with all the momentum they had at that time. But the two-plus days off could be huge for Wade, perhaps mentally even more than physically. Wade shared a slice of his psyche with reporters Saturday, describing how he'd gone by himself to the gym to clear his mind and refocus on the mission at hand.
"Laid down Friday, just smelled the gym a little bit by myself, just in there," Wade said. "Saturday you come in and you prepare with your team, with your group. You get a game plan together for what you feel is a game plan that can win a ballgame.
"(His time in the gym) was just to touch, feel the ball, and wonder why I missed so many floaters. I'm high percentage around the basket, so I don't like missing those shots. Just to go in there a little bit and have your moments to yourself. I do it often, especially when I'm ‑ offensively when I don't make the shots I want to make or do the things I want to do."
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It was a different version of what Wade did last summer, when Grover led the way in a refocusing effort that had paid such significant dividends until these last few games.
"During the offseason, you're promoting your shoes and your brands and you're making all the commercials and doing all that other stuff, and (players) have such a small window of time to capitalize on all that," Grover had said. "But it can be a distraction at times…Dwyane got back in to, 'Like, hey, I still need to do all this stuff, but I've got to really take care of my body. I've got to really focus back on the things that got me to this level.' That's where I think the biggest change was, just the level of commitment during the offseason again."
Wade hasn't forgotten the road they took to get here, of course, so don't expect him to go out with a whimper.
"I expect for him to be great," LeBron James said of Wade on Saturday. "I expect all our guys to be great."