The Sixers have withstood some hard punches from the Miami Heat, but Tuesday will be different.
Going against a team that is in a win-or-go-home situation is one of the toughest battles in the NBA. And then there’s Dwyane Wade, who could be playing in the final game of his 15-year career.
Wade was asked Saturday if he thought at all about the possibility that he had just played for the last time at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. He gazed down, almost as if he was looking inside himself, paused, smiled, then gave the answer one would expect from a three-time champion bound for the Hall of Fame.
“I won’t answer that right now,” he said. “I’ve got another game to play. I’m focused on the next game, trying to win that one.”
It will be a tough task for Wade and the Heat, but Wade knew it wouldn’t be easy as soon as the series began. The Sixers closed out the season on a 16-game winning streak, earning the third seed in the East and gaining the respect of their opponents.
Not only are the Sixers playing good basketball and closing out games like a team that has been here before, but on Tuesday Joel Embiid will play in his first home playoff game. It’s no secret that the Sixers play well at the Wells Fargo Center and that Embiid feeds off the energy of the fans, so Wade is not taking Game 5 lightly.
“It’s going to be one of the toughest things that we try to accomplish as a team, is to try to bring it back here to Miami,” Wade said. “We’ve got to understand that it’s not going to be easy.”
After leaving Miami last season to play in his hometown of Chicago, Wade spent the first half of the 2017-18 campaign with LeBron James in a Cavaliers uniform. At the trade deadline he was brought back to Miami, where he was part of three NBA championships.
Now, at 36, he looks across at a 76ers team full of young talent that represents the future of the NBA. No matter how special he thinks the Sixers are, he is doing his best to impart wisdom to the young Heat players.
“It’s human nature when a team starts putting it on you, when you’re down 3-1, to just let it go and say, ‘We can’t do it, it’s not our time,’ but all we’ve got to do is worry about this one game and give it everything we have for that game,” Wade said. “You walk out of that game and you gave it everything you had, you can live with the results.”
Wade put the Heat on his shoulders with 28 points in a Game 2 victory at the Wells Fargo Center. He tried to do it again Saturday in Miami, scoring 12 of his 25 points in the final quarter of a 106-102 Sixers win.
Game 5 will be difficult for Wade and the Heat, but it will also be the toughest test the Sixers have faced. No matter how you look at the game, it will be a historic night.
The Sixers could close out the series, taking “The Process” into the Eastern Conference semifinals. It could be the final moments of Wade’s illustrious career, or Wade could again turn back the clock to give the Heat another chance in Miami.
“We’re still there,” Wade said. “We’ve still got an opportunity.”