While LeBron James' fourth-quarter disappearance in Game 1 of the NBA Finals was surely alarming for the Miami Heat, perhaps just as notable was Dwyane Wade's. Wade, of course, has long been one of the league's premier big-game players. Even when he struggled in the Eastern finals versus Boston, he seemed to come on in clutch moments, particularly when he closed out Game 7 with a barrage of buckets.
The great thing about Wade's game has always been his aggressive attack and the pressure it puts on opposing defenses. Not unlike Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, Wade is most dangerous on the move. An explosive first step, along with a cadre of mid-range moves and fakes, forced Thunder head coach to use Thabo Sefolosha on him for most of Game 1; the strategy seemed to be that the Thunder would concede LeBron's inevitable 30 points, but that they would not be beaten by Wade. The question now is whether Wade's 7-19 Game 1 performance will prove to be a fluke or a trend.
If Wade cannot give the Heat his normal dosage of an efficient 20-plus performance on high-octane plays, then the Thunder -- already a far more athletic team -- gain a tremendous advantage. The 30-year-old shooting guard recently had his knee drained to alleviate some of the discomfort, meaning another drainage at this point should be unlikely. One source close to the Heat informed me before the series that this is a much bigger problem than Wade has let on and that the pain is persistent. Even so, after Miami's 105-94 loss, the 2006 Finals MVP said: "I've still got something left in me."
That "something" just may not be at the levels we are used to seeing.
Wade -- whose field-goal percentage fell by nearly 10 percent during the regular season with Sefolosha defending him -- converted just 3 of 10 from beyond 10 feet on Tuesday. Sefolosha, with his super-active feet and hands, forced Wade well off his original driving line and refused to be posted up, allowing just two such situations all game. In other words, just as Miami will live with Westbrook taking contested jump shots, the Thunder will live with Wade doing the same. Of course, the evidence for doing so is justifiable: The Heat is just 10-14 this season (including playoffs) when Wade attempts at least 10 shots from such distances, yet 48-13 when he doesn't (according to ESPN Stats & Info).
This series is barely underway, but Dwyane Wade's glaring lack of explosiveness, over-dribbling and inability to get in the paint during Game 1 is a legitimate theme to watch for. Chris Bosh (4-11, 10 points and 5 rebounds) is clearly still ailing from an abdominal strain he suffered in the Indiana series; James is too good not to get his on a game-to-game basis, but if he continues to fade late in games, along with Wade, this series will also be over in a hurry because the Thunder is simply that much more dynamic at both ends.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask me questions about anything sports-related @206Child.
Plus, check out my new HuffPost sports blog, The Schultz Report, for a fresh and daily outlook on all things sports and listen to my radio spot on 1280 The Zone Friday afternoons at 1:05 ET for full NBA Playoff coverage. Also, tune in at 6 ET tonight (Thursday) on Memphis 56 Sports Radio, right here.
Tune in after at 7:30 ET on CBS Houston Sports Radio 610 right here.