Just like old times: Dwyane Wade takes over, hits game-winner to push Heat past 76ers

For all the romance of Dwyane Wade’s return to the Miami Heat, the actual on-court product hadn’t been quite so lovely through Wade’s first handful of games back in South Florida. The franchise icon’s second stint began with 34.5 percent shooting in his first five games, headlined by fourth quarters to forget in winnable games against the New Orleans Pelicans and Philadelphia 76ers.

Wade had a chance to break hearts in Philly on Valentine’s Day, but clanged a good look at a 3 in the closing seconds to seal a Sixer win. On Tuesday, back home in Miami, he got a chance at redemption … and he made the most of it:

With the Sixers holding onto a 101-100 lead and less than 15 seconds remaining in regulation of a nip-and-tuck battle between two Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls, Wade took the ball and the game into his hands. He dribbled around a pair of Hassan Whiteside screens, eventually winding up in a one-on-one matchup with Rookie of the Year favorite Ben Simmons — all 6-foot-10, 240 pounds of him, with quick feet and a 7-foot wingspan. Wade side-stepped to his left, elevated for just about the longest 2-point shot possible over the outstretched arms of the Sixers’ jumbo point guard and, once again, arced up his jumper for the win.

This time, it splashed through, putting the Heat up by one with 5.9 seconds remaining and sending the crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena — the House that Wade Built, and the one he once again inhabits — into hysterics.

Dwyane Wade reminds everyone whose house AmericanAirlines Arena is. (AP)

“I had to get around a lot of guys,” Wade said during an on-court post-game interview with FOX Sports Florida’s Jason Jackson. “Since I’ve been back, it’s been two times already where the team put the ball in my hand at the end of the game. And I told myself, after missing both of them, the next time I get an opportunity, I gotta make the next one. So I dribbled around until I got to my spot, and I raised up.”

And, in doing so, found success in that kind of situation for the first time in a surprisingly long while:

The Heat still had to kill off the last six seconds, though, and they very, very nearly failed to do so:

After inbounding and getting the ball back, Simmons drove into the teeth of the Heat defense, drew three Miami defenders, and kicked out to Dario Saric in the corner. As Miami began to collapse down on him, Saric rifled a pass to the top of the key to a wide-open J.J. Redick, Philly’s best 3-point shooter and a guy who’s made a career out of drilling clean looks like this one … except, he didn’t knock down this one.

Redick’s long ball caught front rim and bounced clear as the buzzer sounded, sealing a 102-101 win that drew the eighth-seeded heat within one game of the seventh-seeded Sixers in the Eastern playoff chase.

The game-winner capped a tremendous fourth quarter for Wade, who scored 15 points in the final 5:55 alone (and assisted on a big Hassan Whiteside bucket with 56 seconds left) to carry Miami across the finish line. It was his best night in his new (and quite spiffy) Heat uniform, as the future Hall of Famer finished with a game-high 27 points in 25 minutes off the Miami bench, knocking in 10 of his 16 shots (including a pair of 3-pointers) and all of five of the free throws he earned in the final frame.

Wade’s final-possession heroics were set up by a very, very uncharacteristic play by the Heat on the previous Sixers trip: Wade fouling Simmons as soon as Philly inbounded the ball following three Wade free throws.

It sure seemed odd, fouling a player 93 feet away from the hoop when doing so immediately sends the opponent to the foul line with 23 seconds left in a tie game.

But then, maybe Erik Spoelstra was onto something. After all, Simmons is just a 56.9 percent free throw shooter — and a tick lower than that in the fourth quarter, for what it’s worth — and opponents have tried intentionally fouling him to exploit his weakness in the past. Rather than letting Philly get a chance to orchestrate in the half-court and find a clean look for a game-winner in the closing seconds, Spo had sent in orders to put the kid on the line, make him make free throws, and ensure Miami got the ball back with a chance to either tie or win before all was said and done.

Or … maybe there was a different explanation. Like, for example, Occam’s razor.

As it turned out, the answer skewed closer to the latter than the former. Heat color commentator Tony Fiorentino said that, as Wade came back to the Miami bench following his foul, he heard Spoelstra saying, “If you missed the shot” — meaning the instruction from the Heat’s coach was for his players to immediately foul if they hadn’t tied the game on Wade’s three freebies.

Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald has more:

“Really what happened was I didn’t know necessarily at first whether Dwyane got fouled on a three,” Spoelstra said. “So we started to talk about that, if it’s a two then we were going to trap and try to foul Simmons if he caught the ball. Then it was for three, so Goran was trying to get my attention and say ‘Are we doing this at three?’ I was trying to communicate with Goran without Dwyane seeing it that I didn’t have a lack of trust in Dwyane making all three, so I was trying to communicate if he misses one [then foul]. If he makes all three, good. But I was trying to do that without Dwyane seeing it.

“So the miscommunication, we bungled all that, so Dwyane fouled. I’ll tell you what, he’s got guts. If you’d ask him right now he would do that again so he could get the ball back and win the game. That’s what makes him who he is.”

So, less strategy or temporary insanity than a simple and straightforward misunderstanding … that just happened to pay off about as completely as the Heat could’ve hoped.

Throughout his season-opening stint in Cleveland, Wade had to content himself to a complementary role, acting as a spot-minutes character actor in LeBron James’ prestige drama. Back in his old familiar stomping grounds on Tuesday, though, he stepped comfortably into the chance to be a star.

The Heat jersey wasn’t the only special thing Wade was wearing when he took the court on Tuesday, though.

On Sunday, we learned that Joaquin Oliver, a 17-year-old who was one of the 17 victims killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, was buried in a Wade jersey. On Monday, Wade dedicated the rest of the Heat’s season to Oliver’s memory. On Tuesday, he wrote Oliver’s name on his sneakers before taking on the Sixers, turned in his best game since returning to Miami, and hit a game-winner. Sometimes, things just line up right.

“For me, it’s just giving whatever I can to the people who believe in me — especially the people who was happy about me coming back here, who embraced me the way that I only could dream of with me coming back home,” Wade said, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. “Just paying some due respect to him and to his family tonight.”

Tuesday’s win also gave the Heat their first victory over the 76ers in three tries this season, meaning they can split their season series with Philly — and possibly avoid dropping an important tiebreaker — by beating Simmons, Embiid and company back in Miami next Thursday night. After a couple of close-and-late losses in his first five games back, Wade stressed the importance of not letting another slip through their grasp on Tuesday.

“It’s time for us, especially here at home, to win these ball games,” Wade said after the game. “It’s not all going to be pretty. You’re not going to win them all by 10, 20 points. But you’ve got to find a way to win games. Tonight, we could have put our head in our hands and said, ‘Here we go again.’ But we didn’t. We kept trying to make plays, we stuck together and we got it to work.”

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!