A sleepless night for Dwyane Wade, courtesy of Trevor Ariza stripping him of the ball and chance to be the hero in Houston two nights ago led him to a second chance three nights later.
A second chance, it should be noted, that didn’t seem likely considering a half hour before Wade had his moment in “the moment” as the Chicago Bulls held a 27-point lead over the Sacramento Kings in the third quarter.
But unlike last Friday night, Wade did more than rise to the occasion and bring the Bulls back to .500 with a 112-107 win at Golden 1 Center, as he literally saved the Bulls from a soul-crushing disaster that could’ve very well derailed the baby steps they’ve made in recent days.
“It was in my mind. The guys knew it, everyone knew it,” Wade said. “I kept telling them, if I’m in a position tonight, I’m redeeming myself. It’s uncharacteristic for me to get stripped twice like that. I wanted that game-winner in Houston and they hit the ball away, so I couldn’t sleep very well the last couple of days.”
After DeMarcus Cousins couldn’t complete a 3-point play that would’ve given the Kings their first lead of the game, Wade snatched the rebound and trudged upcourt for some personal redemption as Matt Barnes stood in his way this time instead of Ariza.
So he walked Barnes down to the right wing and nailed a pull-up jumper with 13 seconds left to put the Bulls up two. Then he added some extra flavor to the finish as the Kings had a shot to send the Bulls reeling with a three-pointer, as he darted into the passing lane for a pass intended for Cousins, finishing it off with a two-handed dunk with 10 seconds left.
Not bad for a guy who was being taunted by the crowd as “too old” while he took his rest in the first quarter.
“You wish I was on your team,” Wade shot back.
It was redemption of a different kind as Wade was bailed out by the officials in their earlier meeting on a similar play when he missed a dunk in the closing seconds but Cousins was called for a controversial foul when Cousins’ hand barely grazed Wade’s back.
He left no doubt this time, completing a 31-point performance where he was arguably his most efficient of the season, making 12 of 18 shots to go along with six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a game-saving steal.
Finding gold early against Arron Afflalo, Wade got easy scores on the block early which enabled him to get into a rhythm and produce his fifth 30-point performance this season.
“Dwyane’s been in this position a lot through the course of his career,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “One of the reasons he’ll be in the Hall of Fame one day is because of his ability to close games and play clutch, not be afraid of the big moment.”
“He made an unbelievable shot and followed it up with a great steal.”
It seemed unlikely the Bulls would need Wade to dust off his cape when they led by 27 with 4:13 in the third when Jerian Grant hit a three and it seemed the Bulls’ biggest problem was figuring out how to divvy up minutes between Grant (13 points, 4-5 shooting) and Michael Carter-Williams, who scored 21 with four assists and six rebounds in another start as the Bulls were without Jimmy Butler (right heel contusion).
“Michael was great all night, he really set the tone for us offensively,” Hoiberg said. “He got us out playing with pace.”
Wade didn’t feel uncomfortable taking on the extra workload with Butler out but he knew he had to be more economical with his usage.
“The guys look for me to score more, coach calls a lot of plays for me,” Wade said. “So I kind of take the Jimmy role from that standpoint, and obviously that’s what I’m used to. I’ve just got to do it in 30 minutes and not 38. But it’s a comfortable game for me, and it’s coming in early and playmaking.”
The Bulls’ ball movement was crisp early even before taking the 82-55 lead, as they assisted on their first 14 field goals, playing solid defense on the Kings and frustrating the All-Star Cousins, who torched the Bulls for 40 at the United Center.
Taj Gibson took the assignment of guarding Cousins and bothered him all night, not allowing the big man to get a rhythm and creating an atmosphere of frustration—although Cousins’ blowup toward the end of the third seemed to ignite the Kings later.
Cousins, who was ejected with one second half as he could no longer keep it together, finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and five assists but only made five of 16 shots from the field.
From a gameplan execution standpoint, it looked similar to the Bulls’ win in Oklahoma City last week when they led nearly wire to wire, as they were finding Robin Lopez (17 points) and Taj Gibson (13 points) inside for scores against a lagging defense.
Perhaps ignited by a skirmish at the end of the quarter involving Gibson, Rajon Rondo and associate coach Jim Boylen with Cousins and Matt Barnes where it looked like Cousins shoved Boylen, they found new life and had the Bulls seeing double.
Ty Lawson scored a quick 10 in the first several minutes of the quarter, then back-to-back triples from the two Kings combatants, Barnes and Cousins, cut the lead to 107-105 with 56 seconds left.
They gave up six triples in the fourth quarter after allowing just five in the first three quarters, as Lawson scored 22 off the bench and Barnes 19.
“I think the big thing is continuing to play the right way,” Hoiberg said. “Early in the game we had been moving the ball, I think it got stuck a little bit in the second half when they got on that run. You have to realize what made successful, how you got that big lead.”
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Panic didn’t necessarily set in, although one can imagine if the feeling of “here we go again” was setting in for the Bulls.
“I was like, ‘Yes!’ I wanted to redeem myself. I wanted the ball,” Wade said.
For a long while, it looked as if Butler’s prudence was the right decision.
Then it looked like they needed to send in the bat signal for their All-Star.
They did, but Wade happened to be the one to answer.