Reliving Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat career

May 9, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) takes a breather during the fourth quarter in game four of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Toronto Raptors at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won in overtime 94-87. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
May 9, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) takes a breather during the fourth quarter in game four of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Toronto Raptors at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won in overtime 94-87. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Big 3 Era

After suffering playoff defeat after playoff defeat since 2006, Wade and the Heat organization knew it was time for a change. Clearing up the necessary cap space and using the right methods, the Heat were able to sway both reigning Most Valuable Player LeBron James and five-time All Star Chris Bosh down to South Florida, all while convincing Wade to keep his talents in Miami.

I remember the welcome party like it was yesterday. The place reeked of confidence, excitement, cockiness and of course, hope. No one will ever forget James’s crazy claim of “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” championships or the constant screaming and chest pounding. Outside of Miami, the world was irate, and the entire NBA microscope was now centered in on the Heat and the three All Stars.

Struggling to mesh early on in the 2010-11 season, the Heat found themselves with a 9-8 record amid plenty of controversy. Will it ever work? Can James and Wade completely mesh? Is Chris Bosh tough enough? All those questions and countless hours of criticism followed Miami everywhere. In every city, fans booed, in every city, the Big 3 were heckled.

In his first season with James and Bosh in Miami, Wade would continue his old habits, putting up  stellar numbers of 25.5 points, 4.6 assists and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting an even 50 percent from the field. The Heat battled their way through a turbulent season to claim the second seed in the East with a 58-24 record.

Through the first three rounds, Miami banded together and combined to lose only three games through three five game series, not losing once in front of their home crowd. Heading into the Finals with confidence and swagger at an all-time high, the Heat took Game 1 over the Dallas Mavericks, 92-84.

After blowing a 15 point fourth quarter lead in Game 2(Wade had a memorable game, scoring 36 points,) the Heat would steal Game 3 in Dallas, but inexplicibly lose three straight to the underdog Mavericks, with the finger-pointing, still to this day, at LeBron James. Wade put up a valiant effort, averaging 26.5 points for the series, but in the end it wasn’t enough as the Mavericks would claim their franchise’s first ever championship on Miami’s home floor, leaving a bitter taste in every Heat fan and players’ mouth for the entire summer(trust me, I was there.)

Back with fury and vengeance, the Heat opened up the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with a Christmas thumping of the Mavs, leading by margins of 30+ points multiple times.

Having openly taken a step back so James could max his unbelievable potential, Wade flourished in his new role. He didn’t need the ball in his hands to score, and became a masterful off-the-ball cutter. Appearing in 49 of the 66 games that year, Wade was once again elected an All Star starter while averaging 22.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game, also putting up a career high in blocks-per-game(1.3.)

Lingering knee issues stuck with Wade throughout the postseason, even making the Heat look vulnerable at several points, but he also made them look invincible in others. Remember that tour-de-force Game 4 show James and Wade put on against the Pacers? How about Wade’s brilliant 41 point performance in the closeout Game 6 in Indianapolis?

While the Boston series can most be remembered for James’s individual brilliance in all seven games, Wade’s impact in the final four games of the Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder can’t be overlooked. In those games, Wade put up 24, 25, 25, and 20 points respectively. He made timely buckets down the stretch and was his usual self on the defensive end. The Heat would defeat the Thunder 4-1 and claim their second championship in franchise history, the second for Wade and the first for Bosh and James.

A busy offseason followed that 2012 championship run. That summer, Pat Riley managed to convince veterans Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to come to South Florida, and suddenly the Heat were loaded with one of the more spectacular groups of shooters ever assembled. Needless to say, the Heat flourished in the 2012-13 season, hitting a level even higher than a season before.

Over the course of 82 games, the Heat were levels above the competition, winning a franchise record 66 games, at one point embarking on a spectacular 27 game win streak, the second longest in NBA history. James, Bosh and Wade were once again elected All-Stars, and the whole entire nation had Heat fever it seemed. Appearing in 69 of 82 games, Wade averaged 21.2 points, 5.1 assists and 5.0 rebounds as Miami earned home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

The road to the Finals this time around would not be as easy as some thought. After sweeping the Bucks in the first round, Wade appeared severely hampered throughout the Chicago series, having to leave games to re-tape his knee at several points. Going into the rematch with Indiana, Wade’s bone bruised knee raised some eyebrows for Miami. Even at full health, Indiana was a much bigger team than the Heat, and Roy Hibbert caused matchup problems on the defensive end.

Pushed to the brink several times in this grueling, seven game series, the Heat managed to come through, taking the series at home in a blowout Game 7 victory, advancing to their third straight Finals in three years together. Wade overcame his knee issues and was brilliant in that game, scoring 21 points and grabbing nine rebounds.

Entering the Finals, the Heat now faced the veteran San Antonio Spurs. While Miami entered as the betting favorites, many(looking at you, Skip Bayless) were picking an upset, fingers mostly pointing at Wade’s health and the lack of support for the now four-time MVP in James.

Through the first three games, Wade failed to amass 20 points, and the Heat found themselves down 2-1 with two games left to be played in San Antonio. With the doubt at its highest point and the doubters out in blazes, Wade reached into his back pocket and delivered a vintage performance, scoring 32 points, grabbing six rebounds and coming up with six steals as the Heat beat the Spurs 109-93, evening the series at two games a piece.

The Spurs would go on to win Game 5 at home, pushing Miami to the brink of elimination for the second time that postseason. Everybody remembers that memorable Game 6. LeBron’s fourth quarter, Ray Allen’s shot, Chris Bosh’s block.

Living to fight another day, James would make sure the Heat finished the job, scoring 37 points and grabbing 12 rebounds while hitting a Finals career-high five three pointers. Wade added 23 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks as the Heat defeated the Spurs 95-88, going back-to-back and claiming their third title in franchise history. James was once again named Finals MVP as the most memorable journey was now complete, and Dwyane Wade celebrated, even showing up to the post-game press conference giggly.

Even with all the success so far, there were certain doubts about how far the Heat’s success could go. Teams like Indiana and Chicago(LOL) were on the rise, and Wade’s age and health were doubted more and more by the day.

Miami would coast their way to a fault at times throughout the 2013-14 season, and the Heat had their fewest win total since 2010, amassing a 54-28 record.

Playing just 54 games due to injury and “rest”, Wade had his fewest point average in years(19.0.) He did shoot a career high 54.5 percent from the field, but had few “memorable” moments during this campaign, one could argue this season was arguably the worst out of those four great years.

While the Heat easily powered through the east with relative ease, Wade would have a memorable series against the Pacers, even out playing James in Games 1 and 2. That same level of dominance didn’t return for the Finals rematch with the Spurs, however.

San Antonio made quick work of the Heat, dispatching them in five games by a record Finals margin, claiming their fifth title under Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. For the Finals, Wade looked heavy, slow, and quite frankly, old, averaging his fewest points in any Finals series at just 15.2.

Little did Heat Nation know, was that was the last time the Big 3 would be on the court together. Later that summer, James would announce through a letter in Sports Illustrated that he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the story of the “Three Kings” was now closed.

Next: Life After LeBron