Dwyane Wade played in his 1,226th NBA game Monday night — playoffs included. Barring at least one playoff upset — assuming the Heat even make the postseason — it was his last in Boston.
Eventually he’ll take up residence a 91-mile drive west in Springfield, but this was almost certainly his last chance to perform on this stage. And you didn’t have to remind the Garden gathering of that fact he’s let it be known he’ll retire when the season is done.
When Wade entered the game with 5:27 left in the first quarter (and the Celtics leading, 20-4), fans gave him a standing ovation.
Public address announcer Eddie Palladino did raise his voice an octave with the intro, noting that checking into the game for Miami were Hassan Whiteside “and No. 3, Dwyane Wade.” The ovation began before Eddie could finish.
Wade even received a little bit better than polite applause later in the period when his jumper pulled the Heat within 32-12.
The Celtics, as a franchise, had shown their appreciation earlier in a far more muted manner. About an hour before tipoff, Danny Ainge and some Celts execs met Wade in the hallway outside the Heat dressing room.
As a few cameras clicked and recorded the brief event, the president of basketball operations handed Wade a large encasement with his picture, a piece of an older Garden court and a brief listing of his resume highlights.
Above the latter was the inscription, “WE WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER THE EPIC BATTLES PLAYED ON THE PARQUET AND CONGRATULATE YOU ON A HALL OF FAME CAREER”.
“Thank you for your amazing career and inspiration,” Ainge said. “We’ve all benefited from it. You’ve been a remarkable player, and we’ve had some good battles.
“I now forgive you for messing up Rondo’s elbow on that loose ball,” Ainge added, referencing the 2011 playoff incident in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals when Wade appeared to pull on Rajon Rondo’s arm to create a dislocation.
“But you’ve been fun to watch from the day you came into the NBA, and we’d like to present you with this picture, all your accomplishments and a 2008 piece of the parquet floor from Boston Garden. Thank you very much.”
“Thank you guys,” Wade said.
“We appreciate all you’ve done,” Ainge said.
“Thank you,” Wade said. “This is dope. Did I score any buckets on that floor?”
“Yeah, you scored a few too many,” Ainge replied before wishing Wade good luck.
The 37-year-old guard is in the home stretch of his 16th season, and each final visit to a city is a bit special.
“I appreciate that from Danny Ainge and the owners of the team,” Wade said later after scoring 17 points in a 110-105 loss to the Celts. “Like we talked about out there, we’ve had so many battles in the playoffs, but I appreciate the respect they showed me as a player to present me with the plaque, present me with a piece of the history of the Celtics. That was so cool, and I definitely didn’t expect it at all, so I just want to thank them for that gesture.”
Of the Celtics, he said, “This is another one of those franchises that helped myself and this organization know what it took to win and get to that next level. We had to beat this organization to get there, so I appreciate them for pushing us. They were the big brothers for a long time, and then we were eventually able to match for a little bit. But we’re thankful for what they did for us from that standpoint.”
Earlier in the day, he’d mused about the difficulty of playing in the Garden.
“I’ve played a lot of playoff series here, as well, so this is one of those buildings, you walk out of here with a win, you walk out of here with your chest puffed out,” Wade said. “It’s like San Antonio. It’s a few places around this league, if you can go out there and get a win, that’s a tough one to get.”
It’s one Wade didn’t get that stands out, the Celts’ five-game dispatching of Miami in the 2010 first round — a postseason that would see the C’s go all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals before falling to the Lakers.
“In the press conference afterward I said I would not lose in the first round for no more in a long time,” Wade said. “So after beating us, it enabled me to change my mentality going into 2010, and that’s when the Big Three was formed.”
Yeah, acquiring LeBron James and Chris Bosh will alter one’s mentality significantly, though two years later the Heat needed to win Game 6 here and Game 7 in Miami to overcome the Celts’ 3-2 lead in the East finals.
Wade came into Monday night’s game averaging 14.4 points in 25.7 minutes. Clearly he is doing a lot more than just playing out the string as Miami makes its push for the playoffs. A number of people have noted how it doesn’t seem he should retire, but the 13-time All-Star is set.
“It just felt right,” Wade said. “It was just a feeling you get, just looking at my overall body of work in my career, where I’m at in my life, the age, everything. It just felt right. It felt like the time for me to step away from the game. I’ve always said you never know when that moment is going to come. When you make the decision, some people say they 100 percent know. Some people are on the line. I don’t know how I’m going to feel when the summer comes, but I know coming into this year and even at the end of last year, it was time for me to step away and do something different.”
And the knowledge that this is it has helped him enjoy the final tour.
“It’s been more than what I’ve wanted,” he said. “I think from that standpoint as basketball player, you want to be able to go through this year and be healthy, first of all. And you want to be able, especially the road games, you want to be able to obviously be healthy to play all the road games. So you want to perform well. You want to go out there and compete and help. For me it’s helping the next generation on the team and also to put us in the playoffs.
“Everything that has come with it has been a bonus, as well.”
Like a piece of the parquet floor, some kind words from Danny Ainge and the applause of grateful Celtics fans.