It wasn't imperative during the long regular season and seven months leading up to the 2016 NBA Playoffs. Not during the strenuous practices or changed offensive system. But now it is. The urgency for three-time champion Dwyane Wade to give it everything he has is at an all-time high.
Even though Wade had a solid outing during the Heat's Game 5 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, the captain sizzled away late, passing the ball to rookie Josh Richardson, who missed badly from deep, allowing Courtney Lee to get an offensive rebound and score to put the Hornets up, and, again, passing the ball to first-time playoff starter Goran Dragic, who got blocked, as the Heat were down two with seven seconds to play. That's not the Wade the Heat need.
The 34-year-old played the lowest minutes (30.5) of his career, averaged the second-lowest points (19.0) and took the second-lowest shots (16) since his rookie year this past regular season. Even as he played a remarkable 74 games, the workload was distributed to the Heat's younger guys and other core players. The 13th-year guard was supposed to play hard, but not his hardest, and avoid injury so that when the playoffs rolled around, so he would be ready to turn on the superstar play.
Wade hasn't failed to meet those expectations. Averaging 19.6 points, 6.0 six assists and 5.2 rebounds on 47 percent shooting, the 12-time All-Star has had a modest series so far.
But the with Heat in total desperation, down 3-2, heading to Charlotte for their potentially final game of the season, they'll need an even better form of Wade, who has played good but needs to play great.
Wade, who will go down as one of the greatest shooting guards of all time, has yet to win a playoff series without an All-Star teammate since his rookie year, when he himself wasn't an All-Star. In 2009 and 2010, he had little help and fierce competition and last season he was in an even worse predicament. But this year, his team is more than capable of winning this series, especially after going up 2-0 and having home court advantage.
Unlike his teammates on the floor, Wade has been in this position before:
"I have. We've been here, when we were down 3-2 going to Boston. LeBron James had an amazing game to propel us to that win, but it was just a great focus as a team. It's going to be tough. It's going to be tougher for this team, because we have never been here as a unit together in tough games. But you don't run away from the competition. We'll see what we are made of individually, to go up there and fight for this win. " Wade said after Game 5.
Back in 2012, the Heat faced a hungry Boston Celtics team eager to go back to the NBA Finals after losing to Miami the year before. Coming off a disappointing four point Game 5 loss in Miami, LeBron James went into TD Garden and had a performance for the ages to will the Heat to victory; 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists on 19-for-26 shooting in 45 minutes.
No, the Heat won't have LeBron James on Friday. But they will have Wade.
The franchise's best player. The same guy who averaged 34.7 points in the 2006 Finals, scored 46 points in an elimination game win over the Eastern Conference champion Celtics in 2010 and put up 41 points and 10 rebounds, after shaking off a five-point game earlier in the series, to put the Indiana Pacers away in 2012.
Wade is no stranger to adversity. A key player in five Finals series, the 6'4" guard has seen and been through it all. From being on the worst team in the league to being on the best team in the league to winning and losing several 7-game series.
The 13-year veteran may not be able to put up the numbers or have the impact he did in the past on a consistent basis anymore but the three-time champion can squeeze it out for a win-or-go-home Game 6 Friday and potentially Game 7 Sunday. It's what the Heat need.
With the whole season coming down to one night, the Wade of old must show up. His individual brilliance and invaluable experience is going to mean more now than any practice, shootaround or regular season game before.
Buzz City, where Charlotte fans haven't seen their team win a playoff series since 2003, is going to have an electrifying atmosphere Friday. Something most of the Heat including key rotational players such as Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Gerald Green and Richardson have never played in. These guys will be looking to Wade and following their captain's every lead.
"It gets not tougher than that in the playoffs, to have to go on the road with a team that can close you out on their home floor. You got to get a win. I don't know where this team is at. I wish I could tell you. This is the first time we've gone through this situation together. But that's what we're going to do. We're going to go through it together. We win together. We lost together. We're going to have to figure it out, as a unit."
While they'll have to figure it out as a unit, Wade will steer that search as well as the game Friday night. For the former Finals MVP, he has no time to complain about the officiating, wait on his teammates or focus on the past.
He is no longer a young phenomenon, a superstar with no help or a sidekick to one of the greatest players of all time. The 13-year veteran is in a completely different phase of his career with enough around him and enough within to make history and prove everyone wrong, once again.
Whether Wade can do the unthinkable; leading his abysmal road team in a hostile Time Warner Cable Arena and stave off elimination will ultimately come down to the performance and impact the future Hall-of-Famer displays Friday night - both as a player and leader.
Until then, don't underestimate the heart of a champion.
A three time champion.