Dwyane Wade is averaging five points per first half through three games… (Elise Amendola / Associated…)
BOSTON — The games certainly start late enough in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics.
But for Dwyane Wade, the internal alarm clock hasn't been sounding until an hour later.
If at all.
Through the first three games of this series, which the Miami Heat lead, 2-1, Wade is averaging five points in the first halves. Game 4 is Sunday at TD Garden.
Though his overall average is 21, even that is relatively understated considering that Friday's 18-point performance marked the first time in 13 playoff games against the Celtics he failed to score at least 20.
Saturday, the Heat returned to TD Garden as much to strategize as go through a light practice.
"I'd like to see if we can get him some easy ones, in the open court, on cuts, in the post, maybe some drives on the weak side," Coach Erik Spoelstra said.
"But we also have to do a better job of getting him in areas where he can be aggressive, and that will be part of our focus."
As will be getting him off to fast starts, something that also was a problem the previous round against the Indiana Pacers.
It was at halftime of Game 4 of that series when LeBron James decided it time to get Wade going. That collaboration helped trigger the five-game winning streak that lasted until Friday.
"I know that D-Wade wants to get a few easy buckets," said James, who is leading the Heat with a 33.3 scoring average in this series.
James, who dominated the Heat offense early in Friday's loss with 16 first-quarter points, said once the easy ones come for Wade, the other elements of his game tend to follow.
"He starts to shoot his jumper. He starts to get to the free-throw line. And he's very aggressive from that point on," James said.
"I had it going early on in Game 3, but I'm going to need his dominant play, as well, so I will make a conscious effort to try to get him going early."
Of course the Celtics are making a conscious and highly visible effort to keep Wade in check, sending double teams whenever possible, essentially placing him on lockdown at the expense of leaving other players unguarded.
"They double me a lot, so I've got to find a way," he said before Saturday's practice at TD Garden. "We've got to find a way, as a team, to open up lanes a little more."
Instead, the Celtics have forced Wade into passive starts.
"Like I said, it's no secret: I'm getting doubled at the top of the key. I'm getting doubled in the paint," he said. "So unless I shoot a turnaround jump shot all the time, which is not a good shot for our team, we're going to have to find other ways to loosen things up.
"I'm a patient person, so eventually things will, hopefully, loosen up and I get my opportunities where I can attack and get into a rhythm a little more."
That patience, though admirable, has left him largely as a non-factor over the opening two quarters of games, with six points at the intermission of Game 1, two at halftime of Game 2 and six at the break Friday.
"Give them and Doc Rivers credit for coming up with the scheme," he said, "and now we have to do our job of making adjustments."
To a degree, he essentially put Spoelstra and the coaching staff on notice Saturday.
"Right here, today is the day that our coaching staff gets their checks, not on the first, today on the second," he said.
But James said it's also up to teammates to free Wade from Rivers' plotting.
"As a team, we have to figure out ways to exploit the double team," James said. "He's always going to attract two. Either coming off the pick-and-roll or when he posts up, he's going to bring two defenders.
"So as his teammates, we've got to make ourselves available and we've got to make plays for ourselves. And, also, when the double team is not there, early in the offense, try to get the ball to him early, so he can attack without a double team."