MIAMI -- Before they wheeled him away on the back of a cart, Dwyane Wade grabbed both handrails to steady himself as he climbed up the stairs to the interview podium.
"Like I said, I'm confident that the therapy that I do and the massages I get and everything, that by tomorrow I'll feel a lot better. So I don't think we've reached the [pain-killer] injection stage. I hope not, anyway. I'm scared of needles."
When he finished speaking, he limped away -- although calling it a limp would actually be understating things about as much as anyone could understate them.
Put it this way: Wade could barely walk Wednesday, a day after Shaquille O'Neal took a charge, fell backward and rolled into Wade's left knee, buckling it.
That's right, he could barely walk.
"It's very stiff and very sore," Wade said. "So the only thing I can continue to do is what I'm ordered to do, and that's a lot of icing and [stimulation] all day. I'm confident in my training staff that they'll get me as close as I can be to 100 percent by tomorrow night.
"So, you know, I'm hoping."
Mr. Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight is the main reason why the NBA Finals have suddenly turned into a competitive series, having scored 15 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter Tuesday night to lead the Miami Heat back from a 13-point deficit in the final 6½ minutes to defeat the Dallas Mavericks, cutting their deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Wade was running on adrenaline and endorphins as he led the comeback, but a day later he was dragging. He has had the flu and a sinus infection already in this series, he took intravenous fluids to get through Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, and now he has a bum left knee to add to his long list of ailments that included a strained ribcage a year ago that helped keep the Heat from making it to the championship round.
"I can't even explain it. You know, it's just that it happens to me, man. Wrong place, wrong time," Wade said. "I'm going to give it my all, and hopefully that's enough."
But it's clear that Wade will not be 100 percent for Game 4, and that cannot be good for a Heat team that needs its best player -- and Wade long ago surpassed O'Neal as the team's best player -- playing at his best to have a legitimate chance to knot this series at 2-2 and ensure it'll be headed back to Dallas after this weekend.
As Wade goes, so goes the Heat. He's averaging 31.0 points per game in this series and 27.0 in the postseason while shooting just a hair under 50 percent, and it seems abundantly clear that no one else on Miami's roster -- not even the Big Fella whose game is declining as fast as he's aging -- is capable of hoisting the team on his shoulders and taking over.
Heat coach Pat Riley has tried to motivate Wade for this series by challenging him to become the first star member of the 2003 draft class to win a championship (Darko Milicic's title in 2004 apparently doesn't count in some folks' minds), and Wade's chances of doing so have been enhanced considerably by Miami's unlikely comeback in Game 3. But getting three more victories on an injured knee isn't going to be easy -- especially when that injured knee made the simple task of walking look difficult for Wade on Wednesday.
"Like I said, I'm confident that the therapy that I do and the massages I get and everything, that by tomorrow I'll feel a lot better. So I don't think we've reached the [pain-killer] injection stage," Wade said. "I hope not, anyway. I'm scared of needles."
Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past 10 years, covers the league for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.