At some point, Dwyane Wade was going to have a game like this. He was not going to limp away in these NBA Finals the way he had in the first three games, hardly registering as a blip in the big picture of the series.
Sure, Wade is banged up, probably even legitimately injured. He is just 31 years old, but he is an old 31, having come up as a hard-charging, contact-initiating kamikaze in an era of the NBA when excessively physical play and punishing flops were almost always rewarded. Earlier in this year’s playoffs, there were reports that he was taping his kneecap in place to keep it from floating around under the skin. It was believable, because he was playing like a man who was taping his kneecap into place — until Game 4.
For one night, Wade looked every bit the “big” part of that hackneyed “Big Three” nickname people insist on giving the Miami trio. He dropped 32 points on the Spurs in a 109-93 victory, tying the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. It was his greatest postseason performance since 2006, when he almost singlehandedly led a bruising Heat squad anchored by an aging Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning over the Mavericks in a six-game slugfest. This was the performance the Heat needed from Wade not just to win the game, but also to possibly jumpstart LeBron James as well.
Because Wade does the things James will not do. Because Wade will be selfish where James will not. Because Wade lives for overcoming adversity, battling through pain and silencing an opposing crowd in its building, whereas James … well, oftentimes it seems like he won’t.
If the Heat go on to win the championship, Game 4 may be looked back on as the moment of Wade’s resurgence. Really, it was a resurgence for the Heat’s entire “Big Three.” Chris Bosh was a beast defensively, whether muscling up with Tim Duncan or offering help at the rim, and he finished with a decidedly un-soft stat line of 20 points, 13 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals. James was immense, accepting the mid-range jump shots the Spurs gave him instead of fighting against them the way he did in Game 3. He totaled 33 points on 15-for-25 shooting.
Still, their will came from Wade. He started strong, accounting for 10 of Miami’s 29 points in a first-quarter scoring spree, then added four more while playing all but one minute of the second quarter. He added eight in the third quarter, which has been the decisive quarter in the series, and got trigger happy with 10 points in the runaway fourth quarter.
Unlike James, who feels guilty taking those 18-footers the Spurs dared him to take, because it takes him out of the drive-and-create mode ingrained in him, Wade has no qualms with being selfish. Wade took those open jumpers when he wanted, and when he didn’t, he attacked his defender with a head of steam built up over those six feet of cushion. Suddenly, something clicked for James and Bosh: Hey, it’s OK for us to be a little selfish, too. We should be insulted by the Spurs’ game plan to concede open jump shots. Don’t they know who the heck we are?
A great series just got more intriguing. Danny Green and Gary Neal still cannot miss. Tony Parker is still the ultimate competitor, even on one leg. Manu Ginobili, Wade’s kindred spirit in the art of the flop, has been beyond atrocious, and it figures the 35-year-old will also have his last gasp at some point. Champions do that, even when they are old, banged up and left for dead. Depending on what happens in Game 5 in San Antonio on Sunday, the Spurs have to win at least one of the last two games in Miami, where the white-clad crowd will be so loosened up on wine coolers that their usual mild disinterest might be replaced by something resembling actual engagement in the action.
Whatever happens the rest of the way, Game 4 will be noteworthy. It may be the performance that sparks the Heat on to the title, or it may be simply a proud stand by a beaten and beat-up man. Wade was certain to have his breakout game at some point. What is less certain is how many more he has left in him.