SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Trying to guard Dwyane Wade proved impossible for Tiago Splitter. Same goes for Boris Diaw.
Of course, that’s to be expected. Both are big men who, well, won’t be confused for nine-time All-Stars anytime soon.
What proved to be one of the biggest keys for the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night was that it wasn’t just Splitter or Diaw who couldn’t guard Wade – but that no one else wearing San Antonio uniforms could, either.
The finals is now a best-of-three matchup that will be decided next week in Miami, thanks largely to Wade, who came up with his best game in months as the Heat knotted the series. Wade had 32 points, six rebounds, six steals and four assists, and the Heat shook off an early 10-point deficit to beat the Spurs 109-93 on Thursday night.
”He was ‘Flash’ tonight,” LeBron James said.
”’Flash’ was back,” Mike Miller added.
Flash is the Shaquille O’Neal-given moniker that Wade went by when he carried the Heat to the 2006 title. He hasn’t been called that often in recent years, but it seemed more than appropriate Thursday night.
”It felt good to have a performance like this in this game when we really needed it,” Wade said. ”If we go down 3-1 tonight, it’s tough to climb back out that hole. So to respond, that’s kind of what you’re going to be judged by as a man. You are judged by how you respond. I thought my team responded well, and I thought I responded well.”
He made 14 of 25 shots, significant in both terms of success ratio and amount, since it’s the second-highest shot total he’s taken this season. He also scored 18 points in the second half, just the sixth time this season that’s happened and perhaps ending the trend of Wade – who has been slowed by a sore right knee for three months, though James said it’s been an ”all year” problem – losing his offensive game in second halves.
”No matter how great you are, no matter what your resume is, to have a game like this, it lets you know that you’re still one bad … you know the next two words. I can’t say, my kids may be watching,” James said. ”That dude was amazing. Like I said, he was ’06 Flash tonight. And we needed every bit of him.”
The biggest adjustment for Wade came hours before Game 4.
It was when Miami coach Erik Spoelstra made the decision to start Miller over Udonis Haslem, with the thinking that it would help thwart San Antonio’s defensive schemes against James.
Instead, it served as a time machine of sorts for Wade – who found his form again, on a night when the Heat absolutely needed it most.
”Yeah, I needed a game like this, but my teammates needed a game like this from me,” Wade said. ”Needed me to be aggressive. Needed me to play the way that I’m capable of. Most important, they needed the ”Big Three” to play the way we’re capable of. They depend on us a lot. We love our teammates, and we can’t win without them. We’re not going to win this series if myself, Chris and LeBron don’t show up to play on a consistent basis.”
Oh, they showed up in Game 4.
Wade had 32. James had 33 points and 11 rebounds. Bosh had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
And no Spur had more than 20 points.
Voila. Series tied, and no one looked more relieved than Wade.
”His floor game was there from the beginning,” Spoelstra said. ”The six steals, the deflections, his activity around the rim when he was there. We obviously have so much more versatility when our wings cover that type of ground. But he was extremely aggressive tonight.”
Wade’s postseason has been highly un-Wade-like, with him averaging only 14.2 points in the playoffs entering Thursday. His right knee has been an issue for more than three months – not coincidentally, that’s also when his last 30-point outing before Game 4 was. And by the time fourth quarters roll around, he’s typically been finished, getting an average of 2.3 points in the final 12 minutes of games in these playoffs.
He is not the 2006 version anymore, without question.
”Except for tonight,” Miller said. ”Tonight, he was.”
And what the Spurs did against him defensively Thursday had to strike a nerve.
Because the Heat started Miller, the Spurs had no choice but to open the game with Splitter – their center – guarding Wade. That experiment ended after 47 seconds. And in the second half, the Spurs went to Diaw – another person who it’s difficult to envision guarding a former Finals MVP who’s quicker and smaller – to open against Wade.
Both stints were brief. Nonetheless, something got Wade going.
”How are you going to respond?” Wade asked his teammates before the game.
He apparently took those words to heart as well.