SAN ANTONIO -- The new Superman movie happens to open in theaters nationwide on Friday. I think we might have seen a sneak preview playing exclusively in this mid-Texas city Thursday night.
You wanted a superhero, Miami?
You desperately needed one?
You got two.
Their names: Dwyane Wade and LeBron James – in that order.
Superman saves the girl.
Wade and LeBron just saved the season.
Theirs were heroic performances or plenty close enough for the Heat, and for Miami fans able to exhale now and feel good again.
The Heat’s two embattled stars both had their best games of this NBA Finals, and that is why Miami beat the San Antonio Spurs 109-93 to tie the series 2-2 entering Sunday’s Game 5 right back here.
The victory assures that the Finals will return to Miami for at least a Game 6, and end on the Heat’s home court.
Wade welcomed back his old, elite self, finding his burst despite being hampered by a bruised right knee, and finding his bravado, too. His 32 points on 14-for-25 shooting marked his best game of the entire postseason, his six steals reflecting maniacal defense.
In one splendid fourth-quarter sequence, Wade stole the ball, raced downcourt and finished with a dunk. His face right then was full of bitter rage, like someone had just threatened his mother and he was about to punch somebody.
San Antonio had disrespected what it felt was a diminished Wade by starting the game with 6-11 Tiago Splitter guarding him.
The plan failed quickly because Wade played marvelously.
It was vintage stuff – a stunning performance of pure redemption.
“He was ’06 Flash tonight,” said LeBron of Wade, referencing the nickname he used when he was 2006 NBA Finals MVP. “And we needed every bit of it. He went back in his bag. He was Flash tonight.”
LeBron was just as good. James shook off three subpar offensive games in a row and played like the league MVP he is, with 33 points on 15-for-25 shooting, all of it fashioned of emphatically aggressive play that coach Erik Spoelstra said “set the tone.”
“I’ll be much better. I guarantee it,” LeBron had vowed before this game. “I put the pressure on my chest, on my back. I’ll do a better job of attacking their defense.”
LeBron had worn a red Heat T-shirt around his neck and draped down his back, cape-style, at Wednesday’s practice, like the world’s biggest kid playing dress-up as a superhero.
It was prescient.
“I’m just attacking,” LeBron said. “Just playing my game.”
Don’t forget Chris Bosh, starring in a supporting role in this superhero movie. He chipped in 20 points and 13 rebounds in a very active, involved performance. More was asked of him defensively because Miami played smaller with Mike Miller starting in place of Udonis Haslem. Bosh was up to the challenge.
Welcome back, Big 3.
Eighty-five combined points for three men who rose up hugely.
Eighty-five combined points doubling the 43 they’d averaged the first three games of this series.
Heat fans missed you, Big 3.
Your return was well timed, indeed. Desperately so.
The beauty and peril of a seven-game series is that every game is the biggest one … until the next one. But Thursday’s Game 4 felt like that for real for Miami. This felt like the night that would see the Heat’s repeat-title dreams rescued or effectively crushed.
Emotions of fans back in South Florida were going to swing wildly with this result, either way: It would be all is well, or all is hell.
No team trailing 3-1 has ever won three in a row and the NBA championship. Not once.
That was the mountain Miami avoided Thursday night, and it did so by continuing its phenomenal streak of not losing two games in a row.
The Heat’s last consecutive losses might be faintly recalled by elders among us or seen in yellowed news clippings. It seems that long ago, anyway. It was Jan. 8-10, more than six months ago, when Miami last lost two in a row.
The last two series of this postseason Miami is now 6-0 following a loss, winning by an average of 17 points. (Miami also has been 0-5 after wins, losing by an average of 13 – a trend the Heat will try to end in Game 5 here on Sunday).
Spoelstra said San Antonio had “more effort, more focus, all the little things,” in its Game 3 rout. Miami had them all Thursday night.
“We have to find a way to match their energy,” Wade had said before the game. “We got to play the game a lot better. Play with a sense of urgency for 48 minutes.”
It was the aggressive game Spoelstra imagined for James when he’d said beforehand he wanted LeBron having “a big fingerprint on virtually every single possession.”
James did, but so did Wade.
“We’re trying to redeem ourselves,” as Bosh put it.
He meant his team. He might as well have meant the Big 3.
Miami made a starting-lineup change, using the three-point specialist Miller instead of the bigger, defense-oriented Haslem.
You make that change in the midst of a Finals and lose, it feels like panic.
You do it and win, it gets to feel like coaching genius.
Sacrificing a bit of defense for an extra shooter opened the floor as they’d hoped, helping to free up LeBron and Wade for more breakaways and drives into the paint.
LeBron in the first three Finals games averaged 16.7 points on 38.9 percent shooting, a shocking decline from his regular-season numbers of 26.8 points and 56.5 percent shooting.
Wade and Bosh also had been well below their season averages.
Thursday night it was back to full strength for the Big 3. It was back to normal. And it was just in time.