For the longest time this postseason, the Miami Heat’s blueprint of a Big 3 seemed like an outdated set of specs incapable of building momentum let alone a championship.
On Thursday in Texas, Miami’s Pillars Three reminded the NBA they’re still sturdy enough to prop up a team on the brink and shift an NBA Finals in the most crucial of times. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James combined to score 85 points on Thursday in the Heat’s 109-93 victory against the Spurs at San Antonio’s AT&T Center to tie the NBA Finals at 2-2. Game 5 is on Sunday before the series shifts back to Miami for the grand finale.
“It was a little bit of everything they provided for us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade, Bosh and James. “We needed every bit of it tonight.”
Miami’s Big 3 was averaging a combined 43 points in The Finals before Game 4’s offensive explosion.
And now it’s a three-game series for the NBA championship. It seems almost preordained that the series is going seven games. The teams have swapped victories ever since Game 1 and the Heat hasn’t won back-to-back games since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and Game 1 of the conference finals. After being blown out by 36 points in Game 3, the Heat responded with a lopsided victory of it’s own in Game 4.
Wade put his signature on the series with exactly 8:13 left in the game when he intercepted a pass and raced down the court for a jaw-dropping breakaway dunk. Wade sidestepped Spurs defender Gary Neal with one of his Euro-steps and soared through the air to give Miami a 90-81 lead.
After averaging 14.3 points in the Finals, Wade delivered a stunning performance of 32 points, going 14 of 25 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line. Inexplicably, the Spurs started the game with center Tiago Splitter guarding the Heat’s future Hall of Fame shooting guard. The mismatch kick started Wade early and he never let up the pressure.
“No second-guessing,” Wade said of his approach. “Just playing. Whatever they gave us, we just took it. And we took it with confidence. Wasn’t thinking about, I need to pass, I need to get off the ball. It was just, ‘I’m open, I’m shooting it.’ Just being aggressive.”
Wade’s driving baseline layup put the Heat ahead 100-85 with 5:17 left in the game. He also had six steals, six rebounds, four assists and a block.
“His floor game was the there from the beginning, his activity around the rim when he was there,” Spoelstra said. “He was much more aggressive tonight.”
Wade’s 32 points was more than his totals from the previous two games combined and it was the first time he has scored more than 30 points in a game since the Heat’s 27-game winning streak. It was also the most points he has scored in a playoff game since he had 41 in Game 6 against the Pacers in the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals.
“Every time he’s down, he responds. The way he played was amazing,” James said. “He went back to his bag tonight and pulled out Flash.”
Said Spurs guard Tony Parker: “That’s his best game of the playoffs by far.”
Wade, who has been playing through injury the throughout postseason, remained loose in Game 4 by wrapping hot pads around his right knee. Thursday was the first time he has tried that method and he said it had a positive effect.
James led the Heat with 33 points, matching Wade in effort and intensity. He also had 11 rebounds, marking the first time he has had more than 10 rebounds in a Finals game while scoring at least 30 points. James was so gassed in the fourth quarter after a prolonged level of defensive mastery that Spoelstra was forced to send in Shane Battier as an emergency substitute. James couldn’t catch his breath.
“I was just trying to play until the tank was empty,” James said.
James was 7 of 21 in Game 3, including 2 of 14 from outside the paint, and responded by going 15 of 25 in Game 4. He was 1 of 2 from three-point range.
“He got everything he wanted,” Spurs power forward Tim Duncan said. “It’s one game. We’ll make adjustments and see what happens next game.”
Bosh, like Wade a nonfactor in the Finals until Thursday, scored 20 points, going 8 of 14 from the field, to go along with 13 rebounds and two blocks. Bosh was diving across the floor and ripping down rebounds deep into the fourth quarter.
“We need Chris to be big and do so many different things and wear so many different hats,” Spoelstra said.
Game 4 was the first time Bosh has scored at least 20 points since scoring that many against the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals. His return to form came when the Heat needed it most.
“Ever since we’ve gotten together, since the first game, we’ve had to respond to adversity,” Bosh said. “That’s something that we pride ourselves on. And we really concentrate. When things get rough and they’re not going like you want them to go, that’s when we pull together even more. And we just rely on each other and really pick it up.”
Mario Chalmers made the Heat’s first three-pointer of the game with 5:43 left in the third quarter to give Miami a 67-61 lead. The Heat went 4 of 12 from three-point range, attempting its fewest number of three-point attempts of the postseason. Chalmers finished with six points and Ray Allen had 14 points off the bench, going 5 of 10 from the field.
Mike Miller entered Game 4 shooting 10 of 11 from three-point range and went 0 of 1 from distance after being inserted into the starting lineup for Udonis Haslem.
Wade set the tone early, scoring eight points in the game’s first seven minutes. James shifted into high gear in the second quarter and the two players finished with 29 of the Heat’s 49 points in the first half. Bosh had eight points in the first half and Allen had eight points off the bench, going 3 of 4 from the field.
The Spurs shot 44.3 percent overall with Duncan scoring 20 points after a slow start. Parker had 15 points and Danny Green scored 10, going 3 of 5 from three-point range.
The Heat outrebounded the Spurs 41-36 and scored 23 points off of 19 turnovers.
“They take a lot of risks. That’s Miami identity,” Parker said. “They gamble and tonight it worked.”
Said Spoelstra: “We try to play aggressively. It’s a fine line with [San Antonio] but we have to be 100 percent committed to our identity.”
San Antonio had 19 offensive rebounds in Game 3 but managed just five in Game 4.
• Tickets for Game 6 at AmericanAirlines Arena will go on sale Friday.