It was their time to repay the favor, to remind LeBron James that his “Cleveland days” are behind him, that he isn’t in the NBA Finals with a supporting cast of Boobie Gibson and Anderson Varejao, and that – for one night at least – he didn’t have to be the Miami Heat’s primary scorer, playmaker, psychiatrist, physical trainer, plumber or anything else he’s been asked to be this postseason.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, leading men for most of their careers, had been marginalized and compromised because of injuries, changing roles and other mysterious causes in the 2013 playoffs. But the oft-maligned, $35-million all-star duo more than earned their keep during a 3½ minute stretch that James sat early in the fourth quarter of Miami’s 109-93 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 at AT&T Center.
And by the time James returned with six minutes remaining, Wade and Bosh had done so much that all James had to do was pad his point total against the end of the Spurs’ bench. James no longer had to worry about having to “do better” because Wade and Bosh were better.
“I mean, it’s a fine science to that stuff,” Bosh said after scoring 20 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking two shots. “Of course, everybody is individually going to say, ‘I have to do better.’ But of course, we’re not going to leave him on the island. It’s good he puts so much on his shoulders, because he can man up to it and he’s mature enough to handle that kind of situation. But he’s never alone. We’re out there with him. We support him.”
Wade hit a baseline jumper to give the Heat an 86-79 lead with 9:45 left in the fourth quarter and Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra used to the opportunity to give James a chance to take a short breather. The situation was quite perilous, since Spoelstra gave James a rest early in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and the team unraveled.
And, through the first three games against the Spurs, the Heat could honestly say that it was at its best when Wade and Bosh sat during an incredible 33-5 second-half run in Game 2. But after the Spurs got within five on two Tiago Splitter free throws, Wade knocked out the Spurs to the delight of a weary James.
After the game, James wrapped his right arm around Wade and his left arm around Bosh and brought them in for hug.
“I needed a break for a few minutes, for sure,” said James, who scored 24 through the first three periods. “I give it everything I had. I was just playing as hard as I could until the tank was empty.”
Wade has often looked like his running on E this postseason, with the bone bruise in his right knee causing him to pick his spots. But he erupted for a postseason-high 32 points – his first 30-point game in the Finals since he scored 36 in a Game 5 loss in Dallas, where his role with James were reversed but James was distant and hiding.
On Thursday, Wade continued to his tradition of scoring early, but he never stopped coming. His jumper was falling and kept attacking the hoop, finishing with 25 field goal attempts. Wade played with a sustained aggressiveness, even in the final period, when he is usually laboring.
With the Miami leading by five points, Wade made another jumper, then picked off an errant Danny Green pass, which led to an incredible finish in which split two defenders and threw down a one-handed jam. Then, after Tim Duncan made a jumper, Wade squared up in front of Duncan and buried a jumper over the top of him to give Miami a 92-83 lead. Bosh rebounded a miss from Manu Ginobili and Wade found Bosh inside for a layup. Bosh hit another jumper to push the lead to 11 when James came back into the game.
“Yeah, he’s hurting. Of course, he’s hurting. He’s been playing with a bum knee all year,” James said of Wade. “The 25 shots let me know that he was aggressive, every shot he took. He wasn’t passive. And 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.”
Wade was rolling but James was also able to crack the code against Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs’ defense – and it started with the Heat defense creating turnovers and getting rebounds so James could get on the break. James in the open floor is always a dangerous sight, and he got in such a rhythm that he had gained some confidence when the Spurs actually set up their half-court defense.
James scored a game-high 33 points – one more than his scoring total in the past two games combined – which marked the first time that both stars notched 30 points apiece in a Finals game. They hadn’t looked as dynamic since being pushed into a corner in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last season in Indiana, where the duo combined for 70 points. And this time, Wade and James were aided by a stellar effort from Bosh, who had his third consecutive double-double.
Bosh had an embarrassing flop in the first half, when he reached back and grabbed Duncan, then dove to the ground to draw a foul call. He then reacted too slowly to get a cock-back dunk to go down before time expired at halftime. But that didn’t keep Bosh from continuing to defend, hustle and make Duncan work for his 20 points.
“I want to play well every game. I want to play to the best of my ability. And sometimes that doesn’t happen,” Bosh said. “You’re going to have bad games in a long stretch, especially during the playoffs. And that’s when you kind of really have to trust your game and trust what got you here.”
Miami brought Bosh, Wade and James together strictly for performances like Game 4, but it has rarely been able to get all three going at the same time in the playoffs. The Heat certainly hasn’t been able to get all three clicking with some help from reserve Ray Allen (14 points), who also came up huge. But with the series now a best two out-of-three, the defending champion Heat will likely need a few more duplicate efforts to claim another title.
“We’re not going to win this series if myself, Chris and LeBron don’t show up to play on a consistent basis,” Wade said, adding that the performance was “one of the best performances that we all had in the playoffs together at the same time. Just being aggressive from the start to finish, and hopefuly that’s what we can see for the next three games.”