LeBron, Wade remind Spurs how devastating duo can be
SAN ANTONIO -- There are a lot of ways to analyze how the Miami Heat won Game 4 of the Finals ... no, sorry, there are not a lot of ways. There is one way: When LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh play like this, Miami is the best team in the league
And if they do it two more times, Miami will win its second straight championship.
Somewhere along the way on Thursday, the Spurs went from likely champions to stage props. That could change again, but this was the most convincing win of the series, the strongest signal yet that Miami is ready to win another championship. Yes, I know San Antonio destroyed Miami in Game 3, but that was more strange than convincing -- it was hard to imagine the Spurs riding Danny Green and Gary Neal to a title.
Did you see what Green and Neal did in Game 4? They made six of nine three-pointers. And it didn't matter. Miami won, 109-93.
"Tonight," Shane Battier said, "was a Big Three night."
Mostly, it was a Big Two night. The LeBron and D-Wade Show makes worthy opponents seem irrelevant. It makes them look silly. James and Wade combined for 65 points on 50 shots. They had 24 rebounds -- more than the entire San Antonio starting five. They had eight steals, three blocks and one turnover.
Wade looked like one of the five best players in the world, not the hobbled man he has been lately. ("Of course he's hurting," James said. "He's been playing with a bum knee all year.") Wade was all over the floor, stealing passes, contorting for layups and looking healthier than he is.
James was even better, though. At times, James looked like a power forward, and I don't mean a basketball power forward. I mean a hockey power forward, fighting for position in front of the net, punishing his opponent and scoring. At other times he was a ballerina, dancing through the defense. And sometimes he was a sprinter, bolting down the court.
When those two get going, everything else is just details. They put so much pressure on the defense that other players inevitably find themselves wide open. NBA defenses are geared to stop one premier penetrating scorer. The Heat have two. It's the basketball version of football's read-option. Try to stop Wade, and there goes LeBron. Try to stop LeBron, and there goes Wade.
This didn't even feel extraordinary. Miami has played like this many times before. We just hadn't seen it in these Finals.
In the Heat locker room afterward, nobody seemed surprised or even excited. James had his feet in a cold tub. He bobbed his head to whatever was coming through his headphones. As Wade walked out of the shower area toward his locker, James called to him: "We've got a chance!"
Wade said: "A chance!"
I don't know if they were mocking the people who gleefully build coffins for them, or reminding each other this win was only about survival, or repeating lyrics from some hip-hop song that I am too much of a loser to know. I don't think it matters. What matters is they returned to their habit of routine excellence. With Wade, especially, we weren't sure that was possible.
"We knew he would come around," Udonis Haslem said of Wade. "When you need him, he's always been there for us, in the 10 years I've been here playing with this guy."
The Heat controlled this game even though San Antonio had hotter shooters (the Spurs made 8 of 16 three-pointers, compared to 4 of 12 for Miami). And sorry, conspiracy theorists who think the NBA wants the Heat to win: If the refs favored anybody in Game 4, it was San Antonio. The Spurs got more borderline calls and shot 14 more free throws. Miami was just superior.
After Game 3, I wrote that LeBron's place in history was on the line -- that he didn't have to win the series, but he couldn't disappear like he did that night. It seems like a criticism, but it was fairly obvious. He would be a Hall of Famer and a champion if he had retired last summer. But his standing among all-time greats hinges on more great Finals performances.
This was a great Finals performance. James dominated in so many ways, like he usually does, like nobody else can. Haslem said he was never worried.
"No," Haslem said. "He's the best player in the league. We understand he's not going to play the way he did last game, consistently. One out of every 50, 60 games, he'll play like that."
So where are we after four games? The halftime scores have been remarkably similar (52-49, 50-45, 50-44, 49-49), yet three of the games have been blowouts. San Antonio won the only close game. The Heat gets two of the last three games at home. Miami's formula (greatness from great players) seems more repeatable than San Antonio's formula (great shooting from role players, and great play from Tony Parker).
San Antonio desperately needs Sunday's Game 5. And the Heat very well may shrink again -- strange things happen on the road.
Miami tied the series 2-2, but has a cushion. The Heat has not lost two straight games since January. I can't imagine San Antonio winning Games 6 and 7 in Miami. This was just one loss for the Spurs, but it was an ominous one. In a back-and-forth series, Miami is back.