Dwyane Wade said yesterday, "If us three don't lead the charge, we're not gonna be NBA champions." No NBA Finals team has recovered from a 3-1 series deficit, so it was vital for the Miami Heat to change the course of the series Thursday night. Every member of the Big Three played superb, smart basketball to lead Miami in a decisive 109-93 victory to tie the series at two games apiece and guarantee a return flight to South Beach.
The Heat's turning point, oddly, came when LeBron James rested during the fourth quarter. Wade scored on three consecutive possessions -- including one breakaway tomahawk dunk -- and Chris Bosh subsequently made two field goals to expand a tenuous five-point lead into double digits. Miami continued to roll when James returned, and the reigning Finals MVP nailed three straight jumpers in the closing 90 seconds of the contest.
James and Wade collaborated for a game reminiscent of the Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen Chicago Bulls teams. Their performances boosted the entire team with tone-setting defensive plays like crowding players 30 feet away from the basket. James scored 33 points on an efficient 15-of-25 shooting from the field, 11 rebounds and two blocks. The four-time MVP played aggressively on both ends of the court, rejecting a point-blank attempt from Tim Duncan on one play before powering his way in the post on the other. James and Wade both took jumpers when defensives gave them open looks, but continued to attack the basket. Miami scored 50 points in the paint tonight.
Like James, Wade constantly played with great intensity, decisively making rotations on defense to force San Antonio turnovers. The 2006 NBA Finals MVP racked up six steals tonight, stripping Tiago Splitter of the ball after a pick-and-roll sequence and making smart decisions on cross-court passes (Wade also blocked Splitter once). Offensively, Wade finished with 33 points on 14-of-25 shooting from the field, six rebounds and four assists. He looked like in-his-prime self, with great crossovers and a relentless will to score at the rim.
It's important to highlight Bosh's performance tonight, though. He played outstanding defense, blocking two shots on consecutive Spurs possessions during one third-quarter stretch. His lateral quickness and rotations also stymied a lot of the Spurs offense. Erik Spoelstra started Mike Miller in place of Udonis Haslem for spacing purposes. Like in last season's Finals, Miami is able to survive with one big man on the court because Bosh has emerged as a great defensive player.
Miller went scoreless and only attempted one 3-pointer, but his mere presence and previous shooting performances gave Wade and James more room to operate. Ray Allen added 14 points off the bench on 5-of-10 shooting from the field. Though Allen made only one 3-pointer, his on-the-move mid-range jumpers helped diversify Miami's offense. The Heat did not hit a 3-pointer in the first half and only hit three for the game (Mario Chalmers made two during the third quarter). Similar to Miami's offensive output in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami reinvented itself as a power-paint team instead of an inside-out one.
The Heat will have two days off before playing in the pivotal Game 5 Sunday night at 8 p.m.