SAN ANTONIO — While the focus was on the promised resurrection of LeBron James, the prowess and brilliance exemplified by Dwyane Wade during his career had become an afterthought.
He has been battling gimpy knees for two years. James had emerged as Miami’s foremost scoring option. Wade had his moments — and that was apparently the best he could muster.
But Thursday night at AT&T Center, a vintage Wade arrived to save the Heat.
He was masterful in Game 4 of the NBA Finals against San Antonio, scoring 32 points on 14-for-25 shooting and making six steals in 40 minutes. James dropped 33 points to go with 11 boards as the Heat evened the best-of-seven series with a 109-93 win.
Wade, James, and Chris Bosh combined for 85 points and 30 rebounds as Miami rebounded from Tuesday’s 36-point loss. Wade scored 18 points in the second half after the Spurs rallied to tie the game at halftime. On one play Wade dribbled gracefully on a fast break and then spun and threw down one of his customary dunks as the Heat extended their lead to 90-81.
“It’s always good when the ball goes through the hoop,” Wade said with a bright smile. “I needed a game like this. [My teammates] needed me to be aggressive. They needed me to play the way I’m capable of.”
Miami shot a blistering 55.6 percent in the second half with James and Wade each converting 8 of 14 shots. Bosh, who has been maddeningly inconsistent, added 12 points and nine rebounds after the break as the Heat played perhaps their most complete road game of the postseason.
“First of all, you have to give credit to them for holding us down in a couple of games,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They’re a good defensive team. So that’s what this competition is all about. How do you figure it out? So he knew that he got in a great rhythm in the first half, and for us to win this game, he would have to continue to be aggressive. Even in the beginning of the fourth quarter we had to take LeBron out. We just left him over there. Dwyane and CB really took some of the load.”
The Spurs jumped out quickly but couldn’t score consistently and committed 19 turnovers, good for 23 Miami points. They made just 13 of 35 field goals attempts in the second half.
“Well, when Bosh, Wade, and James score the way they did tonight and shoot it the way they did tonight, teams are going to have a difficult time if you help them and shoot poorly from the free throw line, as we did, and give over 20 points on turnovers it’s not going to happen,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “When those guys play like that, you better be playing a more perfect game. You can’t turn it over that many times. It’s a bad combo.”
Tim Duncan scored 20 points for San Antonio while Tony Parker added 15 points and nine assists, but Danny Green and Gary Neal, who tallied 51 points in Game 3, combined for only 23. Manu Ginobili continued his poor series with 5 points.
Game 5 is Sunday night, with the winner having the opportunity to close out the series in Miami in Game 6 Tuesday.
Neal and Green each knocked down a 3-pointer as the Spurs raced to a 15-5 lead in the first 4:50. Wade scored 8 of Miami’s first 11 points as it withstood San Antonio’s surge.
James attempted one shot in the first six minutes and his meticulous pace continued. As his teammates continued to become more comfortable — Bosh drained a 17-footer off a crisp James pass — he sensed vulnerability and started to open up on offense.
James scored 8 points in a span of 1:57 as the Heat went on a 24-11 run to end the first quarter. He scored on two midrange jumpers, something the Spurs allowed him to shoot (and miss) the previous three games.
With James shooting with more confidence and Wade looking in vintage form, the Heat were a different team in the first half Thursday. They combined for 27 of Miami’s first 41 points.
After that 15-point outburst in the first five minutes the Spurs struggled to score, missing layups and free throws. Parker, who was questionable with a strained right hamstring, scored 11 points as San Antonio trailed, 29-26, after the first quarter. Neal added 7 points but after those two quick 3-pointers by the Spurs, the Heat moved their defense toward the perimeter and challenged every long-range shot.
That opened up the paint, and Parker, looking healthier as the half progressed, took advantage. The Spurs ended the half on an 18-8 run to even the game at 49, erasing all of the Miami momentum generated by James’s outburst.
Spoelstra tweaked his starting lineup by inserting Mike Miller, who was 9 of 10 from deep in the first three games, for Udonis Haslem. The ploy was ineffective as Miller went scoreless in 21 minutes and missed his lone 3-pointer.
The Heat missed all three 3-point attempts in the first half, choosing to focus on attacking the paint. It worked effectively for a nine-minute stretch between the first and second quarters when the Heat went on a 30-12 run for a 41-31 lead.
Parker then took control, setting up Duncan and Kawhi Leonard for layups, and Duncan followed with layup to cap a 7-0 run. Miami stormed back with 7 in a row, but Popovich inserted burly forward Boris Diaw and Diaw turned back the clock.
Running the floor on breaks, springing open for 3-pointers, he scored 7 points in final 2:41 as the Spurs regained their confidence.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.