SAN ANTONIO — Embittered by the first three games of the NBA Finals, LeBron James guaranteed he would play better in Game 4. He was right.
But who knew Dwyane Wade would practically steal the show with 32 points, ignoring his aching right knee and guaranteeing with his play that the Finals would return to Miami next week?
Wade made 14 of 25 shots and had six steals as Miami beat San Antonio on Thursday, 109-93, wrenching back home-court advantage and tying the series at 2-2.
BOX SCORE: Miami 109, San Antonio 93
James was there too, taking run after run at the basket with success at the AT&T Center. He had 33 points on 15-for-25 shooting.
Wade, though, was the one who put the game away after James went to the bench for a rest with 9:34 to play and the Heat up seven.
After scoring on a five-footer, Wade stepped in front of Danny Green's cross-court pass and took it in for a dunk over Gary Neal. Then he made an 18-footer. And found Chris Bosh for an open jump shot, part of Bosh's 20-point outburst (and 13 rebounds).
All told, by the time James returned a few minutes later, the Heat led, 96-85.
Game over. Series tied. A historically commanding 3-1 lead averted, which was important for Miami. No team has come back from such a deficit to win the NBA Finals.
Game 5 is Sunday in San Antonio before the series shifts back to Miami for good, either for one game or two. Assist to Wade, undoubtedly.
"Every time he's down, he responds," James said. "For him to go out there and play the way he did tonight, it was amazing."
James later referred to Wade's seldom-used nickname these days: "He was '06 'Flash' tonight and we needed every bit of him."
The big question before the game was whether James would make a dent in the scoring column after shooting 38.9% and averaging an unLeBron-like 16.7 points through three games.
He got off to a great start, making five of six shots in the first quarter as the Heat took a 29-26 edge. It still led going into the fourth, 81-76, in large part because of James.
He was solid defensively, taking 11 rebounds, collecting two steals and blocking two shots, all part of Miami's stellar defensive night as the Heat forced 19 turnovers.
Still, there was Wade.
He picked up his fourth foul with 8:28 left in the third quarter but stayed in the game almost the rest of the way. The Heat had little choice even though Wade hadn't seemed quite like Wade because of a bone bruise on his right knee affecting him since early March.
He was averaging 14.3 points through the first three Finals games. That increased to 18.8 after Thursday's effort.
"I needed a game like this," Wade said, adding quickly, "My teammates needed a game like this from me. Needed me to be aggressive. Needed me to play the way that I'm capable of. Most important, they needed the Big Three to play the way we're capable of."
Said Tim Duncan: "I think he kind of got everything he wanted."
Along with questions about James' game before Thursday, there was some uncertainty about Tony Parker's health after he sustained a strained right hamstring in Game 3.
"I'll be ready to go," he repeated three times in a brief interview with reporters after the team's Thursday morning shoot-around.
He was right … sort of. He had 15 points and nine assists but was scoreless in the fourth quarter with only one assist.
"Definitely got fatigued in the second half," Parker said.
Duncan had 20 points, but Manu Ginobili scored only five for the Spurs, continuing a dreadful series in which he was averaging 7.5 points on 34% shooting.
Miami tried to mix things up, inserting sharpshooter Mike Miller into the starting lineup instead of plodding big man Udonis Haslem. It didn't exactly work. Miller was scoreless in 21 minutes.
But everything else went fine for the Heat. Starting with James and Wade, just like old times.