SAN ANTONIO — The script felt familiar enough, complete with a dog-eared corner or two, that it had to be true.
LeBron James answered his critics, once again.
It never used to happen this way. James used to fold into himself, the setting and the stakes too much for him.
There was the championship sweep in 2007 by San Antonio when he was still in Cleveland. There was his eight-point effort in Game 4 of the NBA Finals two years ago against Dallas, the Heat ultimately losing to the Mavericks.
And there were curious games to start these Finals against San Antonio. The Spurs handed Miami its worst-ever playoff loss in Game 3, James saying in the aftermath, "can't get no darker," as he scored 15 points on bewildering seven-for-21 shooting, failing to earn a free throw in 41 minutes.
But the new James, the one bolstered by his first NBA championship a year ago and a 27-game winning streak a handful of months ago, answered the call.
The shadows faded, just like they did last year in the Eastern Conference finals when he scored 45 points to beat Boston in Game 6. And again in the deciding game of last year's NBA Finals, James coming up with a triple-double.
James delivered 33 points Thursday in Miami's 109-93 victory, crashing to the rim again and again, forcing himself on the Spurs and his haters to tie up the Finals two games each.
"As bad as I played in Game 3 … it hurt," James said after Game 4. "I watched the film. It hurt watching it. I didn't like the way I was playing. But I just came in with a whole new clean slate [Thursday]. I was blessed to be able to make a few plays to help us win."
A few plays? Score one for understatement.
James made it known from the start he'd be part of this thing, scoring 11 points in the first quarter while outscoring four of the Spurs' starters combined. He bookended it with nine points in the fourth quarter on four-for-four shooting, making sure the Spurs had no life left.
He guaranteed this would happen, promising reporters the previous day he would play better "for sure."
Game 5 is in San Antonio on Sunday but James and Dwyane Wade (remember him?) made sure the Heat already had wrestled away home-court advantage.
"It's good [James] puts so much on his shoulders because he can man up to it and he's mature enough to handle that kind of situation," said Chris Bosh, who upped his recently dormant game with a 20-point, 13-rebound effort in Game 4.
What to do, Manu?
The Spurs' sixth man has tumbled in the Finals, averaging 7.5 points on 34.5% shooting.
Crunch time was often Ginobili time in past playoff runs, but not here for the 35-year-old. Not now.
"Yeah, we definitely need Manu," Tony Parker said. "I've been playing with him for a long time. I just know he's going to have a big game soon."
Game 4 was another little game for Ginobili.
He had five points on one-for-five shooting. He missed all three of his three-point attempts and had as many fouls (four) as rebounds and assists put together in almost 26 minutes.
He wasn't even the first player off San Antonio's bench. It was guard Gary Neal.
"He knows he's got to play better for us to be successful," Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said Friday.
Ginobili should look for his shot more often in Game 5 instead of trying to make the perfect pass, Duncan said.
"I think he's just trying to be incredibly unselfish right now," Tim Duncan said. "We need him to be a little more aggressive, be a little more selfish."
Bosh was fined $5,000 by the NBA on Friday for flopping in the second quarter of Game 4.
He sprawled out on the court after Duncan used his hip to set a screen as Spurs teammate Neal drove to the basket for an apparent layup. Duncan was called for an offensive foul on the play, which took place with 6:07 left in the second quarter.
Bosh was not available for comment Friday. Both teams were given the day off by their coaches.