Welcome back, Dwyane Wade.
The San Antonio Spurs certainly didn't—not after watching Wade have his way with them from tip to buzzer in Game 4 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
Wade was aggressive on both ends of the floor for a full 40 minutes to help the Heat secure a crucial 109-93 win Thursday night. He deflected passes, challenged shots at the rim, crashed the boards, slashed the rim, and dashed about for easy buckets and open jumpers. By the end of the night, Wade had piled up 32 points (on 14-of-25 from the field), six rebounds, four assists, a career playoff-high six steals, and a block.
It was a line not seen since Wade was still at Marquette, and one only replicated four times in Finals history (also via ESPN Stats & Info):
He looked like anything but the timid, tired, injured Wade who'd hobbled through most of these playoffs. Rather than shrinking from the stage after picking up his fourth foul early in the third, Wade came through with 15 points thereafter on all manner of makes.
And didn't notch another infraction, either. The question is, where had this Dwyane Wade been hiding?
The answer? Somewhere under his thrice-bruised, ever-shifting right knee cap...probably. Wade has been bothered by a bum knee since early March, when he suffered a bump against the Orlando Magic.
The game before that—wherein Dwyane tallied 32 points, seven rebounds, 10 assists, and one steal in a 16-point stomping of the Minnesota Timberwolves—also doubled as Wade's last 30-point outburst before Game 4.
Go figure. How Wade managed to get himself back on track at the AT&T Center on a Thursday night in mid-June is anybody's guess. Maybe Tim Grover, Wade's trainer and consultant to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, flew into San Antonio to get Dwyane hyped up (as he did in last year's finals). Maybe Wade called in a favor from the Lord of Light during the 48 hours after the Game 3 thrashing.
Or, maybe decided it was time to be the Wade of Old, rather than just an Old Wade. As a struggling Shane Battier noted after the game (via Turner Sports' Rachel Nichols):
Battier on Wade: "That wasn't WOW or whatever they're calling him now. That was 2006 Wade. Flash was in the house tonight!"— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 14, 2013
LeBron echoed those sentiments at his postgame presser (via Howard Beck of The New York Times):
LeBron on Wade: "He was ’06 Flash tonight. And we needed every bit of it."— Howard Beck (@HowardBeckNYT) June 14, 2013
Whatever the case, the Heat got what they needed. Now, instead of facing down a 3-1 series deficit that no team has ever overcome in the NBA Finals, Miami can instead look forward to a clean slate heading into Game 5 and at least one more meeting with San Antonio in South Beach.
And, hopefully, some more of this:
And a bit of this:
And less of this from Wade:
That's the trouble with D-Wade these days, though. He can be great one day and grizzly the next, or vice versa. Such is the status quo for a 31-year-old combo guard who relies so heavily on fearlessness (and bad knees) to compensate for an inconsistent and distance-limited jump shot.
When he's off, he's way off, leaving LeBron James to shoulder so much of the burden for the Heat, as has been the case for weeks, if not months. But when he's on, there's no stopping Miami.
And the bigger the moment, the more likely Wade is to be on. Remember, it was Wade whose superb three-game stretch during the 2012 playoffs lifted the Heat out of a 2-1 conference finals hole against the Indiana Pacers and propelled them to the Larry O'Brien Trophy past the Oklahoma City Thunder. With LeBron's help, of course.
The same was true against the Spurs, as James poured in a game-high 33 points to go along with 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks. It was a tandem effort of the sort not seen since in the finals since a certain, drama-inclined duo shared the floor more than a decade ago (again, via ESPN Stats & Info...because, who else, really?):
LeBron James & Dwyane Wade: 1st pair of teammates w/ 30+ pts in an NBA Finals road win since 2002 (Kobe Bryant & Shaquille O'Neal).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 14, 2013
Oh, and Chris Bosh wasn't too shabby, either. The man whose middle name is Wesson (no joke) was finally firing away from the mid-range on the way to a 20-point, 13-board evening.
But as great as LeBron and Bosh were in Game 4, they wouldn't be here without Dwyane Wade. He was the one that made Miami a free-agent destination for reasons beyond the exciting nightlife and beautiful...ummm...beaches.
He was the former NBA Finals MVP whose brilliance had made the Heat an exciting, competitive basketball outfit long before the Big Three were counting rings at a misguided coronation preview. He was the one who served as the precious metal backing up the currency on which Pat Riley traded to attract James and Bosh during the blockbuster summer of 2010.
In that sense, then, Wade's work had already been done. He'd already relinquished his crown as Miami's most important player to James. He'd already seen his personal bar drop. With mysterious no-show after no-show, his skating by was getting to a point where something needed to be done.
But resting on laurels isn't something that Wade does. Settling, be it for secondary roles or pull-up jumpers, has never been D-Wade's modus operandi. At this point, there's not much Wade can do physically to improve his physical condition until the start of a (hopefully) restful offseason.
That doesn't mean Wade's helpless, though, nor has it ever. As Battier noted (again, via Rachel Nichols), Dwyane can still control how he responds to the pain:
LeBron on Wade: "Of course he's hurting. he's been playing on a bum knee all year...but performances like tonight's make him feel better."— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 14, 2013
Sometimes the analysis can be simple: If Wade is Wade, Miami is a completely different entity.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) June 14, 2013
Wade in one game has gone from the guy San Antonio hid a second big man, to drawing Kawhi with LeBron resting.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) June 14, 2013
And so, the Heat will prepare for Game 5 on Father's Day with a simple greeting for the man who, in essence, gave birth to what may be the NBA's last "super-team."
Welcome back, Wade. Won't you stay a spell? Miami needs you.