SAN ANTONIO -- Of all the hundreds of questions asked at the NBA Finals there was only one that really mattered: How?
How did Dwyane Wade, left for dead, scorned and ridiculed by writers, analysts and observers morph back into D-Wade, the killer? How did a player who has been plagued by a knee injury and God knows what else become that guy again?
"Yeah, I needed a game like this, but my teammates needed a game like this from me," Wade said. "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. They depend on us a lot. We love our teammates, and we can't win without them. We're not going to win this series if myself, Chris (Bosh) and LeBron (James) don't show up to play on a consistent basis."
The whole series has been predicated on the notion that The Big Three can't play the way they're capable of playing. The Spurs had spent the last four games not guarding Wade and ignoring Bosh, and that strategy had proven sound and correct until it didn't anymore.
There were no great answers to be found after the Heat's 109-93 victory because really, no explanation would be adequate. Short of some miraculous advancement in medical science, there was no logical reason for what we saw on Thursday night.
Wade was spectacular, scoring 32 points with six boards, six steals and four assists. Bosh, who will forever be overlooked, chipped in with a 20-13 line that only told a fraction of his story and LeBron was back to LeBron. He didn't have to do everything, but it was a measure of the Heat's performance that he went for 33 and 11 and wasn't even close to the defining story.
"I mean, it was on our shoulders, obviously," James said. "We had to figure out to will a game for us, to play at the highest level. When all three of us are clicking at the same time, we're a very tough team to beat."
Ya think? The trio scored 85 of the 109 points, grabbed 30 of the 41 rebounds and took 64 of the 85 shots. This was the way it was supposed to be all along. The three of them doing their thing individually adding up to a collective whole that should never, ever lose a game.
The Spurs hung around gamely for about three quarters in Game 4. Tony Parker was brilliant in the first half, flipping in shots from impossible angles and showing no ill effects from a hamstring strain that may be more serious than anyone suspected.
Parker revealed that he had to convince Gregg Popovich that he was good to go, but in the second half he said he felt fatigued and that he had no lift on his shots. That's troubling to say the least because Tim Duncan had yet another subpar game and Manu Ginobli ain't Manu Ginobli anymore. We spent 48 hours considering Miami's mortality and now we're left wondering if the Spurs can be the Spurs anymore. It changed that quickly.
Erik Spoelstra's biggest call wasn't starting Mike Miller or benching Chris Andersen. It was riding with his stars to start the fourth quarter, a time that's normally reserved for the LeBron show. Instead it was Dwyane Wade who brought them back even.
When LeBron went to the bench to grab a quick rest, Wade took over. He knocked down a jumper and then came up with a steal and finished with some classic 2006 flourish. Suddenly a 7-point lead became 11 and it was all over.
"No, I don't feel like 2006. But it felt good," Wade said. "When you see the ball go through the basket, then you get more confident. I knew I was on when I took it over the guy's head and dunked it on the break. That was a little vintage right there."
It started right from the beginning when Wade found himself guarded by Tiago Splitter, who had to be wondering what he had ever done to deserve this. Wade got him up in the air, drew a foul and quickly Gregg Popovich subbed in Gary Neal.
"When the game started and he was guarding me, I was glad I had the ball in my hand, because I was going to go right at him," Wade said. "I got a foul on him early and Pop changed it after that."
He smiled a sly grin that seemed to say, really? Yeah, this was some vintage D-Wade on display in Game 4.
"The 25 shots let me know that he was aggressive, every shot that he took," James said. "He wasn't passive. He came off, they went under, he shot his jumper. In transition he attacked the rim. He continued to attack throughout the game. And no matter how great you are, no matter what your résumé is, to have a game like this, it let's you know that you're still one bad ‑‑ you know the next two words. I can't say, my kids may be watching."
Let us also say a few words about Chris Bosh, the much-maligned Chris Bosh, who was the last line of defense in a very small lineup and he protected the rim as if the fate of the world depended on it, or at least the fate of his team. Bosh was awesome, really, and if not for Wade's transcendent performance he would have been the story.
What we're left with after Game 4 is a feeling of uncertainty. We have yet to see these two teams playing their best game at the same time. We've witnessed two blowouts, one flawed but close contest and now a throwback performance. No one has any idea what to expect on Sunday and anyone who suggests otherwise is reaching.
We don't know if Wade can do this again. We don't know if Bosh will be a difference maker inside. We don't know if Parker's hamstring will allows him to be effective for 48 minutes and we don't know if Duncan and Ginobli can have their own vintage performances.
What we do know, or at least what we think we know, is that the Spurs need to win Game 5 to go back to Miami with a fighting chance. That's the conventional wisdom, but logic and reason have no place in this series.
"It's going to be hard, the hardest thing we're going to do as a group is try to repeat," Wade said. "And this team over here is not going to quit, no matter what. So we have to prepare for their best effort. I think Game 5 should be the best game of the series. Both teams should come out knowing each other, knowing what each other want to do, and it should be a very good game."
We can only hope, because while this series has delivered on its competitive promise it hasn't really been compelling. What we want -- what we need -- is just one game like that when each team plays up to its abilities on the same night. What we got on Thursday was a validation of the James-Wade-Bosh era. It makes no sense, but here we are, wondering what could possibly happen next.