SAN ANTONIO — The guy people were waiting to show up for the Heat finally did, leaving others to wonder when the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili will make a grand appearance.
As the Heat basked in the afterglow of a vintage performance by the founding member of their Big 3 in Thursday night’s 109-93 Game 4 win over San Antonio, the Spurs can only hope that an all-points bulletin put out for one of their Big 3 gets answered like Miami’s did regarding Dwyane Wade.
Wade, playing all season “on a bum knee,” as LeBron James called it, turned back the clock with an all-around showing that hadn’t been seen through these playoffs. He was dominant with 32 points, six steals and six rebounds, asserting himself early and often — something he’ll try to do again when the teams meet in Game 5 at AT&T Center tomorrow night.
“Look, he’s proven his toughness, and he doesn’t want to talk about his health,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said yesterday. “He would be disappointed if I talked about it . . . But hey, he’s willing to go out there and compete for his teammates and open himself up for criticism with expectations of something bigger, and he’s giving us everything he has.
“Last night, he was able to dig deeper and go to another place that we needed. But he understood he had to have a major impact on the game (Wednesday) night in a lot of different ways and he did it. That was pretty impressive.”
Particularly since Wade averaged only 14.3 points in the first three games of the Finals and had topped 20 points just once in his previous 18 games this postseason. Talk of Wade no longer being the slashing, high-flying, hard-nosed superstar had grown to a crescendo.
Detractors said he no longer had the lift and explosion, but Spurs guard Gary Neal saw that wasn’t true when Wade jetted down the court on a fast break and maneuvered past him for a righthanded dunk, causing every member of the Heat to rise off the bench in excitement.
Wade’s 2006 Finals-like effort had his teammates digging into the archives and pulling out that old nickname he thought he’d retired.
“Yeah, Mike Miller kept calling me ‘Flash’ all night,” Wade said. “But it is what it is. You can call me anything right now. If I keep playing like that, you can call me whatever you want to call me. I’m already getting called a lot of stuff, so whatever.”
In a sense, Wade knows precisely what Ginobili is going through. The Spurs shooting guard has been a virtual no-show, not just in the Finals but during San Antonio’s entire postseason run. Ginobili is averaging 7.5 points, shooting 34.5 percent from the floor and 18.8 percent from three-point range in this series.
Although they’ve been able to get this far despite his struggles, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is a bit concerned, because he knows the Spurs probably won’t win the title if Ginobili doesn’t pick it up.
“Well, of course I am,” Popovich said. “He’s having a tough playoffs, and he hasn’t really found a rhythm or found his game yet. I think that he’s obviously not as confident as usual, and he knows full well that he hasn’t performed the way he would like and the way he’s used to. But it’s simplistic to say, what are we going to do to get him going?
“He’s going to get himself going or he won’t. He knows that he’s got to play better for us to be successful.”
Visit Newsday at www.newsday.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):