MIAMI – No one is questioning whether LeBron James is the best player in the NBA Finals. But as good as the San Antonio Spurs are collectively, the four-time NBA MVP knows he can't beat them by himself.
"It's not on my shoulder," James said after Thursday night's 107-86 loss to the Spurs in Game 4 of the Finals. "It's not. I understand I get a lot of the limelight in the press and all that, but it's not all on my shoulder."
Dwyane Wade has helped James share that load for the past four seasons, and even through the first three games of these Finals. He's looked like a rejuvenated player for much of this postseason. Well, until Game 4 of the Finals arrived on Thursday.
Wade entered Game 4 as the Heat's second-best playoff scorer with an average of 18.6 points. But the 32-year-old guard looked tired and ineffective on Thursday, missing 10 of 13 shots while scoring 10 points.
"The ball just didn't go in," Wade said. "I will take the law of averages next time."
Wade has had knee issues dating to his days at Marquette. A year ago, he had to have his left knee drained before Game 7 of the Finals and responded with 23 points and 10 rebounds, a performance that helped the Heat clinch their second straight championship. This season, Wade has adhered to a maintenance program designed to save his knees and body for the postseason.
The 11-year NBA veteran missed 28 regular-season games, including 15 for rest as part of the scheduled maintenance. Wade even took off nine games from March 28-April 11 to rest a strained left hamstring, along with his knees. He's also credited long-time trainer Tim Grover for helping him stay healthy.
That time off brought Wade into the postseason looking spry. He averaged 19.8 points on 54.5 percent shooting in the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers and looked ready to complement James in the NBA Finals.
Wade said he's felt better compared to a year ago, and his play appeared to match his words: He scored 19, 14 and 22 points in the first three games of these Finals. His struggles in Game 4, however, contributed to the Heat now needing to dig themselves out of a 3-1 hole.
Wade missed nine of his first 10 shots through three quarters. He looked a step slow. He didn't shoot a 3-pointer and also missed half of his eight free throws. He was dunked on by 6-foot-8, 250-pound Spurs forward Boris Diaw and had Diaw drive around him for a layup on another possession.
"I just missed them," Wade said. "I'm a very accurate shooter, so I don't like missing. I'm not used to missing around the basket. But the law of averages, man."
Wade wasn't the only Heat player to struggle. James was Miami's only player to score more than 12 points. San Antonio shot 57.1 percent from the field, made nine 3-pointers and out-rebounded the Heat 44-27. Miami also scored only seven fast-break points.
Wade "was able to get into the paint a few times," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "But once they got up 15, than we started to lose a little bit more rhythm from there. And that was everybody, not just exclusive to Wade."
No team has ever overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals. In order for the Heat to become the first, they are going to need much more than James producing. With two days off before Sunday's Game 5 – suddenly an elimination game for Miami – Wade will get a chance to rest.
"Having two days off in-between, you take a day like tomorrow and you get away from the game physically," Wade said. "Mentally, you still think about it, and obviously you're going to do that. Saturday you come back and try to figure out a way to get yourself and your team ready for the next one.
"And that's all you can do. Obviously, it's a game-to-game thing. Games change. Individual performances change."