LeBron James hadn’t even attempted at least 25 field goals in a game since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana. You have to go back to March 18 against Boston for the last time James converted on at least 15 field goals.
For Dwyane Wade, you have to go back to March 4 for the last time he hit at least 14 field goals in a game and to Feb. 26 the last time he attempted 25 field goals in a game. So what made Miami’s top two superstars finally play up to their potential in Game 4 of the NBA Finals?
AAU: Assertiveness, aggression and urgency, or three important principles that James and Wade grew up on and made them the all-time greats they are. The pair became the first to score at least 30 each on the road in the Finals since Shaq and Kobe in 2002 and, more importantly, Miami responded with a huge 109-93 win over San Antonio to even the series at two apiece.
San Antonio spent the first three games of the series sealing LeBron off from the paint and giving him mid-range jumpers. Over the first three games, James decided to be passive and not attack the tin, which is his best attribute as an offensive player- using his unmatched brute strength and force to get wherever he wants on the floor. In Game 4, not only drove inside but hit nine shots away from the win, matching his total for the first three games, according to the great Beckley Mason.
James’ 33-point, 11 rebounds performance is something his fans and critics have been waiting for all series long. For the first time in this series, LeBron played to his strengths and used the newly-coined AAU philosophy to his supreme advantage.
“It was on our shoulders,” James said after the game. “We had to figure out how to win the game for us and play at the highest level.”
Whether it was his injured knee or a growing complacent, deferential nature, Wade broke out of his shell for a “vintage” or “classic” performance. Whatever you want to call it, Wade showed that he can still be one of the league’s most impactful players on any given night if he so desired. He twisted and knifed his way into the paint, scoring 32 points on 14-for-25 shooting. He stepped in passing lanes to disrupt the Spurs offense, finishing with six steals, becoming the first player since Isiah Thomas in 1988 to record at least 30 points and six steals in a Finals game, according to Elias. He used the AAU approach to make himself and his teammates better in the team’s most important game of the season to date.
“The thing we talked about is we all have to make an impact in this game, somehow, some way,” Wade said. And the best way Wade and James could have accomplished that was to play the game the way that made them so damn great in the first place.
The same goes for Chris Bosh. The last time he had at least 20 points, eight made field goals and 13 rebounds was Game 3 of Miami’s second round series against Chicago. Bosh has been called aloof and timid at times, be he was certainly active and assertive on Thursday night in San Antonio. Bosh knows LeBron can’t do it all alone, and Bosh and Wade finally came to his aid.
“We’re not going to put him on an island,” Bosh said. “He’s never alone. We’re out there with him.”
James, Bosh and Wade finally got inside the accomplished what was expected of them, combining for 44 points in the paint in Game 4, according to ESPN. San Antonio had 38 paint points as a team on Thursday. Wade was an incredible 10-for-12 on shots in the paint, as all three players easily eclipsed their paint scoring numbers from the first three games:
As well as the trio played on Thursday, the question still remains whether they can keep this kind of AAU play going in consecutive games. It hasn’t happened yet in this series, as Miami hasn’t won consecutive games since the last game against Chicago and the first game against Indiana. Bottom line: As sweet as this win was for Miami, they’ll need to improve their consistency to win their second straight NBA title.
Shlomo Sprung loves advanced statistics and the way they explain what happens on the court. He is also the web editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, he has previously worked for the New York Knicks, The Sporting News, Business Insider and other publications. His website is SprungOnSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter.