SAN ANTONIO – For all the praise heaped upon Dwyane Wade's most prosperous performances, the criticism comes sheepishly when he fails to play the part of Robin to LeBron James' Batman.
Let Wade play lousy, and it's his knee. Let him do his job – play superbly – and he's courageous, heroic, a champion defying the declarations of his decline. The storylines are wired. This way, Wade never loses. From James to Erik Spoelstra to Chris Bosh, the best gig on the Heat belongs to Wade.
When the Heat desperately needed a victory in Game 4, needed to spare themselves a deep hole in these NBA Finals, Wade delivered his most prodigious play of the postseason: 32 points, six rebounds and six steals to embolden a 109-93 obliteration of the San Antonio Spurs.
"He went back in his bag," James said. "He was Flash tonight."
As much as Wade's dominance was a validation of his greatness, it was too an indictment of the parade of pedestrian and poor performances that had come before it.
Truth be told, it makes executives, coaches and players around the league wonder about the severity of his knee injury. No one is suggesting the knee is at full strength, but it sure didn't hinder him in Game 7 of the conference finals, nor Game 4 on Thursday night. Wade made a choice to play hard, made plays everywhere on the floor, and that hasn't always been the case this season.
"Of course he's hurting," James said. "He's been playing with a bum knee all year."
Wade loves the drama of it all, loves to leave everyone with that slow, limp when his shots aren't dropping into the basket. This best-of-seven series is 2-2 now, Wade has two full days of rest for Game 5 on Sunday, and there shouldn't be one more discussion about his knee.
The Big Three were brought together to win championships, deliver in the championship chase and Wade's lift, his explosion, in Game 4 was proof there's nothing stopping him now. Bum knees don't allow that on the Spurs in the NBA Finals.
"That's what great players do," the Spurs' Tony Parker said. "They show up in big games."
Great players show up every night, and Parker knows that. This is the standard with which Wade should be held every game in the playoffs. This was the duty that Wade assigned himself when recruiting James and Bosh to Miami.
Across three seasons together, this was the best the Big Three had played together in the playoffs. Beyond Wade, James had 33 points and 11 rebounds. Bosh had 20 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks. The Heat are untouchable this way, unbeatable.
"We're not going to win this series if myself, Chris and LeBron don't show up to play on a consistent basis," Wade said.
[Photo gallery: Heat tie NBA Finals 2-2 with convincing win in San Antonio]
For everything that hangs over James, Wade doesn't get to step out of the light now. This is a two-out-of-three series, and no one wants to give Wade an out because of injury anymore. Because 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and six steals is the loudest declaration that his knee is sound, his Big Three responsibilities unchanged.
No more crutches for a superstar, no more ducking out in the shadows. Wade is still a great player, still able to do it all and the world watched him on Thursday night. Flash was back on Thursday night, but some of these nights – some of these spry and electric performances – make people wonder whether that dangerous, defying Dwyane Wade ought to be seen more often for the Miami Heat.
NBA Finals coverage on Yahoo! Sports:
• Dwyane Wade of old shows up to spark Heat past Spurs in Game 4
• Miami's Big Three has best game of playoffs as Heat ties series with Spurs
• Spurs need more from struggling Manu Ginobili