SAN ANTONIO -- LeBron James had vowed to play better, had put every ounce of pressure from this Heat title defense on his shoulders -- on his chest.
In retrospect, it was a cry for help. James is not a singular force like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant and will not go down while stubbornly playing the lead in some kind of tragic basketball soliloquy. James had spoken the loudest in the hours between Games 3 and 4, had shouted from the mountaintops that it was all about him. In the end, his words reverberated with the two guys he went to Miami to play with in the first place.
James provided the target, put himself under it and then he provided the energy to go with the fuel. But for the Heat to save themselves in San Antonio, that energy would have to be transferred elsewhere. This isn't Cleveland anymore, and it can't be Cleveland if the Heat are going to beat the Spurs.
Against an ordinary foe, James being at his best -- like he was on Thursday night with 33 points, 11 rebounds and four assists -- would be enough. It is not enough against the Spurs. And with LeBron making himself a willing participant in the storyline that this was all his fault and his challenge alone to fix, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh heard his plea.
"Yeah, I needed a game like this, but my teammates needed a game like this from me," said Wade, who went back in time with 32 points and six steals in Miami's 109-93 victory in Game 4. "... More important, they needed the Big Three to play the way we're capable of. We're not going to win this series if me, Chris and LeBron don't show up and play."
Wade had six rebounds, four assists and a block to go with his 25 field-goal attempts -- nine more than his previous high in these playoffs. Wade hadn't scored 30 points all postseason -- had only scored 20 twice -- and hit 30 for the first time in more than three months. The last time Wade scored 30 points in a playoff game was on May 24, 2012, in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pacers.
With Miami's championship defense on the line, with the union of Miami's Big Three facing a moment of truth, Wade followed James' lead and danced circles around his own basketball mortality.
"Every shot that he had, he took," James said. "He wasn't passive. ... He continued to attack throughout the game. And no matter how great you are, no matter what your resume is, to have a game like this, it lets you know that you're still one bad ..."
James paused and said, "You know the next two words."
Out of nowhere, Wade was one bad [expletive] again, a flash from his past just when James and the Heat needed it most.
"That was ‘06 Flash," Shane Battier said in the Miami locker room. "... You get to see what guys are made of when the media and the fans start burying you and start calling for your time of death. So I think what we saw was an amazing competitive spirit from a guy who's done that his entire career."
There was no pronouncing Wade ready for the scrap heap in Game 4, no need for LeBron to fake his way through a postgame press conference praising "my guys" while referring to everyone in the building other than Wade and Bosh. James needed them on Thursday night, and they delivered -- delivered a 2-2 series that will go back to Miami for a sixth game, at least.
"It was on our shoulders, obviously," James said. "... When all three of us are clicking at the same time, we're a very tough team to beat."
And there it was: the truth. It was on our shoulders, James said -- not his alone. It was the truth about why James teamed up with Wade and Bosh in the first place, the real story of who James needed to come along with him on this ride or risk humiliation at the hands of the Spurs.
There was James' stunning passivity in Game 1 as he struggled to decipher the San Antonio schemes that had devoured him with Cleveland in the 2007 Finals. There was the fool's gold of Game 2, when James got nothing from Wade and Bosh and was propped up by 10 3-pointers from the supporting cast.
In Game 3, it was James and Mike Miller against the world -- and James spent the next 24 hours overcome with regrets. He turned inward, devoured himself over the video that revealed a player he didn't recognize.
But what had made James' subpar performances in this series so startling was the lack of support he was getting from Wade and Bosh. He got it in Game 4 from Wade, who orchestrated the creation of this super team in 2010, and he got it from Bosh, too. It was the best game anyone could remember Bosh playing, because he'd been so lost for so long: 20 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks, stellar defensive energy.
"When No. 6 has a pep in his step like he did early, really attacking in transition, that's LeBron," Battier said. "He does raise our team to a higher level. When Dwyane's aggressive like that and CB's aggressive and LeBron, the rest of the guys follow suit."
James could raise the stakes all he wanted, could try to make this all about him. But for the Heat to climb back into this series, to keep James' quest for a second straight title alive, he needed help.
"Tonight was one of the best performances that we've all had in the playoffs at the same time," Wade said.
Not a moment too soon. The cocoon of pressure engulfing LeBron James finally cracked on Thursday night, and at least for now, he can breathe again. Suddenly, he's no longer alone.