SAN ANTONIO – This is what greatness looks like.
Its eyes are cold and deadly. Its arms are long and larcenous. It hangs above the floor like a cloud and it bangs under the basket like a pile driver.
It has a prickly disposition, an inexorable heart. It scores in smothering waves, sudden shuddering tsunamis.
Greatness looks like LeBron James rumbling down the court with the speed and destructive power of a runaway tractor-trailer to score on one possession and pulling up to stab in a 3-pointer on another.
Greatness is the beauty of Dwyane Wade striking like a cobra on the defensive end and then spinning, whirling and making the ball seem to be a yo-yo on the end of a string as he shows off an assortment of his offensive tricks.
Greatness is the mercurial Chris Bosh rebounding with a purpose, snarling and guarding the rim like a Doberman.
On any night when Miami’s Big Three remember who they were supposed to be, the game and opposition are almost secondary to the performance. The only thing lacking is a soundtrack.
This was the Heat the way they were bought and assembled nearly three years ago, cocky, confident and, OK, a little bit irritated, playing with a combination of swagger and defensiveness. Between them they piled up 85 points, 30 rebounds, 10 steals and five blocked shots.
Here is Miami in The Finals for the third straight season and yet the Heat were being asked to show their credentials because they were having trouble putting together back-to-back victories lately in these playoffs.
After failing to score 20 points in any of the first three games of the series, James alone was back to being poked, prodded and suspected of having enough emotional loose change to feed every vending machine in the Institute of Pop Psychology.
Bosh was again the guy whose mood and production seemed to glide on the breeze like dandelion spores.
But if anyone needed to bounce back to reclaim his reputation as something more than 31-year-old with a bum knee on the down side of his career, it was Wade.
This then was his flashback to 2006 when he was unflappable and unstoppable and was so often a virtual one-man show in carrying Miami to its first NBA championship long before all of this Big Three hoopla was even imagined.
It was, in short: Flash, back.
There were all of the leaps, defensive plays, bottling up would-be Spurs drivers to the hoop, stepping into the passing lanes, flicking at loose balls and coming up with a half dozen steals that sent James and himself and the Heat transition game into overdrive.
This was the maestro who used to hold the baton and lead the orchestra before James brought his talents to South Beach and made him move over a chair to second fiddle.
“Yeah, I needed a game like this, but my teammates needed a game like this from me,” Wade said. “Needed me to be aggressive. Needed me to play the way I’m capable of.
“Most important, they needed the Big Three to play the way we’re capable of. They depend on us a lot. We love our teammates and we can’t win without them. (But) we’re not going to win this series if myself, Chris and LeBron don’t show up to play on a consistent basis.”
It was a game that saw Wade’s eyes practically grow as big as saucers when he saw himself being guarded by 6-foot-11 Tiago Splitter.
“I was glad I had the ball in my hand,” he said.
For the first time in the series, all of the Big Three actually looked happy to be there.
With his 33 points, James avoided being held under 20 points four consecutive times in the playoffs for the first time in his career.
For Wade, his line — 32 points, six assists, four rebounds and six steals — showed quite simply that he’s still got it. It was the most he’s scored since March 4 at Minnesota. And after scoring just a combined eight second-half points in the first three games of The Finals, he put the Spurs away with 18 after halftime for the 109-93 win.
This was the vintage Wade, soaring above the shoulders of the taller Tim Duncan and Splitter to grab offensive rebounds to give the Heat another chance. He made mid-range jumpers look as easy as slipping the key into your front door. He devoured the basket on fast breaks. And it was that defensive fire and intensity disrupting things from start to finish that told you he meant business. After all, at 2-2, everything the Heat have been playing for is still right there. At 3-1, it would have been sliding over the edge.
It might as well have been a page out of an old scrapbook for the way Wade went out hitting 14 of 25 shots and oozing confidence.
“The 25 shots let me know that he was aggressive, every shot that he took,” James said. “He wasn’t passive. He came off, they went under (picks), he shot his jumper. In transition he attacked the rim. He continued to attack throughout the game.
“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 — you know the next two words. I can’t say, my kids might be watching. That dude was amazing. Like I said, he was ’06 Flash tonight.”
A reminder of what greatness looks like.