SAN ANTONIO -- During Miami's drive to the 2012 title, Dwyane Wade dealt with a left knee that needed to be drained between games and eventually required offseason surgery. He still averaged 22.8 points per game in the playoffs, hanging 41 points in a series-clinching win over the Pacers in the second round and scoring 25 points in back-to-back Finals victories over the Thunder. He was subjugated to the No. 2 role with LeBron James fully ascending, but he was, overall, still productive.
One year later, Wade has been a nursing a right-knee injury, and the drag on his numbers has been even more apparent. Through Wednesday, Wade was averaging 14.2 points and shooting 44.6 percent while attempting fewer than four free throws a game in the playoffs. He hadn't scored more than 21 points in any of his 18 playoff games.
No matter that it had been 33 games and 101 days since Wade last cracked 30 points, a 32-point effort in a March 4 victory over the lottery-bound Timberwolves. The nine-time All-Star exploded for 32 points (on 14-for-25 shooting), six rebounds, four assists and six steals Thursday to push the Heat past the Spurs 109-93 in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
"He went back in his bag today," James said after the Heat tied the series at 2-2. "He was Flash tonight. ... That dude was amazing. Like I said, he was  Flash tonight. And we needed every bit of him."
Wade was the Finals MVP during Miami's first title run, in 2006, averaging 28.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.7 assists during that postseason. The No. 5 pick in the 2003 draft rose to superstardom based on the strength of his two-way play. Flash could beat his man off the dribble and stop on a dime, but he could also dart over from the weak side to block a shot or blitz a passing lane and take off for the races. After having his defense questioned for much of the postseason, Wade's six steals and one block were much-needed following Miami's shaky defensive effort in Game 3.
"[Wade's] floor game was there from the beginning," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "The six steals, the deflections, his activity around the rim when he was there. We obviously have so much more versatility when our wings cover that type of ground."
Whereas Wade's game has regularly fallen on harder times in the second halves of games during this postseason run, he came on stronger late Thursday. In one stretch of the fourth quarter, Wade scored eight straight Miami points in 2:12, including an end-to-end dunk after coming up with a steal.
With Miami leading 88-81 with 8:18 left, Wade intercepted a crosscourt pass from Danny Green to Manu Ginobili and immediately headed for the open court in front of him. Ducking past Ginobili, he powered toward the paint, lifting the ball up and over Gary Neal's head to set up a smooth dunk finish.
"I don't feel like 2006, but it felt good," Wade said of his night. "I knew I was on when I took it over the guy's head and dunked it on the break. That was a little vintage right there. It felt good to have a performance like this in this game when we really needed it. If we go down 3-1 tonight, it's tough to climb back out of that hole."
Although Wade has regularly refused to answer questions about the state of his right knee, which is said to have a bone bruise, James didn't mince words.
"He's hurting," James said of Wade, who applied hot packs to his knee during the game. "Of course he's hurting. He's been playing with a bum knee all year. He's hurting, but he's not making no excuses about it. A performance like tonight will make you feel better."
It will also make the opposition get in line to pay its respects.
"That's his best game of the playoffs," Spurs guard Tony Parker said. "He shot the ball very well. That's what great players do. They show up in big games. That's what he did. He played great."
Tim Duncan added: "His mid-range game was working. I thought we did a lot of the same stuff we did last game, challenged his shot. But he made those shots. Once he made those shots, he was able to break down our defense a little better, get inside of us, get to the basket, get some easy ones there. I think he kind of got everything he wanted."
The question that very well could decide the rest of the series: Can Wade find a way to "get everything he wants" again or will the Flash flashback be a one-time thing?