Lebron James is the greatest basketball player on earth. Whatever the Heat needed him to do in order to win Game 2 (save a few missed layups early on) he did it and did it well: slashing, shooting, passing, defending and rebounding his way to an all-time great performance.
The Heat run an inverted, spread-em-out offense and a trap-heavy defense which push James to use all of his (seemingly endless) skills and strength. To employ their particular and peculiar game plan successfully, the other Heat players needed to change their games and fill in the holes around James -- and none have adapted more selflessly than Christopher Wesson Bosh. Most will remember that Bosh knocked down a go-ahead three in the small-minutes of Game 2 then made a game-sealing off the dribble play to Wade as an encore, but it is his team-first attitude and his evolution into a big the likes of which the game has never seen which make him the Heat's linchpin on both ends of the floor.
The Heat ask Bosh to fill a near-impossible role: to play like a Nowitzki-Aldridge hybrid, but without the post-touches that help those guys get into an offensive rhythm.
Bosh had to formally relinquish the low-block to Wade and Lebron during the Heat's first championship run in 2011 -- after he went down with an abdominal injury in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Pacers. Spoelstra, out of necessity, started Battier at the four and the Heat began their commitment to smaller, perimeter-oriented lineups.
In the inverted offense, Bosh does not have an opportunity to manufacture easy looks for himself around the rim. If his outside shot isn't falling, Bosh has to shoot his way out of the slump or hope for a rare opportunity to drive to the rim -- a drastic change from earlier in his career when the entire offense ran through his post-play.
On defense, Bosh has to do all the dirty work of a 5 (e.g. clean the boards and protect the rim) whereas Dirk and Lamarcus start alongside centers that relieve them (more or less) of those unglamorous responsibilities. Yes, Birdman pitches in on D and, of course, Lebron makes life a million-times easier for Bosh on both ends of the floor (look no further than the Game 2 stat sheet for evidence: CB grabbed only 2 defensive rebounds while Bird got 9 and Lebron chipped in with 8); but remember, Bosh arrived in Miami as a finesse forward and now he is tasked with anchoring a defense which by it's very nature as a crazed, disruptive scheme often leaves the back line of defense exposed. At a slight, 235 pounds, Bosh often has to guard the other team's best post player and takes a lot of punishment banging under the rim. When Bird is on the bench and Lebron is defending a wing player, CB has to fight like mad down-low more or less all by himself. So if his defensive numbers are a bit sparse in certain games, remember that he is playing out of position (on many teams he would be a 4) and he still leads the team with over a block per game in the playoffs.
Ostensibly, Bosh turned his game inside out and sacrificed all the niceties he'd grown accustomed to in Toronto (where he was the number one option) so that Spoelstra could employ a style of play on both sides of the ball which highlighted Lebron's skills and which often forced Bosh into situations that, to the untrained eye, made him look bad as his job -- even replaceable.
That's a big sacrifice: taking on all the responsibilities of a center (man the paint defensively) without any of the perks (low-post touches). Just ask Roy Hibbert or Dwight Howard how much they like holding down the lane on defense without getting the ball on the block. (Answer: it make them no happy.)
Most big men in the league want at least a couple looks from the low-block -- they consider it their reward for making the guards look good on defense. Plus,they want to feel like they have an impact offensively and they know only one way to do it -- by going to work in the paint.
But Bosh is smart enough and unselfish enough to know that his post-up game will just slow down the Heat's offense by destroying their ball movement and floor spacing. He understands that the team posts-up James and Wade because they are the primary shot-creators and both will make a play for themselves as often as they setup a teammate from the low-block -- it all just depends on what the defense gives them. Bosh sees that he can create vital driving lanes for Lebron and Wade if he hits his outside shots and draws the opposing big man away from the rim.
In order to fill in the gaps created by the inverted offensive scheme, Bosh evolved into a basketball player the likes of which this league has never seen: a near-seven footer that can stroke the mid-range jumper at an elite level and stretch the defense out to the three point line; a "center" (at least, that's how he's listed on the official scorecard) capable of blowing by less-athletic bigs and finishing strong at the rim through contact; a lengthy, lithe defender agile enough to run out and disrupt guards on the pick-and-roll and then recover back quickly to the inside to defend any bigs. Did you get all that?
The two final plays in Game 2 highlighted Bosh's versatility: first, he showed off his much-improved three point shot and knocked down a triple from the right corner where he has been shooting 52.9 percent in the playoffs -- a mark that blows away Ray Allen's 38.5 percent from the same spot in these playoffs; next, Bosh took another pass from James and with the Heat up by three with under 30 seconds left to play, he crossed up Duncan (Timmy attempted to apply ball pressure on CB above the three-point line [big mistake]), headed for the rim and then deftly dropped a bounce pass off to a wide-open Wade.
Bosh will never be a bruiser on the interior, but unlike most NBA big men who duck out the frame, Bosh is willing to meet all comers at the rim -- even if he winds up on the business-end of a posterizing finish. (But just as Bosh taketh a facial, he giveth too -- just ask Timmy, Danny Green and Tiago.)
Coach Spo knows how vital Bosh is to the Heat's success. After Game 2, Spo told reporters, "Look, he is arguably our most important player. We've said that now for four years. And it's not just because of that shot [from the right corner]." The Heat coach went on to say that some fans and media members are quick to criticize Chris after a bad shooting or rebounding performance, but the he and the team know that Bosh does a lot of winning-things which don't always show up in the stat sheet. Spo added, "For us, he has a lot on his plate."
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