It is Chris Bosh’s lot in life to be the third member of the “Big Three.”
In the Heat heirarchy, he always is placed behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, whose games are more captivating and awe-inspiring. He was mocked last season for crying after a string of tough losses.
In this postseason, his nine-game absence due to an abdominal strain was somewhat minimized when James and Wade snapped out of their doldrums and put together an awesome two-pronged attack that obliterated the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Even his return was marginalized as he was brought off the bench in Miami’s three most important games of the season.
It was almost forgotten that Bosh has made the last seven All-Star Games, including the last two while playing alongside the attention-grabbing James and Wade. Forgotten that before he arrived in Miami, he was double-teamed every time he touched the ball in Toronto. Or that Heat coach Erik Spoelstra repeatedly refers to him as “our most important player.”
Many observers downplayed the importance of Bosh and the effect his absence had on the Heat. Not Spoelstra.
“We knew,” the coach said. “Even though we didn’t admit it, we all had a big pit in our stomach when we saw him walk off the court in Game 1 of the Indiana series. We all shuddered at the thought. We played tough, but we knew that for two years he had been our most important player, because he makes it all work.”
Bosh made it work in Game 7 on Saturday night, making 8-of-10 shots – including three 3-pointers – and scoring 19 points to help the Heat vanquish the stubborn Boston Celtics and return to the NBA Finals.
Bosh reminded everyone that he is a legitimate member of the “Big Three,” combining with James and Wade to score Miami’s last 31 points. He also was a factor on the defensive end, breaking up an alley-oop and blocking a shot down the stretch to squelch any chance of a comeback by the Celtics.
“We missed him,” James said. “We were happy to have him back at the right time.”
“He was the X factor,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted.
It was difficult to determine what sort of impact – if any – Bosh would have in Game 7. He played 14 minutes off the bench in his return in Game 5, when Spoelstra wrongly chose not to finish the game with him and benched him for the fourth quarter. His minutes were doubled in Game 6, but his numbers remained about the same.
And with the season on the line Saturday night, Spoelstra again chose to bring Bosh off the bench. This time, however, Bosh was around for the finish. And as much as James and Wade, he finished off the Celtics.
“It was very deflating at first, but I just had to keep my mind,” Bosh said. “That was the biggest challenge that I ever had in my life, to make sure I stay ready, so when the time did come, I would be able to contribute instead of trying to get my legs under me and be a non-factor. I thought about it every day. I worked hard with the coaching staff and the doctors and the trainers, and we just relentlessly worked every day.”
Earlier this season, Bosh was working on something else – his 3-point shot. He is a career 29 percent shooter from the arc and is even worse in the playoffs, making just 4-of-20 in 40 playoff games before Saturday night.
But that work paid off in Game 7, when he drained three 3-pointers. The first came early in the second quarter, when the Heat needed an offensive spark. The last two came in the fourth quarter and helped spread the floor for James and Wade to attack the rim.
“I know it will surprise a lot of other people, but I’ve been practicing those things all year,” he said. “We kind of knew in big‑time situations that they were going to be open, and I would be able to shoot it without hesitation.”
Maybe folks will now include Bosh in the “Big Three” without hesitation.
TRIVIA: When the Thunder reached the NBA Finals in 1996 as the Seattle SuperSonics, who were their starting five? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: While speaking with reporters, Boston mayor Thomas Menino, who never met a sports name he couldn’t flub, referred to Kevin Garnett as “KJ” and Rajon Rondo as “Hondo” in the same sentence.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, discussing his team’s mindset as they prepared for Thursday’s elimination game at Boston:
“Nobody likes getting dirt thrown on your face before you’re even dead.”
LINE OF THE WEEK: LeBron James, Miami at Boston, June 7: 45 minutes, 19-26 FGs, 2-4 3-pointers, 5-9 FTs, 15 rebounds, five assists, four turnovers, 45 points in a 98-79 win. With the basketball world waiting to pounce on any perceived shortcoming that led to Miami’s elimination, James joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to produce a 45-15-5 game in the postseason.
LINE OF THE WEAK: Paul Pierce, Boston vs. Miami, June 7: 31 minutes, 4-18 FGs, 0-6 3-pointers, 1-2 FTs, five rebounds, one assist, three steals, one block, three turnovers, nine points in a 98-79 loss. No rhythm on his jumper, not getting to the line, giving the ball away and, oh, yeah, he was the primary defender on James.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Miami at Oklahoma City, June 12. The first NBA Finals game at Chesapeake Energy Arena, which used to host Professional Bull Riding and the Yard Dawgz of the Arena Football League but now hosts the only postseason team unbeaten at home.
TRILLION WATCH: There is now a three-way tie for the top inaction of the postseason as Miami center Joel Anthony registered a 4 trillion at Boston on Thursday. Anthony drew even with teammate Juwan Howard (May 24) and Boston center Ryan Hollins (May 4). A consolation prize for Boston’s Marquis Daniels, who had a 3 trillion on Tuesday.
TWO MINUTES: Gregg Popovich is probably the best coach in the game today, which is probably why he has gotten a pass on his team’s ignominious exit from the postseason. The Spurs bowed out with four straight losses after they had won 20 straight games and looked virtually unbeatable. And if folks are going to figuratively string up the Vinny Del Negros and Erik Spoelstras of the world for their shortcomings, then some of the blame for the Spurs’ sudden nosedive has to go to Popovich. His decision to start Manu Ginobili in Game 5 was a good one but was somewhat offset by keeping the ineffective and overwhelmed Danny Green in the rotation instead of giving those minutes to Stephen Jackson. In Game 6, he stayed way too long with Gary Neal, who shouldn’t have been afforded the opportunity to miss all six of his shots in 15 minutes. And after making nine 3-pointers in the first half, the Spurs fell in love with the arc after halftime and too often settled instead of further scrambling the Thunder’s defense with ballfakes and dribble drives. There is some hindsight here, and Popovich’s status among the game’s all-time coaching greats is secure. But there were a few things we thought he could have done to stem the bleeding. … LeBron James hasn’t sent a tweet since the playoffs started. He has 4.6 million followers. … Last summer, Spoelstra attended a coaching clinic at which Doc Rivers spoke. The Celtics coach saw the Heat coach and was reluctant to reveal some of the family recipes. “It was funny, because we were talking to 200 coaches, and you see Erik sitting there, and you say, ‘I’m not going to say this’ or ‘I’m not going to talk about this.’ … I was like, ‘I’m not sharing that.’ So it was funny.” Spoelstra said he wasn’t there to tap into Rivers’ X-and-O acumen but his approach to managing a locker room full of superstars. “I was more curious about the management of personalties,” Spoelstra said. “That’s really ultimately what it’s about in this league. While all those other things are important, the day-to-day, how you motivate, how you manage all the different challenges and personalties is really probably the biggest part of the job.” … For the second time in his career, Randy Wittman has gotten a chance to continue cleaning up the mess someone else left for him. During the 2006-07 season, Wittman inherited the Minnesota job from Dwane Casey and was retained for the following season – which came after Kevin Garnett was traded to Boston for a package of young players led by Al Jefferson. He went 22-60 that season, then was fired after a 4-15 start in 2008-09. This year, Wittman took over the Washington Wizards after a 2-15 start by Flip Saunders, who was treated like a doormat by a handful of players. He went 18-31 despite injuries and a pair of big midseason trades and will begin training camp as the permanent coach. “I felt that we made significant progress throughout last season and we are all looking forward to having a full summer, training camp and season to continue to improve,” he said. The cupboard is not bare in Washington; the Wizards have a top-five center in Nene, a potential superstar in John Wall and good young talent in Jordan Crawford, Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Trevor Booker. They need an upgrade at shooting guard and power forward, where Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche are costing them $30 million for very little production. And they have the third pick in the draft, which they could use on power forward Thomas Robinson or shooting guard Bradley Bael. If they go with Robinson, expect the Wizards to use their amnesty clause on Lewis – which would give them loads of cap room to make a run at a free agent (Lou Williams? Jamal Crawford?) – and try to light a fire under Blatche to make him a tradable asset. … In this postseason, there have been 35 potential tying or go-ahead shots taken in the final 24 seconds. Kevin Durant is 3-of-4 in those situations. A total of 21 other players are a combined 1-of-31, with Orlando’s Glen Davis (1-of-2) owning the only make. … Three days after agreeing in principle to remain GM of the Clippers, Neil Olshey reversed field and became GM of the Trail Blazers, leaving Donald Sterling with egg on his face once again. “Circumstances have obviously undergone some movement since our announcement,” Clippers president Andy Roeser said. You think? A former soap opera actor, Olshey was making $450,000 annually and wanted an extension a year ago because, according to our own Mark Heisler, he wanted to buy a house. Sterling refused, claiming he wanted to see what Olshey could do. All he did was transform the Clippers from a laughingstock to a final-eight team, ending their annual trip to the lottery. And Sterling still could have kept Olshey had he offered him three years at $750,000 per year, slightly more than he paid Bobby Simmons this season. Now the Clippers have no GM and a coach on a one-year contract, with Blake Griffin due for an extension and Chris Paul contemplating whether to stay or go. There’s shrewd management, huh? This is starting to look like another brief interruption to the Clippers’ long history of losing alongside Larry Brown’s abbreviated stay in the early 1990s and the Elton Brand-Sam Cassell group from several years ago. … If you’re looking for a reason why the Celtics came up woefully short in Thursday’s potential clincher at home, consider that the 31 combined points by Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen represent their lowest playoff total since the “Big Three” were formed in 2007.
Trivia Answer: Detlef Schrempf, Shawn Kemp, Ervin Johnson, Hersey Hawkins, Gary Payton. … Happy 62nd Birthday, John Gianelli. … Will somebody please tell NBA players that no one wears glasses unless they have to? (And then it sucks-CS).
Chris Bernucca is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Wednesday and Sunday. You can follow him on Twitter.