The Miami Heat announced Monday morning that forward/center Chris Bosh is "out indefinitely" after suffering a lower abdominal strain on a second-quarter slam over Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert in Miami's 95-86 Game 1 win on Sunday.
After driving from the right elbow and finishing with a left-handed slam over Hibbert late in the second quarter, Bosh fell to his knees on the floor of the AmericanAirlines Arena, reeling in pain. He exited the game and did not return, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds in just under 16 minutes of action. In six appearances this postseason, Bosh has averaged 14.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in 30.5 minutes per game for the Heat.
Postgame speculation on Bosh's injury ran rampant ahead of a scheduled Monday MRI to determine its extent and severity.
"You saw the look on his face ... you knew something was wrong there," Wade said, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Without Bosh, Miami rallied from a six-point halftime deficit behind huge performances from stars LeBron James (32 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, to go with 15 rebounds, five assists and two steals) and Dwyane Wade (29 points, including a 13-of-14 mark from the free-throw line, and four assists) to down Indiana and take a 1-0 lead in the series.
"Indefinitely" is a deliberately vague term befitting an injury that can be a harsh, tricky beast. Abdominal strains limit range of motion, sap explosiveness, screw with mechanics and make reaching or contesting on defense an awful chore, and players who try to come back from them too quickly can wind up injuring themselves much more seriously and for a much longer period. If the strain's minor enough, a player can be back on the court in a week; if it's a more significant strain, he might be sidelined for two months.
Just how severe Bosh's strain is remains unclear. So does just how severely his injury impacts Miami, a team now experiencing its first serious medical bump in the road during a late-season run that has seen Eastern Conference foes in Orlando (Dwight Howard's back), Chicago (Derrick Rose's knee, Joakim Noah's ankle), Boston (Ray Allen's ankles, Paul Pierce's knee) and New York (the knees of Jeremy Lin, Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis) all suffer with health issues.
On the plus side for the Heat, the team appears to be well positioned to handle Bosh's absence in the short term, thanks in large part to how James' ridiculous skill set enables him to shift very quickly from nightmarish small forward to a holy terror at power forward.
LeBron played nearly a quarter of the Heat's minutes at the four spot during the regular season and absolutely destroyed his competition, posting a Player Efficiency Rating of 37.1 at the four while holding his opponents to a slightly-below-average 14.8 PER, according to positional matchup data at 82games.com — that +22.3 efficiency differential than the +18.5 mark he rolled up at his customary small forward spot. James is big enough to match up physically with opposing power forwards, even bruisers like Indiana's David West, and quick enough to make covering him almost impossible for typically slower fours.
Plus, Spoelstra can turn to Shane Battier to plug the gap James would leave at small forward, and while Battier's certainly no one's idea of a go-to offensive option, he's still a heck of a wing defender, holding opposing small forwards to a below-average 12.9 PER in his time on the court. That could help the Heat keep the clamps on Pacers star Danny Granger (seven points on 1-of-10 shooting in Game 1), which certainly has to be a big part of the Miami game plan moving forward. A starting lineup with James at the four and Battier at the three should keep Miami on track.
As Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin wrote, though, a Bosh-less starting lineup is less of a concern than the domino effect that could be caused by his injury — if everyone has to move up a seat, then Miami will need more out of Udonis Haslem (shooting 31.8 percent from the field in the playoffs), Joel Anthony (who can be an adventure if asked to do anything on offense beyond hitting the glass and dunking) and Ronny Turiaf (ditto).
Moreover, the loss of Bosh — who had averaged more than 33 minutes per game in the playoffs for the Heat before going down early Sunday — will likely require James to log more minutes on the floor. After averaging about 38 minutes per game in the Heat's five-game first-round win over the New York Knicks, James played 43:15 in Game 1 against the Pacers, and while he performed brilliantly, the cumulative effect of ratcheting up his playing time now could prove huge for Miami over the course of the series, according to SI.com's Zach Lowe:
[...] Miami will be playing a dangerous game if coach Erik Spoelstra asks James to approach 45 minutes every game, a possibility if James must play power forward for extended time. James played at least 42 minutes in 15 of Miami's 21 postseason games last year, and in the Finals, the Mavericks internally were convinced that they could exhaust him in a long series. This is one reason the Mavs began running a bunch of staggered pick-and-roll plays for guard Jason Terry once it became clear LeBron would defend him down the stretch of games. Dallas wanted LeBron to expend maximum energy on defense, confident the minutes load would eventually take its toll on body and mind.
There's another major concern in addition to the lineup and floor-time issues that a Miami team without Bosh will encounter; as SB Nation's Mike Prada wrote in a great breakdown on Monday morning, it's the Heat's whole offense:
This season, the Heat score over 111 points per 100 possessions when Bosh is on the court and less than 103 when he's not. The team's effective field goal percentage (basically, field goal percentage while adding extra weight to threes) drops from just over 52 percent to about 47.5 percent. Worse, the percentage of the team's field goals that are assisted drops from 55 percent to 51 percent. You could look forever for a number to suggest that no Bosh is better for Miami's offense, but you won't find it.
Prada also points out a key matchup advantage (that we also noted in our Heat/Pacers preview) that Miami will likely lose without Bosh — the ability to draw Hibbert away from the paint and compromise Indiana's half-court defense:
Worse, Miami's game-plan to attack Indiana directly involved Bosh. Indiana's one of the league's strongest defenses, but teams can attack them by taking advantage of Roy Hibbert's lack of mobility defending pick and roll. Using Bosh, a major threat popping out for open jumpers, would have exploited that weakness. Now, Hibbert can contain the ball-handler without having to worry to scurry back to cover Bosh. Ironically, the play Bosh got injured on is the exact kind of play that most exploited Hibbert's lack of mobility and was one you could have expected to see all series.
On Sunday morning, a full-strength Miami team looked like the surest bet to come out of the East and, arguably, the favorite to win this year's title after falling short last year; now, Spoelstra's Heat could face a very tough task just getting out of the second round. Bosh's injury doesn't change the fact that Miami still has the two best players in this series, two dominant end-to-end forces that combined to outscore the Pacers in the second half on Sunday. But losing an All-Star-caliber big man changes quite a few other things, and the sum total of those shifts could even change which team advances.
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