“Good game, C.B.,” Wade said.
“Just trying to be like you, No. 3,” Bosh responded.
On this night, it wasn’t hard to see why Bosh was celebrated last summer as an integral piece of the Heat’s famed “Big Three.” Often ridiculed during the season – even by opposing players – Bosh has looked just as valuable as his two more-heralded teammates in the Eastern Conference finals. His 34 points in a 96-85 Game 3 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday gave the Heat a 2-1 lead in the series and pushed them within two wins of the NBA Finals.
For at least one night, no one was making fun of Bosh.
“It’s never going to be easy,” Bosh said. “I kind of just remember each situation I’ve been through in my lifetime, and most of them have not been easy. If you want to go where you want to go, sometimes you’re going to have to have a rocky road to get there.”
Bosh entered free agency last summer as the Toronto Raptors’ all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks, minutes and games played. Often forgotten is that the six-time All-Star didn’t seem interested in playing a complementary role for a new team.
"I don't want to be mentioned as an addition to a team," Bosh said prior to the 2009-10 season. "I want to be mentioned as the guy that people want to center their team around."
Bosh had apparently changed his mind by the time free agency began because he joined Wade and LeBron James(notes) in signing with the Heat. From the beginning, it was evident Bosh would be the player who would have to adapt the most. While James was announced first in the starting lineup and Wade last, Bosh went from being the last guy introduced in Toronto to fourth in Miami. After practices, Bosh talks to the media on his own while James and Wade do their sessions together.
More importantly, Bosh’s role on the court also changed significantly. He scored eight points in his Heat debut during a loss at Boston. He didn’t score 20 points in a game until his seventh game of the season. He averaged 18.7 points during the season, his fewest since 2004-05.
“A lot of people don’t understand how difficult it’s been to make the adjustment, to play with two guys who dominate the ball so much,” Wade said. “Some games he gets [the ball], some games he doesn’t. So to find a flow, to find a rhythm, sometimes it’s tough.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the franchise did a lot of research prior to free agency before concluding Bosh would fit with Wade and James. Bosh, however, admitted his transition was “extremely difficult” and he had to put his ego in check.
“Nobody tells you that’s going to be something that you have to worry about,” Bosh said. “Usually, it’s like, ‘OK, you sacrifice to win.’ But everyone is going to go through it in a different way. Ego is a part of that. But you know, it’s all for the better sake of winning. That’s what I keep telling myself.”
Bosh has read and heard all the skepticism and talk of him being overrated and soft. No All-Star gets ridiculed more than Bosh. Some of it has stung. And while James and Wade often appear inseparable, commanding the spotlight and major commercials, Bosh admittedly comes off as eccentric. Before games, he will read a book rather than listen to Rick Ross or Drake. Off the court, he usually hangs out with his fiancée, Adrienne Williams.
“I’m human. It is what it is,” Bosh said of the negativity. “I really don’t care for it. If it’s not positive, I don’t listen to it. I’m a good ballplayer. There’s always going to be somebody throwing rocks no matter what you do. So I just continue to go. I know who is in my corner, my teammates, my family. I talk to them. I get better every day. And I play with passion. That’s all that matters.”
As if Bosh had not heard enough already, Bulls forward Carlos Boozer(notes) openly mocked him before the East finals began. The Heat, Boozer said, had only two stars – and neither was named Chris Bosh. After Bosh averaged just 12.8 points against the Celtics in the second round, Boozer’s words appeared to have some merit.
Three games into the East finals, however, a case could be made that Bosh has been the Heat’s star in the series. He’s averaging 24.7 points and 7.3 rebounds, and has scored at least 30 points in two of the games. In Game 3, he made 13 of his 18 shots and eight of his 10 free throws in almost 43 minutes.
Bosh’s big highlight in Game 3 came when he spun by Boozer in the lane and dunked with two hands as three Bulls looked on helplessly. As Bosh ran down the floor he beat his chest twice with both fists. Boozer’s words certainly on his mind.
“You can find inspiration in all type of different ways,” Bosh said. “It does help. I think about it when I’m shooting. It helps me get some extra reps up. If I practice enough, I go a little longer. For one, I want to win. And we have an opportunity to compete for a championship, so we have to keep going.”
Said Boozer: “I always have respect for him.”
After detailing his roller-coaster season with reporters, Bosh jumped on a golf cart for a ride back to the locker room on the other side of the arena. Joining him was the Heat’s top media relations official, two Nike representatives and a security guard whose time is often split between James, Wade, Kobe Bryant(notes) and Phil Jackson. On this night, Bosh looked as close to Wade and James as ever.
“Hopefully, at the end of this series they’ll say something different about him,” Wade said. “But right now, we understand what he means to us. That’s all that matters.”