MIAMI – This is a precarious place for Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, the convergence of Chris Bosh's return colliding with the basketball season's most important game. They do miss Bosh, desperately need him for the championship chase, but Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals is something else. Everything is fragile, fluid, and the slightest imbalance can influence the winning and losing of a telltale Game 5.
Bosh has been gone nine games with an abdominal injury, and the doctor's clearance for him to return inspires as many complications as it does positive possibilities for the Heat. The Heat have lost two consecutive games to the Boston Celtics in these Eastern Conference finals, and return home on Tuesday night needing to restore control of this series.
Spoelstra is still pushing his public proclamation of Bosh's status to the minute prior to the 8:30 p.m. ET tip, but he has to be privately torn on this matter. If he sits Bosh in Game 5, and the Heat lose, can he possibly let him return in a Game 6 at Boston with the season on the line?
And if Spoelstra plays him in Game 5, how many minutes? How much of Bosh's rust do you let him play through, and at what cost on the scoreboard?
Asked about the delicate balance of infusing Bosh's talent into the roster on a night when there's little room for trial and error, one Eastern Conference head coach told Yahoo! Sports:
"It's a tough spot for Erik. You have to play him because he's too good not to take that risk. But you have no idea about his rhythm, timing and conditioning and how that impacts the others. And all that in the most crucial game of the year."
This series has been played at a fever pitch, and that only grows on Tuesday night. Only Bosh knows how far along that abdominal injury has come, how mobile he is, how much he can truly match up with the ferocity and greatness of Boston's Kevin Garnett. Miami misses his defense on the frontline, and misses his ability to spread the floor and make Garnett hesitate on giving all that help defense on the Heat's stars. Right now, Garnett doesn't have to cover the Miami big men, and barely does. When Bosh is right, that changes. No more cheating over to pick off blocked shots, to lend his body between LeBron James' and Dwyane Wade's path to the floor.
Spoelstra declared that he would be "judicious" in his evaluation of Bosh's return, and that was his way of telling Heat fans: Don't expect him to be a savior in this series. It's possible that Miami could still beat the Celtics without Bosh. After all, they've done it twice in this series. Yet, the Celtics' momentum suggests that may no longer be the case. And make no mistake: The impending possibility of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals – or even still the San Antonio Spurs – leaves Bosh a vital part of Miami's championship blueprint.
Eventually, Bosh has to come back for the Heat, and maybe, just maybe, it's Game 5 on the shores of Biscayne Bay on Tuesday night. This is when it gets complicated for the Heat. Perhaps this is when Erik Spoelstra makes one of the telltale decisions of his coaching career. Only everything is riding it.
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