MIAMI – Dear Chris Bosh,
Chris Bosh has been a punching bag since he arrived in Miami. He’s soft, people said. He’s the weak link. He completes the NBA cast of "Two And A Half Men."
But on Tuesday night, when the playoffs turned into a brawl – when the Miami Heat needed to be the Miami Street – Bosh’s teammates were missing some brass knuckles. And after the Heat lost home-court advantage in a 78-75 Game 2 defeat, when the rough-and-tumble Pacers did a celebration jig on Miami’s floor, all the home team could do was glare and retreat.
The stats tell a simple story: Nobody on the Heat other than Dwyane Wade and LeBron James scored more than five points. That’s enough of an endorsement for Bosh. But behind the stats lies something more troubling for Miami: Wade responded strongly when the game got more physical, but nobody else did. The Chicago guy did his best Isiah Thomas impression, dragging his team almost all the way back to a come-from-behind win, but nobody stepped in as Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn or Dennis Rodman. And no matter what you think of Bosh’s ability to bump and bruise in the post, he surely would have done the dirty work better than everyone not named Dwyane.
That includes James, who was fantastic in the first half with a sparkling array of shots and steals, but didn’t bully anyone when the Pacers felt their oats after the break. Two superstars is enough to beat Indiana in this series, but as long as LeBron is LeFlan, too focused on dishing it out and making sure everyone else gets a piece, Bosh’s absence is going to make this a long haul.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel basically said as much in his postgame comments, declaring, “Welcome to the Eastern Conference playoffs,” and insisting the Heat’s smaller lineups were similar in style to the ones Indiana handled in its opening series against the Magic. “We played against this the entire series,” he said, as close to flossing as a head coach will usually get. “We’re used to playing that.”
Now, Bosh isn’t Patrick Ewing. He’s not going to clobber people. But he certainly makes the Heat lineup less small, he certainly would have contested the 22 combined rebounds from Roy Hibbert and Paul George, and he certainly would have given James a breather in a grueling game he admitted was “taxing.”
“We’re not going to have anyone spell Chris Bosh,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said flatly. “I wish I could have gotten [James] a minute or two in the fourth quarter.”
Nope, sorry. As Spoelstra himself said to James during Game 1: “You can’t be tired.” Well, he’ll have to be tired. This is how it’s going to be for James: 40 minutes of hell. At least.
The Pacers are going to try to push the Heat around. They will try to be the boppers to the Heat’s alleged floppers. Wade clearly can handle that. He literally pushed back on an Indiana fast break in the form of a flagrant foul that put Darren Collison on the line early in the fourth quarter. But that changed the momentum of the game in favor of the Heat: The Pacers were up nine when the foul was committed, and it seemed like a blink of an eye before a Wade teardrop put Miami in the lead. The ensuing flurry was a marvelous display of basketball from Wade, and if he made a late layup, he would have put his team in prime position to go up 2-0 in the series. But at times it seemed like he was taking every single shot.
A lot of attention will be paid to James’ two missed free throws at the end of the game, but it shouldn’t have come to that anyway. The Heat had the Pacers on the ropes in the first half and looked ready to chase Indiana out of the series. James was a bundle of energy, with 12 points and at least that many hustle plays, and the Pacers had no answer for him. But the Heat came out “flat” – Wade’s word – in the second half and the Pacers outscored the home team by 12 in the third quarter. Then it was time to play catch-up, and the Bosh-less Heat didn’t have the horses.
“They are one of the most physical teams we play,” James said afterward. And it shouldn’t be that much of an adjustment for a guy who beat the Pistons pretty much by himself in a long-ago playoff series. But James will have to make that adjustment quickly, because Chris Bosh ain’t walking through that door. At least not yet.
Maybe it’s a good sign for the Heat that James got a little bit riled when asked about an elbow he took from Danny Granger in the nose late in the game. Maybe it’s a good sign that Wade looked bent when asked about the Pacers’ Mavericks-like jump-and-bump celebration after the final horn. “They want to be like Dallas,” he said. “They celebrated like Dallas, I guess.”
But the Pacers are not like Dallas. They have no Dirk Nowitzki, or anything close to him. All they have, in Vogel’s words, is “smashmouth basketball” and “winning the war in the trenches.”
The Heat are supposed to win that way too, at least if you believe the prominent “Band of Brothers” quotes on their locker room walls. But the band has been broken. A brother is down. And this 75-point performance shows Miami is going to have to win with shoulders as well as scorers.
Bosh’s shoulders are looking pretty broad right now, and Ronny Turiaf of all people said it best when asked in what ways the team missed its starting center:
“In every way possible.”
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