Nobody was being overdramatic or over the top in wondering aloud about the Miami Heat's diminished chances at an NBA title after All-Star forward Chris Bosh went down in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with an abdominal strain. The Heat eventually rode to a title behind the brilliant all-around work of LeBron James alongside some timely help from the team's helpers, but the top-heavy squad was and remains a team that relies almost entirely on the work of its superstars. From their finest moments, to their most frustrating — LeBron James' inability to counter Dallas' defense in the 2011 Finals, Dwyane Wade's struggles with his wheels during significant stretches of the 2012 postseason, and Bosh's debilitating abdominal injury.
Though Bosh suffered the injury in a close Game 1 win over the Indiana Pacers last May, the Heat promptly lost the next two games and the home-court advantage as a result. As soon as Miami dropped Game 2 in their home arena, thoughts about Bosh's potential return to the Finals stage in early June were almost immediately abandoned in the wake of the idea that Miami might not even make it until the third week of May without Bosh in the fold. And Chris, in a recent interview, appeared to share the same line of scouting.
But when things looked most bleak, when the Heat lost two straight games to the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals after he got hurt, Bosh was preparing himself for a long offseason without a championship to savor.
''I thought it was over,'' Bosh said in an interview with The Associated Press. ''I didn't want to fully emotionally invest myself anymore because I didn't want to get hurt like last year when we lost the finals. I kind of had a letdown. I'm not going to lie. I was defeated. And then my wife came to me and said, 'You know, you said things were going to look bad, but you have to keep going.'''
That "letdown"? The Heat would have been probably pilloried as a second-round flameout, another disappointing year in the wake of The Decision, but that noise would have been missing the point.
Bosh isn't this team's go-to guy, as he was in Toronto during the days of routinely dropping over 25 points per game. What he does is sop up minutes; he could spend an entire evening nailing jumper after jumper against a collapsing defense, or rolling to the hoop for a series of throwdowns in the face of some ill-strategized double-teaming. Or, he could shoot just six times in one night while LeBron or D-Wade take to their respective mismatchs. He's a distinct Number Three, ready to fill in.
The problem, and this isn't the case with most championship teams, is the falloff between Miami's Number Three, and whoever you think is the team's Number Four. The group is so reliant on the All-Star triptych that any removal of that trio could immediately take the team from a championship favorite to second round fodder. Bosh, an All-Star, went down. Huge fallout, even if LeBron James is all-world.
And the needed context to go along with Bosh's May fears is the fact that Dwyane Wade was far from all-world at that particular point.
Not only was Bosh out for an indefinite amount of time, but the Heat were facing a 1-2 series deficit in Indiana (with two more contests to be played at the Pacers' home), and Wade missed 25 of 35 shots during the Games 2 and 3 losses. In a remarkable turnaround, Wade went on to average 33 points a game on 61 percent shooting over the next three contests (wins) against the Pacers; but nobody should have expected that. Wade was injured. And players, no matter how tough, just don't get over these things routinely.
Bosh, even more remarkably, returned from his abdominal strain in just over three weeks. It's an injury that often takes months to truly get over, a cruelly painful one that affects just about every move an athlete makes, and it curtailed Chris' attempts at representing his country in that summer's Olympics. And yet, Bosh made it back and thrived as the Heat made their way to his first title. Just another broad-shouldered move from someone who has long been one of our favorite NBA talkers.
The entire episode — that entire run — was lesson-making material.
The Miami Heat lost the 2011 NBA Finals, in a series of close games, because they weren't good enough. They weren't smart or experienced or dedicated enough to play bigger than their collective talent, unlike a Dallas Mavericks outfit that seemed to have an expertly guided answer to every significant Miami feature.
Had the Heat lost in the second round last year? Sure, we could yell at LeBron James a bit for not attempting to foul Roy Hibbert out, and we can rue Shane Battier missing open jumper after open jumper, but losses like that would have been to be expected considering the fact that the Heat were playing without a superstar, and worked through the first three games with a clearly addled superstar that probably shouldn't have been playing were this a regular-season contest. Sometimes fluke-y and unfortunate injuries hit, and the same excuses we made for Chicago for losing in the first round last season should have been extended to Miami; even if Chicago's depth and Miami's series of stars make for an uneasy comparison.
Chris wasn't being dour or pessimistic with his views of the eventual champions, down one game and twice as many superstars against Indiana. He was being realistic.
And sometimes champions have to break ties with reality on their way toward the ring.
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