DALLAS – Chris Bosh(notes) crumbled to the court, rolled onto his back and pounded his leg twice onto the court. He was writhing in pain, or so it seemed, after having been raked across the face in the opening minutes of Game 3's NBA Finals. That's not what mattered, of course. The world saw something else.
Big game, big moment, and once again, Bosh looked ready to sit it out.
This is the burden Bosh has carried ever since he joined the Miami Heat. As much as LeBron James(notes) has been vilified for the way he left Cleveland, no one's reputation has taken more of a hit than that of Bosh. He took the ultimate step down. The franchise hero in Toronto, he left to caddy for James and Dwyane Wade(notes). From No. 1 to No. 3. Few stars have ever made that kind of transition, or, depending on how you see it, shirked that much responsibility.
Bosh stood on that stage in Miami in July, howling through all the smoke, flexing, preening, and the world laughed at him. Fake tough guy, Kevin Durant(notes) would later call him, and the world nodded in agreement. Bosh's old general manager in Toronto mocked him. His struggles early in the season spawned more jokes, including one hilarious skit by the geniuses at The Basketball Jones, titled, simply, "Like a Bosh."
Stapler not working as expected? Yeah, like a Bosh. Car won't start? Like a Bosh.
The Finals had only brought more of the same. Bosh shot poorly in the first two games and allowed Dirk Nowitzki(notes) to spin past him for the winning layup in Game 2. He grew up here in Dallas, only this was no story of a triumphant homecoming. He arrived in town for Game 3 as the league's favorite punch line.
Somewhere along the way Bosh learned to live with the scorn. It hasn't been easy, but this is the path he's chosen. He gets knocked down, and he picks himself up, never more so than he did on Sunday. Bosh lay on the court for a few moments after Jason Kidd(notes) poked him in the eye then popped back up. He'd stay in the game, never really settling into a rhythm until his moment finally arrived late.
Game tied, less than a minute remaining, Bosh told Udonis Haslem(notes) that if the Mavericks helped to cut off the penetration of either Wade or James, Haslem would be in position to set a screen to free him. A few moments later, Wade penetrated, the Mavericks helped, and Wade swung the ball to James, who was open on the left wing. Tyson Chandler(notes) ran at James, leaving Nowitzki to guard both Haslem and Bosh. Haslem set the screen, Bosh popped open on the baseline, and suddenly James was zipping a pass to him.
For one of the few times on the night, Bosh didn't hesitate. He raised up and buried the 16-foot shot with 39.6 seconds left. Haslem would force Nowitzki into a miss, and the Heat walked out with an 88-86 victory and a 2-1 lead in these Finals.
"When I know I'm going to have an open shot," Bosh said, "I know I have to shoot it."
Steve Kerr made a few of these pressure-packed shots during his own championship runs. He always thought players – particularly role players – were fortunate to ever find themselves in a moment like this. It was up to them to make the most of it.
Bosh did that, and nothing else matters. The criticism. The jokes. On this night, No. 3 had the last laugh. When the Heat needed him more than they've needed him all season, he delivered.
"I don't care if he missed 15 in a row, he was wide open, and that's his sweet spot," James said.
"It's not about what happens," Bosh said. "It's about how you react."
Bosh has said this a lot over the past few days. He immediately owned up to his mistake at the end of Game 2, and he knew nothing he said would matter as much as how he played in Game 3. Want to prove you're resilient? Sometimes all it takes is one shot.
Bosh's eye remained swollen after the game. He said his vision wasn't impaired, that he'd be fine for Tuesday's Game 4. "We'll spit on it and put a Band-Aid on it and patch it up later," he said.
Bosh smiled. This was his first victory ever in Dallas, and he's seemingly gone out of his way to make sure he doesn't enjoy his homecoming. He changed his cell number and has avoided much contact with friends and family. He doesn't want the distraction.
"I'm stuck in a place," Bosh said, "where I don't feel too good, I don't feel too bad."
Some 16 months earlier, Bosh had visited Dallas to represent the Toronto Raptors in the All-Star Game. Someone asked him about the possibility of joining Nowitzki and the Mavericks, and whether he'd be interested in following James or Wade when they made their free-agent decisions.
Bosh sounded indignant.
"I was just looking at what people say and it's like, 'Chris is going to go here and play with him or this, this and that,' " Bosh said. "I'm like, 'Wait a minute. I feel like I should be built around.' "
Deep down, Bosh likely knew the truth. He's not built to carry a franchise. There's no shame in that. Kevin Garnett(notes) carried the Minnesota Timberwolves out of the first round just once, and now he's celebrated for chasing a championship with Paul Pierce(notes) and Ray Allen(notes).
Bosh followed Wade to Miami, and took his role as No. 3. He doesn't share the dais with Wade and LeBron, but that's OK. He's still learned something about himself in this long, strange journey. Even the Fake Tough Guy can have his moment, too.