LeBron James is the Miami Heat's most valuable player—alright, the league's most valuable player—and a healthy Dwyane Wade renders them nearly unbeatable, but Bosh will be the ultimate barometer for South Beach in the Eastern Conference Finals.
LeBron is going to get his—let's make that clear. Paul George should be able to limit The Chosen One the way Jimmy Butler did for stretches at a time, but there is no stopping him. LeBron is going to score, he's going to drop dimes and he will threaten the Pacers with 20, 10 and 10 every night.
Wade will have an equally persistent effect. He continues to average playoff career lows in points (13), shot attempts (11.9) and minutes (32.9), but the Heat don't need him to be the Wade of the regular season to win—which, for the record, isn't an insult. Rather, it attests to how talented Miami's roster is and how Wade's presence on the court alone is enough to stymie even the most elite of defensive attacks.
Unlike LeBron and Wade's invariable value, Bosh's importance to the Heat skyrockets against the Pacers. More specifically, against Roy Hibbert. And Bosh knows it.
Chris Bosh says series will hinge on his matchup with Roy Hibbert. "He's X factor for the, I'm X factor for us." twitter.com/WallaceNBA_ESP…— Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN) May 19, 2013
It's not that the Heat need him to score more points (though that would be nice). They need him to battle in the post with one of the most physical centers in the league, and do so successfully.
"C.B.'s been very active," James said of Bosh (via Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel) after Monday's practice. "He's given us unbelievable rebounds around the rim. He's been double digits a lot of our games. He's been blocking shots. He's been a rim protector for us and we definitely need that, especially in our starting unit."
And the Heat need all that badly now.
Hibbert, for all his numerical inconsistencies, is a beast. Standing at 7'2" and weighing in at 278 pounds, he can have his way in the post when he's not in foul trouble, especially on the glass.
For the postseason, Hibbert is averaging 9.6 rebounds per game, 4.6 of which are coming on the offensive end. Only 17 players before him in NBA history have rebounded at such an offensive rate through a minimum of 10 playoff games.
Miami was the worst rebounding team during the regular season and though Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen are the type of physical glass-hoarders who could see some time opposite Hibbert, it will be Bosh that gets a majority of the minutes.
Bosh is averaging 8.3 rebounds a night of his own, but those boards will be more difficult to come by with Hibbert patrolling the interior and boxing him out. The former will have to become more of the aggressor, a role that he's not used to assuming, and one that he also struggled to play against the Chicago Bulls.
Joakim Noah averaged 9.2 rebounds a night during his five games against the Heat, essentially on one foot, no less. More than four of those came on the offensive end for Noah. Carlos Boozer, who Bosh also saw time against, also found success. He brought down 8.2 boards a night, an average of 3.2 coming on the offensive side of the ball.
Hibbert poses a similar, yet arguably more physical threat. Noah is one of the best glass-crashers in the league (better than Hibbert, I'd say), but Hibbert isn't battling a foot injury that limits his mobility or explosion. And if Noah was able to rebound well against the Heat injured, imagine what a healthy Hibbert will be able to do.
It's not just limiting his impact on the glass either. Bosh also needs to combat Hibbert's back to the basket sets.
Though a tumultuous scorer, Indiana's big man has shown he can overwhelm lanky towers like that of Bosh. Just ask Tyson Chandler. He has about four inches and 55 pounds on Bosh, so Hibbert's sets on the block are going to be something to watch.
Relying on him to remain unproductive isn't going to be enough either. Hibbert often disappears on the offensive end for minutes (quarters?) at a time, but he's torched interior defenses for 14 points per game during the playoffs.
To further complicate Bosh's assignment, Hibbert is swatting away 2.5 shots per game in the postseason. Not only will this make it more convoluted a task for Bosh himself to score, but he needs to lure Hibbert away from the rim so that neither LeBron nor Wade becomes the next Carmelo Anthony.
Successfully reaching the rim becomes all the more important when you consider how poorly the Heat are shooting from beyond the arc.
After knocking down 39.6 percent of their treys during the regular season, they're hitting on just 34 percent in the playoffs. Indiana ranked atop the league in opponents' three-point percentage (32.7), so if Hibbert takes away plays at the rim, Miami will be forced to rely on what has been some turbulent distance shooting against a team that excels at contesting them.
The fuss over Hibbert is then completely warranted and not at all exaggerated.
LeBron himself has declared Paul George a superstar, David West will make the Heat work for everything they get and Lance Stephenson has the length, athleticism and physical intellect necessary to impede an already handicapped Wade even further. But what Hibbert can do is more important.
LeBron James on Paul George: "He’s one of the up-and-coming new superstars that we have in our league. He’s a kid who loves to get better."— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) May 20, 2013
His performances invoke ripple effects that are extremely hard to overcome. The Pacers are a perfect 2-0 in the playoffs when he scores at least 10 points, grabs 10 rebounds and blocks two shots. And they're 3-1 when he simply snags at least 10 boards and sends back two shots.
When he has his way under the basket, Indiana is a dubious beat. Bosh has to take ownership of that on the court. He has to understand that Hibbert has excelled in various aspects of the game against a star-caliber big in Al Horford and a former Defensive Player of the Year in Tyson Chandler.
Miami needs him to effectively mitigate everything Hibbert does so that this series doesn't fall out of reach. If he is unable to adequately match up against Indiana's tower and do all the things that a more defensively-inclined Chandler couldn't (like stay out of foul trouble), it will be the Heat who are in trouble.
The good news? Bosh is capable of holding his own.
In three meetings against the Heat this year, Hibbert is averaging 9.7 points, eight rebounds and 0.7 blocks on 38.2 percent shooting. Bosh himself, though, has found success against the Pacers.
Through three meetings he averaged 17 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks on 58.3 percent shooting. Those rebounding totals need to be elevated, but he has proved he can score on Hibbert, which is half the battle.
The other half is not emerging as a proverbial stepping stone on the defensive end. Keeping Hibbert in check there will keep the Heat in control, right where their supposed to be.
Who is the Heat's most important player heading into the Easter Conference Finals?
What LeBron and Wade accomplish will speak volumes. And what the rest of the Heat do isn't of any less significance. But it's Bosh who finds himself pitted against the player who serves as a harbinger for Indiana's success.
"It's just work ethic really," Bosh detailed of playing effectively. "That's all, just competing on every single play."
With his work cut out for him against the Pacers, the Heat need that implacable diligence Bosh makes reference to now more than ever. And they need it more than they do anything else.
*All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.