For what seemed like the first time in eons—include dinosaur jokes as you so please—Chris Bosh took center stage for the Miami Heat, proving that he's still just as important to the three-peat efforts as Pat Riley thought when originally recruiting him to South Beach.
Bosh's value goes beyond the box score, after all.
It extends far past the realm of photobombing, even if the big man managed to create quite the picture when extending the thumbs-up signal after crashing over a row of fans (more on that later). When he's on top of his game, it allows the Heat to rest Dwyane Wade without worry of a letdown performance.
And unfortunately, it's still necessary for Miami to proceed with caution when dealing with the talented 2-guard's knees. He needed a rest day against the Atlanta Hawks, and the power forward was more than up to the task of filling in, impressing Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Bosh proved once more that he isn't just a third wheel in Miami; he's still the third member of the Big Three, and he's capable of rising to the occasion when he needs to be part of a Big Two.
During Miami's 104-88 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, three storylines emerged from the crowd of possibilities:
- Miami's defense finally started to put all the pieces together, holding the Hawks—who entered the game fourth in offensive rating, according to Basketball-Reference—to a season-low 88 points on 44.6 percent shooting from the field.
- The bench came to play, proving just how valuable the abundance of options in South Beach can be.
- Bosh dominated during a night when LeBron James failed to play like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade was out.
All three are key developments for a team in search of a spark that can help lead it to the promised land for the third time in three seasons, but it's the final one that remains the biggest deal.
We knew that Miami's swarming, suffocating defense would start to look good again. As D-Wade told B/R's Ethan Skolnick about the expected improvements on the less glamorous end of the court, "As the season goes on every year, we normally get better and better. And we want to do that this year."
The bench play is similarly unsurprising; the Heat have been stockpiling veteran talent.
Bosh's play might not be a shock either, but it's incredibly important. When the power forward-turned-center is hitting his open looks, LeBron can relax, and Miami can feel better about the decision to sit Wade for a night.
Against the Hawks, Bosh recorded 19 points, five rebounds, a steal and a block.
At first glance, those don't seem like particularly impressive numbers, but they get better. Not only did his points come on a stellar 8-of-9 performance from the field, but he recorded a goose egg in the turnover column and played only 25 minutes.
Think about that for a second.
If you prorate those numbers to 36 minutes and round up because it's impossible to record anything other than integer totals, Bosh was on pace for 27 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks while still shooting nearly 90 percent from the field. Now that sounds much more impressive.
More than anything else, it was all about a huge second- and third-quarter run. Believe it or not, despite what the final margin might tell you, this was actually a close game.
When Bosh entered the game for Norris Cole with 6:54 left in the first half, the Hawks were up by six points. When the buzzer sounded and the teams retreated back to the locker rooms, Miami was up three.
What happened? Bosh happened.
In those seven minutes of action, the big man recorded eight points and just couldn't be stopped. His mid-range jumper was deadly, finding the bottom of the net each and every time, and he completed one impressive and-1 against Cartier Martin that was finished at the stripe.
But the game wasn't out of reach when the teams came back out for the third quarter, so he kept going.
During the first seven minutes of the third period, Bosh recorded three points, four rebounds, a steal and a block. He was simply everywhere, making his presence felt on both ends of the court as he played with the reckless abandon that Miami needed from him.
And that presence wasn't just felt on the court. It carried over into the crowd as well.
At one point, Miami even started running the offense directly through Bosh. Take a look at this sequence that led to a lefty jump-hook from the big man:
The play begins in pretty inconspicuous fashion.
After LeBron swings the ball to Bosh, he passes it to Shane Battier, who seems like he's about to take Al Horford on in isolation. But, of course, that's not what's going to happen.
As is almost always the case, ball movement is the focus on offense for Miami. Few teams are better at understanding that the ball moves faster from one end to the other than a player can.
Battier drives baseline, but there's no intent to finish the play around the basket. That would be a recipe for disaster, as Horford has been playing great defense this season and has a significant size advantage over the Duke product.
Instead, he pops back out on the other wing and kicks the ball right to Mario Chalmers.
And all of a sudden, look at what's happened.
Chalmers has passed the ball to LeBron, and absolutely no one is ready to help out Gustavo Ayon if Bosh gets the ball in the paint. Anyone else think this is intentional?
LeBron has split back so he can receive the pass, and the ball is immediately en route to the paint. It hits Chris Bosh right in the hands, and he's off to work in a sea of yellow.
With plenty of time to work, Bosh moves to his right, spins left and hits the easy jump-hook for another two points.
Mario Chalmers would later take over with a 9-0 run that he single-handedly completed to put the game in the bag, Bosh did his damage when the Heat needed it most. As LeBron told the Associated Press via ESPN after the game:
We don't ever want it to seem usual. We want guys in the lineup but health is number one for our team, for sure. Like I continue to state, the best thing about it is when guys go down we've got depth and guys who can step in and play a starting role.
But it went beyond that.
Bosh wasn't stepping into a starting role; he was filling in for Wade, becoming the star that he was for the Toronto Raptors before taking his talents to South Beach. And while the Heat don't need that from him every night, it sure is nice when they get it.
On a day-to-day basis, it's more important that the All-Star shooting guard plays like a superstar, throwing his name in the conversation for best 2-guard right next to James Harden and Kobe Bryant. But in order to do that, Miami needs Bosh to pick up the slack when Wade needs those crucial rest days.
Wade was quoted by the South Florida Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman as saying that he's at "70 percent, some days 75. It's a slow climb. Your body has two [sic] get used two [sic] that pounding." That's not going to cut it, hence the rest day.
Those rest days will continue to be important, as the Heat need to be at full strength all the way around when the playoffs eventually get here. The Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls, among others in the Eastern Conference, will give them all they can handle.
And for them to make the most of the rest days, Bosh has to play like he did against the Hawks. He has to go in with an attacking mentality and emerge with a stellar stat line.