“Shoot,” the veiled directive went. “We dare you.”
Seventeen first-half points later—including the team’s first eight by Bosh—and the Miami Heat were on their way to a decisive 102-90 win in Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, putting the defending champs up 3-1 in the best-of-seven slate.
History will hark back to Game 4 as the night LeBron exacted fury-fueled revenge on Lance Stephenson, who’s ill-fated attempts to gain a psychological edge on the galaxy’s greatest player backfired spectacularly.
James’ final line: 32 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals on 13-of-21 shooting, including a crisp 2-of-3 from distance.
But it was Bosh, so often an afterthought in this postseason, who provided the potent early punch.
You could hardly blame Indiana for banking on otherwise, of course—not when Bosh had managed just 27 points on 12-of-33 shooting (including 2-of-12 from distance) during the previous three tilts.
You can, on the other hand, blame the Pacers for flat-out refusing to adjust.
From the get-go, Hibbert elected to leave the gangly center-in-name-only alone along the perimeter. Three steadfast strokes later—none with fewer than 10 clear feet in front of him—and Bosh had spotted his team a healthy 8-0 lead.
The second quarter saw more of the same, with Bosh spotting up for two more jumpers and converting a tough rolling dunk to help keep the Heat ahead at the break.
And while his contributions were more diffuse as the minutes wore on, Bosh’s impact carried through to one more clandestine dagger: a hustle save along the baseline to help seal the deal late in the fourth quarter.
Afterward, Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra saw to it that due credit be given to Bosh’s teammates for helping spark the All-Star forward’s dormant spirit:
Following Miami’s Game 3 win Saturday, a reporter asked Bosh whether he had another 20-point game in him—a fair question, considering he’d done it only once, in Game 2 of the Heat’s first-round series with the Charlotte Bobcats.
Bosh’s response, per Matt Porter of The Palm Beach Post, was equal parts humble, honest and oddly prescient:
That’s it? Just 20? I don’t know. I’m not trying to chase it anymore. I stopped chasing it. Whatever’s out there is out there. I just want to continue to contribute to this team. As long as we win, I’m a happy camper.
Canned coy though Bosh’s response may have been, surely he understands that if the Heat have any hope of hanging a third banner, there’s no “just” to how he must perform.
The Pacers? Perishes the threat: They have has much of a chance of coming back as Hibbert has of running Hakeem Olajuwon’s big-man camp.
This is about whom Miami will face in the Finals and whether Bosh can emerge as a more consistent force than in last year’s showing on that stage.
|A Bosh by Any Other Name|
|ECF Game 4||25||6||.583||.600|
|ECF Games 1-3||9||4||.364||.167|
A year ago, Bosh charted 11.9 and 8.9 rebounds in seven games against the San Antonio Spurs, going scoreless over 28 minutes in the deciding Game 7. Hindsight might vindicate such pedestrian play, but against this year’s Spurs—home-court blessed as they’ll be—you can bet the handwringing won’t be so polite.
Even the Oklahoma City Thunder, against whom Bosh averaged 14.6 points and 9.4 rebounds in Miami’s five-game gentleman’s sweep in 2012, won’t go so quietly against such a standard fight.
Of course, it’s easy to forget all this when James still holds the helm of basketball’s most hellish attack or with Wade’s play proving that regaining long-lost form is worth a few regular-season sabbaticals.
Until you remember how big a bellwether Bosh can be, if and when his role is played effectively and efficiently. Here’s Bleacher Report’s Tom Sunnergren on how Miami thrives most when Bosh is at his best:
His mid-range efficiency—and the manner in which is forces opponents to adjust—are each devastating weapons for Miami. The former Raptor uses the threat of his jump-shooting prowess to pull defenders out of the paint, opening up slashing lanes for Wade and LeBron. This in turn further opens up the outside for Bosh, improving his own percentages and putting opponents into an even more difficult bind.
LeBron James is the closest thing this generation has seen to a genuine basketball genius—the kind of stat-stuffing savant designed to thrive in any and every system possible, from Princeton to pick-and-roll.
Bosh, however, may be the most tailor-made to what LeBron has formed in Miami: a machine purpose-built to maximize what might otherwise risk being merely mundane.
Maximize so masterfully, in fact, as to make everyone ignore the forgettable that came before.