The Chris Bosh Disappearing Act

“We can state the obvious: They’re [Bosh and Wade] both struggling,” LeBron James said prior to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers.

While the Heat have since gone on to the NBA Finals, so, too, have the struggles of James’ sidekicks.

In Game 1 of this year’s NBA Finals against the well-rested San Antonio Spurs, the Heat’s heat flamed out in the fourth quarter as they were outscored 23-16 by a methodical Popovich team that kept plugging away one critical possession at a time, tying their own NBA record for fewest turnovers in a Finals game.

If the Heat don’t raise the red flag and put an end to Bosh’s continued reliance and belief in the three point shot, they will be raising the white flag of surrender as they get steamrolled out of the Finals.

Standing at 6’11”, Chris Bosh has always been a finesse player. But he has also been a head smart, savvy talent, too, that has known when to mix it up. Since joining the Miami Heat, Bosh has taken off the hat of a team’s superstar and settled, taking shot after shot miles from the rim that he would not have dared launching when with the Raptors.

Nevermind Chris Bosh’s decline in points per game. That’s a given when you join up with two other superstars of Wade and LeBron’s caliber, the latter arguably the most dominant player the NBA has seen since Shaquille O’Neal wore purple and gold.

It’s his shot selection.

Let us compare the numbers. In Bosh’s first three seasons with the Raptors (2003-06), he attempted a total of 37 three pointers. Fast forward to 2012-13 with Miami. Chris Bosh launches 74 from downtown with 21 falling through the net (28%, not exactly a high percentage shot from your 6’11” anchor).

The more movement away from the paint, the less opportunity you have to help your team on the boards — and a pretty good reason the Heat are THE worst rebounding team in the NBA this year.

It is as if they take pride in it.

In a December 19 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in which the Miami Heat were outrebounded by a 2-to-1 margin (53 to 24), Erick Spoelstra had this to say.

“Rebounding helps, but there are a lot of other factors for rebounding. If you go through the statistics in the playoffs and ranked them, that isn’t necessarily the biggest key.”

Which is why the Heat were about this close to watching the Hoosier state punch their tickets for this year’s NBA Finals while they took their rods and reels and Nike’s and went fishing down in South Beach.

In just three years, Bosh’s career rebounding average has declined from 10.8 RPG his last year in Toronto to an abysmal 6.8 RPG this year with Miami.

What’s even more alarming is the further declining rebounding rate we have witnessed from Bosh since being pushed around by Roy Hibbert and David West in the Indiana series (4.3 RPG). Then in Game 1 against the lengthy Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, Bosh snags a mere five rebounds. While Miami won the battle of the boards (46 to 37) against the Spurs in a 92-88 Game 1 loss, their big (Bosh) was out in no man’s land calling for the rock when he should have been vying for position on the block.

“Look,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said following the Game 1 loss, “We’re not going to overreact to those misses. He [Bosh] was open. He hit some big ones already.”

He was open for a reason Spoelstra. It’s because he is 6’11” and shoots 28% from downtown. Better out there than grabbing a putback dunk off a James penetration.

The three-point stripe and European influence have long been whispering to NBA bigs for quite some time to “step on back here and jack one up.”

And Bosh has welcomed it much to the detriment of his team and to his own game.

If the Heat plan to make this a series and win not one, not two, not three but seven rings (and one up Jordan and Pippen — good luck), Bosh better park his behind in the paint and play like Pat Riley will send him back up north across the border if he doesn’t.

And Dwyane Wade? Well, let’s just say a scoreless fourth quarter is its own story.

NBA Finals Changed People’s Perceptions

Unlike a few recent NBA Finals match-ups, legacies weren’t going to be cemented depending upon the result of the Heat-Thunder series. Miami’s Big Three will all return next year to defend their title while still in their prime, while young OKC will, ideally, come back tougher, hungrier, more experienced and still just approaching their prime years.

Still, every year, the championship series plays a role in shaping the NBA landscape, either through the crowning of new champions or the re-enforcing of great teams continuing to reign. For the players involved, the Finals write another chapter and continue to develop their over-arching career arc.

Here is what this year’s NBA season meant for some of the key participants in the Finals.

The Main Players

LeBron James
One title doesn’t quite make you a pantheon-level all-time great, regardless of how much you came through for your team. But consider the possible alternative: another Finals loss – to a budding superstar four years his junior, no less – would have been more damaging (and embarassing) than last year’s defeat at the hands of the Mavericks. Now, he not only has his first ring, but has it on his terms as the unquestioned alpha of the Miami Heat. The critics won’t be completely silenced on account of his multi-title promise at the start of his Heat tenure, but that should only serve to keep “the King” motivated.

Dwyane Wade
Wade summarized the meaning of this title nicely to Stuart Scott on the podium last night, pointing out that his ’06 crown came without him learning any real adversity in the league. Now at 30 and having experienced the bitter taste of defeat last season, he probably has a greater appreciation for the accomplishment this time around.

Chris Bosh
Outside of maybe James, no one enjoyed more validation during the playoffs than Bosh. Yes, he won a title as a glorified role player, but he knew that would be the case as soon as he signed on with the Heat. However, his value to the team, which had been questioned at times during his two-year tenure, was made clear through his absence. He somehow became the biggest story of the Eastern Finals with his return from injury up in the air, and then proceeded to help turn his team’s season around from being on the brink against Boston (Miami won six of seven games with Bosh back playing regular minutes).

Kevin Durant
Arriving in a Finals puts everything under a microscope, so we were bound to learn a few things about the unassuming 23-year-old as he made his debut on the league’s biggest stage. Much was positive – he remained a clutch shooter, a savvy play-maker and a surprisingly effective slasher while matching much of LeBron’s contributions (offensively, anyway). We also learned, however, that he isn’t quite there yet. He still needs to get stronger to prevent defenders from locking him up 20 feet from the basket and isn’t quite as defensively sound as his length should dictate. Still, the dude’s 23!

Russell Westbrook
To paraphrase Grantland.com’s Bill Simmons, Westbrook somehow managed to become the most polarizing player in a series that featured the most polarizing player (okay, so Simmons said second-most to Wilt Chamberlain) in NBA history. Yes, it was Westbrook’s explosive play and multi-faceted skill set that helped get the Thunder past the last 13 Western Conference champions and to the show, but can any team afford to have their starting point guard shooting 4-20 in a Finals game? At the same time, one looks at his 43-point Game 4 reveals his value and GM Sam Presti won’t be willing to do anything drastic to alter what is a championship-calibre foundation. His maturation over the coming years will be fascinating to watch.

The Supporting Players

Shane Battier
It can’t be easy gaining almost universal popularity when you’ve won NCAA and NBA titles with, arguably, the most hated team at each level (2001 Duke and 2012 Heat). Credit Battier not only for that, but also for using a stellar playoff performance to ensure that he didn’t win an NBA title on account of simply being along for the ride (sorry, Juwan Howard). Like Bruce Bowen before him, it will be interesting to see how NBA history remembers an all-time great defender and glue guy who was never “the Man” on his team.

Pat Riley
Two years and another title later, Riley still looks like the cat that ate the canary regarding his role in the formation of the Big Three during the summer of 2010. I still can’t shake the feeling that there is an awful lot of knowledge within that well-coiffed head of his.

James Harden / Serge Ibaka / Scott Brooks
While neither Harden nor Ibaka exactly had a playoff performance for the ages, their value to the club was made plainly clear throughout the season. The Thunder will soon have to put a price tag on that value, with both young talents slated for free agency after next season. With both Durant and Westbrook signed to big deals and Harden and Ibaka set to hit paydirt, Presti will have to do some serious roster massaging for any shot at keeping his entire core together while not being cap-strung for years to come. Even more pressing, though, is the status of Brooks, whose contract expires at the end of the month.

Miami’s Role Players Got It Done

Nearly every game of the 2012 NBA Finals has been decided late in the fourth quarter – and things weren’t looking great for the Miami Heat as things got deeper into the final frame of Game 4.

LeBron James was hobbled with leg cramps and, despite a clutch three with under three minutes to play, required two bench stints late.  Dwyane Wade played through, but appeared to be slowed by some lower back soreness. Meanwhile, on the other side of the court, Russell Westbrook was playing like a man possessed, scoring 17 of his 43 points in the fourth.

Enter Mario “Mother—-ing” Chalmers.

Chalmers answered his point guard counterpart with 12 fourth quarter points (25 in total), including his team’s final five to preserve what was just a three-point, one-possession lead. His numbers were certainly boosted by Westbrook’s ill-advised three-shot foul with five seconds remaining on the shot clock (13.8 on the game clock), but the Kansas alum still had to convert his three crucial free throws to send his team to a commanding 3-1 lead.

On Tuesday, Chalmers filled the Shane Battier role. That is, the secondary Heat player to shine during these NBA Finals and, arguably, play as significant role as that of the Big Three. Battier was held to just one made three-pointer in Game 4, snapping a multi-trey streak in the Finals that had seen him make 11 shots from deep (compared to just four misses) over the first three games against the Thunder.

Earlier in the game, it had been little-used guards Norris Cole and James Jones who helped stabilize a listless Heat squad that seemed to be lacking energy. All of their 11 combined points (in addition to 3-5 shooting from long range) came in a first half that was dominated by Oklahoma City. Cole’s driving lay-up shot late in the first quarter stopped the bleeding after what was a 10-0 Thunder run, while his three at the buzzer of the opening quarter provided some life to his team despite a double digit deficit and sparked a 16-0 Miami run (they never trailed by more than five the rest of the way).

Yes, it’s been the play of James, Wade and Chris Bosh that has gotten the Heat to within one victory of an NBA championship, but every title hopeful needs supporting role players to step up when the situation calls for it.

It turns out that the critics who suggested three players couldn’t win a championship were right; good thing that the Heat’s Big Three have had help.